Musing on Mastery - A Path to the Soul and an Opening to a Fully Expressed Self.

In front of Renato’s pasta company in Jack London Square. …here he makes his pasta.

In front of Renato’s pasta company in Jack London Square. …here he makes his pasta.

I haven't been to Jack London Square in Oakland in a long while so I jumped at the opportunity to set a business dinner there last week with one of my associates from Imperative, the "purpose company." I arrived intentionally early, and when I happened upon Baia Pasta, an artisan pasta company owned by a friend of mine, Renato Sardo, I found myself thinking about mastery, as is often the case.

Renato is an Italian-born foodie who is quietly on a journey to bring healthy and tasty pasta to the world. He is integrating the best of Northern Italian traditions with Northern California food sensibilities. When he talks about researching and handling the flour and water he uses to make his pasta he sounds like an artist talking about preparing canvases, mixing paints, and cleaning brushes. His casual intensity shows a level of craftsmanship I see in many of the masters I work with.

Jack London Square Marina

Jack London Square Marina

Baia Pasta is next to the marina at Jack London Square and I found an unoccupied bench overlooking the boats. As I settled in and began soaking up the late afternoon sun, I was reminded of another master, my uncle, Ed Milano, a yachtsman and skier. If there was one thing about my uncle, it was that he unabashedly poured his heart into the things he loved. Though technically his hobbies, this is where he devoted most of his time and found his joy. His boats were meticulously maintained, his sailing strategic. His skiing was smooth and elegant. As teacher, he was patient and precise. In both worlds he had a robust and close circle of friends. There was a transcendent and serene energy about him when he was doing what he loved.

Uncle Eddie’s first “real” boat was teak. She was called Tigger and required constant care.

Uncle Eddie’s first “real” boat was teak. She was called Tigger and required constant care.

My times uncle Eddie left an indelible imprint on me and helped me recognize several truths about mastery, most specifically, a master's work may be a gift to the world, but it is the energy of the master's life that ripples through the consciousness of humanity long after his work is done. The energy of his mastery continues to vibrate in my life and through me to others - my kids, friends, and clients, alike.

Jazzman at Scott’s Seafood restaurant

Jazzman at Scott’s Seafood restaurant

As dinner approached, I headed into the restaurant, Scott's Seafood, and found a grizzled jazzman working the piano. As a jazz pianist myself, I was happy I arrived early enough to listen without the distraction of conversation. While he was no Oscar Peterson, he was solid; clearly, he had been playing a long time and possessed an excellent repertoire and decent jazz licks. Like everyone on the path of mastering what they love to do, he was playing right up to the edges of his capability, testing ideas and exploring possibilities. I could sense his delight even as he stumbled into some phrasing that didn't quite work the first time but that he returned to again and again, with slight modifications and some successes. He was working things out, the way Matisse and Picasso did, iterating on themes, as if called by some powerful magic he did not quite understand.

Jazz Pianist, Bill Evans and Swedish Singer, Monica Zetterlund in 1964

Jazz Pianist, Bill Evans and Swedish Singer, Monica Zetterlund in 1964

Of course, there would have to be a piano in a restaurant in Jack London Square - one of the last great jazz clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area is right across the plaza. Yoshi's has hosted jazz legends for decades - I saw many there, as well as in NYC, Chicago, St. Louis, Paris, and in the piazzas of village towns in central Italy, one balmy night after another, for a week, when I was eighteen.

Jazz continues to teach me about mastery. Not just about the importance of learning theory to establish a foundation on which to improvise and about "deliberate practice" to develop skills (Ericsson & Krampe) as I wrote about in my book, Hack Mastery (2016), but also by showing me how the path of Mastery must be traveled with care. I have seen first hand, how our life choices can either keep us on the path or push us off, temporarily or for good.

Bill Evans at Keystone Korner in San Francisco in 1980

Bill Evans at Keystone Korner in San Francisco in 1980

How many jazz musicians tragically spiraled out of control and off the path as a result of their life choices? A survey conducted in 1957 by Nat Hentoff of 409 New York City jazz musicians revealed that at least half had tried heroin; 16% were addicted. While some argue drugs unleashed a level of creativity and experimentation that transformed jazz at that time, it can not be disputed that this "life choice" meant the real potential of many of these masters would never be known. So many died far too young - Billie Holiday was just 44 years old, Bill Evans was 51, John Coltrane, 40, Chet Baker, 58, and Charlie Parker, 34.

