On Becoming a Master

Improving performance

How many things are you good at the first time you try them? Some attempts are good enough and some are terrible.  Few are brilliant.

How do you improve?


People are better at things they have done before. Even the people who don’t pay attention get better. People who consciously assess and experiment with new ideas, find even greater success.

People need a way to notice performance and revise it for improvement. In a word, they need feedback. Sometimes it is as simple as paying attention, but more often a mentor helps.


Practice makes perfect is a near eternal idea. The truth is more subtle.

Directed and focused practice makes perfect. The popular wisdom is that it takes 10,000 hours of focused practice to become excellent at anything complicated. You can become competent with much less, but if you aim for excellence, you may never be finished.

Cellist Pablo Casals died in 1973. He is considered the finest cellist of the first half of the 20th century and one of the greatest of all time. At age 90, he still practiced four hours or more each day. When asked why, he replied,

“I think I am making progress.”

I don’t know, but I would be easily convinced his practice was not random scales and tunes. Quite likely very narrow skills.

An amateur and an expert

Each skill passes through the phases of beginner-amateur-expert-master.  It is relatively easy to get from beginner to amateur. A new salesperson can learn a few interview techniques and see quite strong improvement in results. So too, a beginning martial artist.  A new dentist should work for someone else for a few years to get their speed up to what is necessary to cover the overhead. The key to improvement is repetition, awareness of what worked or did not, and advice from an experienced practitioner.

Once we see how it works we find that quantity matters so long as it is mixed with some self awareness.  The truth is simple. A master has done it wrong more times than an amateur has done it at all, but each iteration was a little better than the one before.

You need a focal point.

In golf, the professionals talk about a repeatable swing. Grooved. They practice interminably to get to that zone. When the pressure is on they can trust their swing.

Most club players don’t hit 600 balls a day with a sand wedge. Instead, they become adequate but not excellent. The difference is plain. In his book, “Psychology of Music’ Professor Percy Buck offers these thoughts.

An amateur can be satisfied with knowing a fact; a professional must know the reason why.

An amateur practises until he can do a thing right, a professional until he can’t do it wrong.

You need to choose

No one can practice hours a day at everything that comes along. You must choose. Some things matter and you can’t be a master of everything. You must make a decision. Do you become excellent at the task, or do you delegate the task?

For the things that matter, you must do one or the other. Reamining inept is not a choice that works. Things that matter must be achieved. I liked Joe Namath’s approach.

If you aren’t going to go all the way, why go at all?

Think about how you have organized your financial priorities and the execution of them. Use the 3Rs. Record, review, revise. That’s your feedback. 

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario. 

In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you. don@moneyfyi.com  866-285-7772

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