I saw Bill Evans perform the week before he died. He was playing at Keystone Korner, the iconic jazz club, uncomfortably nestled next to the Central Police Station in San Francisco's North Beach. It was the beginning of September and the summer fog whipped the crowd waiting for the doors to open. That night, Bill was brilliant, and he was suffering. Apparently, he knew he was dying and ignored advice to go to the hospital; he performed anyway. A bootleg recording of his final performances, released twenty years later (The Last Waltz: The Final Recordings,) captures both the brilliance and the pain that we witnessed.

One of Bill's friends called his death “the longest suicide in history.” Still, the gift of his music nourishes musicians and the energy he exuded that night changed me, and influences the music I play today, nearly four decades later.

Me with Kim (my first daughter)

Me with Kim (my first daughter)

I was 23 and a newly minted, joyful, and conflicted father. Bill Evans gave me a glimpse of how dangerous life's road can be, but I didn’t recognize it. I had no idea how treacherous the road in front of me was. And I was unwilling to listen to anyone, afraid of what they would tell me. So I would go on to make "life choices" that took me off my path, time and again, for at least 15 years. Eventually, I would learned that Mastery is a path that cannot be traveled well without taking care of our whole self.

Renato Sardo, Ed Milano, and Bill Evans have shared the same remarkable journey of following their joy and pouring themselves into that which gives it life. Mastery's intrinsic motivation is love; not money, fame, or prestige (though these might happen along the way.)

Mastery is a path to the soul and an opening to a fully expressed self.

Jack London Square, thank you!

A Poet's Path of Mastery

Written by Audrey Mei Yi Brown; Illustrations by Tinnei Pang

When Clara Hsu reads her poetry, every word is round. Un-rushed, each syllable expands to its entirety. The ripe words arrive rhythmically, rising and falling in musical cadence as her body moves with her music— it’s unmistakably a performance. She’s telling a story, albeit a nonlinear one.

Reading poetry to a room of people draws Clara fully into the present moment, whether she reads in a cafe or her living room. She explains, “Those are very, very exciting moments. They don’t come too often, but when they do, you just know it because suddenly the espresso machine is not making any sound. The door’s not creaking. Nobody’s dropped the dishes and nobody coughs. There are these people and they are totally tuned in. How did that happen?” Although Clara has worked tirelessly to hone her craft, these magical moments ultimately arrive seemingly of their own accord— they are a gift. Ironically enough, mastery’s ultimate reward, this bliss, blooms on its own time.

Seeing a master experience their bliss is unmistakable in any profession, be it in science, art, music, trading, or athletics. A master flowing in their element, their bliss, wholly absorbs both the master and the audience.

At first, the ever-transforming environment of our times might seem incompatible with developing mastery. If mastery is comprehensive knowledge and skill in a subject, its prospects in any profession (let alone as a poet) may seem dubious amidst the frenetic hustle of our lives. After all, today is the age of rapid ascension in the tech world, of overnight cryptocurrency booms and busts, of a snap-together workforce ready to change jobs or career paths without skipping a beat. By comparison, mastery is a long-term process of continual evolution. It reaches deep, and there are no shortcuts.

Though it might seem counterintuitive, this is the age of mastery. Given that the world is smaller, more complex, more competitive than ever, and rapidly changing, in order to thrive in this world, we need to be our most brilliant selves, regardless of what we do. As you will see in Clara’s path, this happens when we find our purpose or our calling, and pursue mastery in that subject. Then our lives change as we incorporate the seven component elements of developing mastery into our lives: love, skill, knowledge, ecosystem, feedback, routine, and bliss. The first six elements set the conditions for the seventh, bliss, to arise. Consider Clara, a poet on the path of mastery.

Writing poems is not about making money for Clara. At first, poetry was about surviving, swimming instead of drowning. She assumed she could not make a living from writing poems, money was not the point.

Writing poetry fundamentally changed the way she saw the world, sparking a “tremendous eagerness to keep exploring and keep going.” As she recalls, she felt “a hunger” that made “the world become so interesting.” Like a collage artist collecting unlikely odds and ends off the street, she saw new material all around her— an image, a phrase, a feeling.

Poem lines came to her in “bursts of energy”— sudden inspiration that could arrive anytime, anywhere. She explains, “I’d be driving and would have a burst of energy. I’d have to pull over and write the words down… I have to capture it at that moment. If you don’t, it leaves you. It’s gone.” When inspiration struck, she urgently seized the moment.  

“It’s like a door that suddenly opens, and you walk right through it.” This happened when she wrote The First to Escape, a book of experimental poetry that pushed boundaries of form and voice. Even as she wrote it, she sensed that "stuff like this, it's not going to happen again." In a rush of creativity, she wrote poems in this collection that are truly one of a kind.

A Pinhole of Light by Tinnei, 2018

A Pinhole of Light by Tinnei, 2018

When poetry first entered Clara’s life, “it was a gift, it just showed up,” she says. At the time, she was living a life that she didn’t love and she didn’t know where to go. Writing poetry started in “a place of darkness and desperation” she recalls, and writing every day offered her “a pinhole of light, something worth living for.” Poetry tore through her life like wildfire; it changed everything.

Her first poem came in the middle of a sleepless night, as she scribbled lines on a scrap of paper in her kitchen. In the morning, she realized she had a poem on her hands. She found that to write was to swim to salvation inside herself. “It was all about pain,” she says of her early work. Back then the aperture of her focus was tight— poetry was a “pinhole of light” in the darkness. She threw herself into it, writing every day, producing at minimum a poem a day.

With time, she began to look outside herself for inspiration. She joined an internet community of poets, surveying shyly from the background and reading rather than posting. She knew she wanted to find a community in the flesh, but it wasn’t until she stumbled into Sacred Grounds Cafe in San Francisco that she found what would become her circle.

The ecosystem of poets that Clara joined was a small, eclectic family. As she recalls of cafe readings, “it was friends reading to friends.” For her, the full acceptance of the poet community was new and welcome. It was the supportive nesting ground that she needed to find her voice.

Clara at Sacred Grounds Cafe by Tinnei, 2018

Clara at Sacred Grounds Cafe by Tinnei, 2018

As a lifelong musician, music has fundamentally shaped Clara’s ear. Her background playing the organ and piano informs her point of view on both how poetry can exist on the page and how it ought to be performed live. In her ideal vision, she pictures how “You can hear the different voices coming in and contradicting each other, not truly harmonizing, but giving different dimensions.” Ultimately, she wants the listener’s experience to be less like listening to a lyrical audiobook and more like hearing a record. Clara explains:

“Just like you’re walking down the street and you hear the cars, you hear the people talking, the birds singing, all that. Can you not think about ‘what do they mean?’ and just enjoy it? We have the skill to do that when we listen to music. We listen to an orchestra: all these instruments playing at the same time, playing different notes at the same time. We can do that. Why can’t we do it in poetry?”

When it comes to reading, Clara yearns for performance that goes beyond rote recitation (which she’s heard way too much of over the years). These days, she dedicates most of her time and energy to running Clarion Performing Arts Center, a non-profit performance space in Chinatown. Through Clarion, she hopes to “expose the element of theater to poets” and get them to “think more about performance”— what new possibilities open up with a quiet space, intentional lighting, a stage? Clara knows well from her own experience that poets reading at cafe open mics are “fighting with dishes and the espresso machine, so we just have to shout.” Subtleties like rhythm and cadence tend to fall at the wayside.

Clara argues that a sense of rhythm is essential for any poet— one has to “feel what’s flowing versus not flowing.” She recalls listening to a Polish poetry reading in Warsaw. She didn’t know the language, but found herself transfixed by the beautiful reading. Afterwards, she discovered that the performers were not in fact the poets themselves, but actors hired to perform the poems. The poets were listening with her in the audience. For Clara, not knowing Polish was irrelevant because the expressive flow of the actors’ performance drew her in regardless.

Talking with Clara in person can at times feel reminiscent of her multi-voice poems; it’s an experience both multi-dimensional and fluid. In conversation, she smoothly shifts amongst subjects, from the abstracted big picture to minute details of interest. Rumination on life purpose downshifts into intimate, room-quieting metaphor.

Clara leaps across distance brazenly, in lunchtime talk and in her life as a whole. As a young woman, Clara transplanted herself from Hong Kong to the United States, and that cultural double vision shaped her worldview. This perspective implicitly arises in her poetry work, quite evidently in her translations of classic Chinese poems and perhaps more subtly in her experimental work.

Clara’s Chinese American identity asserts itself without becoming a confine. More of a lens than a mooring post, her experience as a Chinese American woman is a point of departure from which her poetic innovation rushes forth.

A Phrase In Her Pocket by Tinnei, 2018

A Phrase In Her Pocket by Tinnei, 2018

An avid traveler, Clara visits other countries to deepen the well she draws from when she writes. Her poetry emerges as a process of collage, a re-harmonizing of details she has noticed and collected— sensory inputs. Ultimately, “life and living is the material,” she says. “If I’m not writing, I don’t stop thinking about poetry or materials that I might use— I would say, ‘oh, this is a really nice phrase,’ and put it in my pocket.” When writing, she draws from her pool of materials and then transforms them so that “it’s not a straight telling.” “I can play with it,” she says.  

Just as her poet’s eye never stops seeing new material, she also continues to incorporate poetry into her everyday work, even as her circumstances and goals change. While she once wrote for personal survival, she now brings poetry to other people. Through Clarion Performing Arts Center in San Francisco Chinatown, Clara brings poetry out of its closed loop of “friends reading to friends.” She introduces poetry to a wider audience by incorporating poetry into theater performances. Ultimately, all of her creative and community work connects back to poetry, and for her, poetry always comes back to connecting with others.  

These days, Clara is primarily interested in cultivating connection to people, whether in San Francisco or abroad. Across geography, she seeks connection and through it, a sense of home. The revelatory “bursts of energy” that fuel her creatively now often arrive in moments of connection.

She recounts a trip to Cuba with her theater group, the Grant Avenue Follies. When she met her hosts, the small population of Chinese Cubans who live in Havana’s Chinatown, Clara was shocked to discover they spoke the same Cantonese that she spoke in Hong Kong as a little girl. Though she had never met them before, she says “it felt like coming home” to the Hong Kong she knew as a child. That Hong Kong no longer exists— the streets, people, and language have all changed. But in Havana, it unexpectedly became real again. “Language is so important because it’s how people connect,” Clara reflects, and this capacity of language is what continually brings her back to poetry. Ultimately, “the connection is in the art,” she says.

A Door that Opens by Tinnei, 2018

A Door that Opens by Tinnei, 2018

Over time, her relationship with poetry has mellowed. It’s no longer the insatiable, fiery love affair of the early days, but rather a tempered and sustainable commitment. The love remains, but poetry now coexists with and feeds other creative community-building endeavors.

Undoubtedly, passion rather than profit has motivated her. As she happily acknowledges, reading poems to a community of friends is enriching, but not financially so. Even for the nonprofit community theater she says, “the priority is happiness.”

The path of mastery never ends; there is no finite destination. When we pursue our purpose and seek mastery in what we love, we set out on a lifelong journey. We can begin this journey at any point in our lives and in any discipline or profession. In fact, loving what we do allows us to savor the process and dive into it fully, without attachment to an end result. When we love what we do, we don’t seek an end.

Seeing the world through a Master’s lens changes everything. Our environment transforms because we see with new eyes. With this consciousness, our materials and inspiration reveal themselves. This framework, the Mastery Wireframe, emerges naturally when we set out on the path of mastery and dive into work we love--like a door that opens of its own accord, we need only walk through it.


The basis of this article was a 2015 interview by Stephen Graziani, founder of Mastery Studio, with subsequent interviews by Audrey Brown exploring how the seven elements of the Mastery Wireframe are woven into Clara’s life. All illustrations were created specifically for this article by Tinnei Pang.

All Rights Reserved, 2019

I quit my soul-sucking corporate job...I'm a Freelancer now.

More than forty million Americans choose to do contingent work instead of working as permanent employees. Twenty-three million of these are independent contractors—Self-Directed Entrepreneurs.

Yes - the contingent workforce is growing, fast!  Forty percent of the workforce will be contingent by 2020, according to Staffing Industry Analysts.

We are becoming a workforce of personal entrepreneurs. Good news if you are passionate, skilled, knowledgeable, connected, disciplined, and adaptable. We have a new type of work/life option—chart your course, pursue your passion, leverage your strengths, collaborate with whom you choose, direct your education.

cross the street to the other sde .jpg

When I was in New Year City a couple of weeks ago, I interviewed a dozen people for my next book, "For the Love of Sales," and heard variations of this refrain, “I quit my soul-sucking corporate day job, and now I am doing what I love to do!”

With a healthy contingent workforce at their fingertips, companies have options, too. And they are shunning mediocrity in favor of brilliant talent. Who wouldn’t? Why settle for a competent but unmotivated worker with a stagnant skillset, when you can engage a specialist who is passionate about their vocation, possesses rich domain knowledge, and spot-on capabilities?

Threatening or exhilarating? That depends on each of us. To thrive in the new paradigm we must be on a virtuous cycle of learning-doing-growing. It is the path of Mastery: Beginner to Novice to Competent to Expert to Master. Of course, it’s easier when you do what you love; but it takes more than that. It’s a mixture of the Seven Elements that keeps the cycle of learning and growth spinning.

Three years ago, when I recognized what was happening in the workforce and I saw how Mastery happens, my life changed – I woke up to new possibilities for myself and for others. I pivoted from leading teams that placed contractors in jobs to helping companies create environments where Masters thrive and helping individuals design their lives so they can travel their unique path of Mastery. 

This is how the Way to Mastery work/life course and app came to be, and why I wrote the book Hack Mastery. Yes, “I quit my soul-sucking corporate executive job* and now I am doing what I love to do!”

*Note: Not all corporate jobs are soul-sucking; most are actually amazing, but like everything in life; it’s what you make out of what you have.

Sales Mastery: A Path to Fulfillment

I have met a lot of salespeople; the ones with extraordinary lives specialize. They choose a market, a niche, a product type, and become a true expert in that area. With enough time and with a healthy mix of passion and a whole lot of effort, they become Masters. 

Brian sells Data Analytics software to technology companies and has for 12 years; his enthusiasm is palpable. Debbie is a sales expert in staffing to a single account; she loves her customers. Tim is a specialist in Applicant Tracking System software;  his brilliance is unsurpassed. Ron sells Vendor Management Systems exclusively to Fortune 100 companies; 16 years of excellence. Sheila sells practice management software to Northern California-based medical offices; she’s been doing this for 20 years and has no intention of stopping. Ed specializes in the sale of high-end residential real estate in Silicon Valley to high net-worth individuals; there is never enough hours in his day. My expert list can go on.

These are just a few of the ones I know that stand out from the rest. The great ones love selling and are dedicated to being as good as they possibly can be. They are all Masters in their specific domain; a market, a niche, an account, or a technology. They reject the false promise of serving many markets. They focus so they could excel. That means they say "No" frequently to apparent "opportunities."


How can you spot Master salespeople? 

Master salespeople possess a quiet intensity. Their concentration is uncanny. They learn their products and services quickly and thoroughly. They listen so intently to their prospects that sales conversations are anything but sales conversations. 

They see the big picture, yet attend to the details. They understand their client and their circumstances—their hopes and challenges, the constraints they face, and the resources they have. They know where they can help, and where they can’t. They recognize that their prospect has choices and what those choices are. They know what it takes to solve the problem and are willing to make that happen when the time and money are right for all concerned.

They seem to know what will happen before it does and see things others don’t. They are intuitive and just seem to “know” things. They bring new and fresh insights to selling opportunities. They have a vision for what is possible and find innovation springing forward.

Masters gracefully reach their sales targets and push beyond. Their income puts them in the top tier of their industry. They are never satisfied yet they are paradoxically content as they seek new challenges – earning goals, new customers, challenges. They pay attention.
They are smiling from the inside even as they struggle with challenging clients, unpredictable service providers, less than perfect products, “unreasonable” requirements, ever-shifting commission plans, and incompetent or misguided managers. They rise above it because they love what they do, they love what they sell, and they love converting prospects into customers and the special bond that forms.
But every extraordinary salesperson has specialized; they are NOT generalists. They have developed the specific skills they need in that specialization. They have acquired the in-depth knowledge of the domain they sell in. They have built relationships throughout the ecosystem that surrounds their specialization. They solicit feedback and input—from coaches, managers, customers, peers, and competition. They watch the metrics and KPIs to make sure they stay on track. They live their life so that they can do what they do at the highest of their ability. 

It is an intense existence. But master salespeople relish it. Some of them describe the experience of selling like an athlete on court—being in “the zone” when time stops, and there is just the moment—the client, the presentation, the search. These people have followed their calling and trekked along a steep road from Beginner to Novice to Competent to Master. 

Not all salespeople specialize; some are generalists. Generalists can be competent and capable. They leverage their interpersonal skills but seldom know more than the bare minimum about their products or services, their markets, etc. On occasion, a generalist becomes an expert. I have never met a generalist that is a Master. 

Sales Mastery is the alchemy of passion, skill, knowledge, feedback, routine, and community. Together these things create an amazing life. You might find it surprising, but the true reward for a Master salesperson isn’t the money or the acclaim, though they get plenty of that. Their most meaningful reward is in the moments of joy they experience while selling.

Yes, they love selling and selling loves them right back!

Eight trends make Mastery essential in Digital Age

“Average is officially over.” Thomas Friedman

We have entered a new era—the Age of Mastery. Eight trends have converged to redefine the nature of work, and the workforce—creating an imperative for the individual to become extraordinary at what they do. This article focuses on those trends and, hopefully, provides useful prompts to think about your life.

Before I jump in, you should know, I am an unabashed optimist—I believe people everywhere have the opportunity to become extraordinary at what they love to do. Everyone can design their lives to live like a Master and experience real success and fulfillment. In the Age of Mastery, we have access to everything we need to make that happen. Exactly how this happens is covered in my book, Hack Mastery, and is the focus of the Way to Mastery workshops I do for companies and individuals.

As you read about each trend, I encourage you to ask yourself: What does this trend mean for me? How will it impact my job or my industry? What steps can I take now? What am I willing to devote myself to? What is my heart telling me? What is stopping me from doing what I need to do?

#1 We are more connected than ever

Today, we are hyper-connected. We can reach almost anyone regardless of location, education, or status. Connectivity is one of the major gifts of the digital age. We have unrestricted access to ecosystems specific to our interests and passions.

Caveat: What you bring to the conversation matters.

#2 Technology gives and technology takes

Technology is giving skilled workers more tools with which to express their creativity, enabling them to collaborate quickly with other like-minded hyper-specialists. Technology is liberating the genius of new-age artisans, empowering people from all walks of life to re-imagine their future.

Caveat: Technology is replacing low-skilled, low-value jobs.


#3 The nature of work is changing

Work is being broken down into smaller and smaller increments and performed by individuals with honed skills and abilities.  Two new roles are emerging:

  • Hyper-specialists: These are Masters of a Niche—experts with specific competencies, extreme skill, and deep knowledge. [Harvard Business Review]

  • Versatilists: These are Masters of a Domain--experts with broad insight and in-depth process- and industry-oriented competencies. They work in unison with specialists, often building alliances, integrating ideas, and facilitating outcomes. [Gartner]

Caveat: Opportunities for generalists—those who have a broad scope and relatively shallow skills—is diminishing. 

#4 temporary Work is permanent work

Today, temporary labor makes up over thirty percent of the workforce, according to many sources. Businesses and organizations of all types are seeking workers with the right mix of skill, knowledge, and emotional intelligence, when and where they need the talent and expertise. Similarly, people are seeking opportunities to use their best skills and knowledge, when and where they want.

According to Staffing Industry Analysts, $3.5 trillion was spent globally in 2015 on workers employed by staffing agencies, independent contractors, temporary workers sourced directly by client companies, statement-of-work consultants, and human “cloud workers.” These categories are collectively known as the Gig Economy.

Caveat: To thrive in the Gig Economy requires entrepreneurial prowess resilience and personal accountability.

#5 A permanent job is temporary

Even “permanent employment” is increasingly short-term. Millennials make up thirty percent of the workforce and change jobs on average every 2.6 years. Baby boomers long ago abandoned the idea of lifetime employment and change jobs about every five years.

Caveat: Employment security is a thing of the past.

#6 Freelance entrepreneurs are emerging.

Online marketplaces and corporate platforms for freelance workers are furthering the march towards worker self-sufficiency. These platforms are designed specifically to match buyers and sellers of services via the Internet. Now, when we are extraordinary at what we love to do, regardless of how obscure or narrow our niche, we can find people and companies that want our services. For many, freelancing is part-time work, however, for a growing number of individuals, freelancing is their sole source of income. One study estimates that one in three US workers were freelancing. [Freelancer Union and Upwork, 2016]

Caveat: The freelance marketplace favors people that are highly skilled, work fast, extremely flexible, effective transactional communicators, and inexpensive.

#7 Globalization is raising the bar

Initially, globalization and outsourcing only affected blue-collar workers when manufacturing moved to countries with low-cost labor, such as China and Mexico. Now, few segments of the workforce are immune to the consequences of outsourcing. Technology has enabled knowledge work to be done remotely, creating more competition for the best jobs. Employers are seeking the best talent—regardless of where that genius lives.

Caveat: This means that whatever you do, you have to create real value. You have to be extraordinary.

#8 People with new skills are needed now

The United States does not have enough people with the right skills to fill all of its job openings, even though the jobless rate is somewhere between 4.7% and 9.7%.  Still, organizational leaders rank talent acquisition and retention as top priorities, and state that lack of skilled labor is the greatest obstacle to growth.

Learning options are abundant, but it is up to each of us to build a curriculum that works. Established universities and colleges are evolving, but struggle to bring value to the workforce—more than twenty percent of new college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. Corporations spent $356 billion on workforce training in 2015—but studies show that such training is frequently ineffective. Skills-focused schools and boot camps, like General Assembly and Code Academy, are making a small dent but with limited scope. Online education is exploding around us; it’s cheap or free, but unproven.

Caveat: It’s fun to dream about advanced and continuing education, but it’s not easy. Ultimately, it is up to you to develop the skills and knowledge you need to thrive. Learning is your real job in the Age of Mastery.


what does it all mean To You?

Even as the challenges mount, opportunities are growing for all of us. Never before have individuals been better able to pursue their dreams. Almost everyone has access to the resources they need to thrive—education, people, money, opportunity, tools, and support. All we have to do is to get on the virtuous cycle of learning and growth, and nurture ourselves to stay on the path as we pass through the stages—Beginner to Novice to Competent to Expert to Master. As we grow, we will come to know true success and fulfillment.

As Pulitzer-prize winning author Thomas Friedman says, “Average is officially over.”  I say, “Hurray to that…let’s be exceptional!”


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Are you "HERE" or "THERE" or "Neither HERE nor THERE"?

Are you living in the HERE and now – fully immersed in the world around you? Do you sometimes travel THERE – a place deep in the cyberspace? Do you rapidly toggle between these two dimensions, being Neither HERE Nor THERE?

If you do, then you are experiencing the three “states of being” that are common in the digital age:  “HERE”, “THERE” and “Neither HERE Nor THERE”. 

My first few days in Paris revealed how access to the Internet, anytime/anywhere, changed my experience of the world. In this post, I distinguish the three states and begin the discussion about how our ability to navigate these dimensions might be the difference between a life of fulfillment or emptiness.  

Let’s go “HERE"

The State of “HERE”

My wife and I arrived in Paris with no mobile Internet (our AT&T international data plan was virtually useless). “No problem”.  We could manage without connectivity for a day. So I peeked outside to do a weather check (cloudy and cold) before we bundled up and set out for a café and then the Louvre. 

Lost in the West Bank - 20 rue de L'Hirondelle

Lost in the West Bank - 20 rue de L'Hirondelle

Without Google Maps, we were soon lost in the higgledy-piggledy streets of the Left Bank. I was having my own “Midnight in Paris” moment - jabbering on about Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Ford Madox Ford carousing in these very streets, when they called Paris home in the 1920’s.  This kind of “lost” was awesome.

The sky slowly darkened and then suddenly erupted into a downpour; the downpour became freezing sleet. The sleet then transformed into a slicing horizontal attack – propelled by the wind that swept down the river Seine. The attack worsened on the long stretch between the Cathedral Notre Dame and the Louvre, decimating our umbrella - shredding the canopy, turning the ribs inside out and bending the shaft.

No taxis. I found myself twitching for my phone. UBER? If only I could check the! No connectivity, no solution! 

So we forged onward. Our feeble shield was no match for the onslaught – we were soaked from the waist down. Laughing, grimacing, prodding each other – all to the apparent amusement of Parisians driving by.

Stranded at the SW Corner of the Louvre

Stranded at the SW Corner of the Louvre

Eventually we found refuge under an archway a hundred meters from the entrance to the Louvre and waited. The wind subsided as the sleet turned to snow.  We shared a moment of amazed delight with 20 other wet soon-to-be museum-goers.  

Lost. Cold. Wet. I was present. I was alive. I was HERE.

Finally inside the Louvre, we opted not to rent the audio tour. Without Internet, there was No Wikipedia, no data fix, and no posting; just centuries of art and my thoughts, feelings, memories and frame of reference.

Soon my monkey mind grew eerily quiet. A universe opened up as I surrendered, again and again, to the beauty and brilliance we happened upon.  


Nike of Samothrace (Winged Victory), 2nd Century BC

Nike of Samothrace (Winged Victory), 2nd Century BC

Such was the case when our path converged with "Nike of Samothrace". The invincible angel stood atop the helm of a ship and, from across the long hall, she seemed to come to me as much as I was going to her. In her presence I was humbled, uplifted and inspired - with honor and courage anything is possible. 

We spent 30 minutes with her; viewing her from different perspectives; standing or sitting near and far.

Sometimes we watched how others discovered her. So many with bowed heads, absorbed for a moment in their own digital world. 

And so we spent a magical afternoon untethered from the Internet, "alone" with the magnificence of Venus de Milo, the Borghese Gladiator, the Portrait of Francois I, The Astronomer, the Nymph and Satyr, La Jeune Martyre, and the Mona Lisa.

I was moved and inspired. I was present. I was alive. This is the “HERE” state.  I was HERE.


The State of “THERE”

Being “HERE” is an amazing place to be.  Equally amazing is being “not HERE”, but “THERE”.

The next day we were connected - our mobile devices had Internet and we had fast WiFi. This was a “work day” and I was deep in cyberspace, working on a new segment of the Way to Mastery workshop I am giving when we return from Europe in May.  

My cyber travel tools at use in Paris

My cyber travel tools at use in Paris

My fingers hummed on the keyboard of my MacBook Pro. The iPad ran a slideshow of Matisse paintings. Debussy’s Reverie channeled through my noise cancelling headphones on a continuous loop (part of my routine that enables me scale the levels of cyberspace).

I explored the works and lives of Picasso and Matisse, the heroic, artistic Paris in the first decades of the 20th century, and the literary paragons – Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Immersed in a universe of facts, interpretations, sounds and images, I fleshed out thoughts, explored possibilities, challenged assumptions and created rich mental landscapes.

Our 18th Century Airbnb Apartment on the Left Bank

Our 18th Century Airbnb Apartment on the Left Bank

I was barely aware of the utterly charming 18th century apartment (thank you airbnb) or my wife who drifted in and out of a nap that insisted on interrupting her reading time.

I was romping in the digital universe - cyberspace. I was alive and it was good. This is the “THERE” state.  I was THERE.

"The State of “Neither HERE Nor THERE”
Being “THERE” is an amazing place to be; so is being “HERE”.  What about the other state we increasingly find ourselves in?  I call it the “Neither HERE Nor THERE” state. 

Now mobile and online, the D’Orsay Museum was our next destination. I checked and confirmed that UBER was up and running in case we needed it. Google Maps guided us efficiently through Left Bank to a recommended patisserie. I checked emails, used Google Translate to interpret the menu and refresh my French, double checked the route to the museum, hit Wikipedia for more info on Van Gogh and Matisse, checked one of my client’s website for updates, pinged the kids with Whatsapp, and scanned CNN, FOX and the NY Times to get a sense of the chaotic 2016 primaries back home.

Eric Kayser Patisserie / Cafe au Lait, Croissant, Brioche (Orange) :-)

Eric Kayser Patisserie / Cafe au Lait, Croissant, Brioche (Orange) :-)

I must have eaten the almond croissant and drank the café au lait. All the while, Tina and I chatted intermittently (she was posting and texting). All my piddling was of no consequence but seemed important at the moment - just part of everyday life. I was “Neither HERE Nor THERE”.

On the way to the museum, I continually glanced at Google MAPS, intent on staying on course. I watched the traffic lights; peaked at the architecture; responded to a text. I held my iPhone tightly and when possible we held hands. 

At the museum, my attention toggled between the paintings, the audio tour, and web searches looking for still more factoids about Van Gogh, his works and other artists of his time.

Close up of a Van Gogh self portrait (one of many)

Close up of a Van Gogh self portrait (one of many)

Now my monkey brain was hopping with ideas, insights and curiosity - so many new data points, more dots to connect, ideas to noodle through, and more data putty to fill my knowledge gaps. I jostled, and was jostled by, other “participants” who toggled between the physical world (HERE) and cyberspace (THERE).

Mapping Matisse' Life to the "Way to Mastery"

By dinner, our conversation swirled around Matisse, spilling over with new facts, insights, and observations. We dipped into our iPhones to confirm, disprove, remind and knowledge gap fill. The tablecloth became map of Matisse’ life as he traveled the “Way to Mastery”. 

We had spent the day toggling between cyberspace and the physical world; barely touching neither as the moments flew by. We were overloaded but something had sprouted from all the input. I was in the "Neither HERE Nor THERE" stated.

So what does all this mean?

In the digital age, we necessarily split our time and attention between two vastly different universes. This has us oscillating between three states of being: “HERE”, “THERE” and “Neither HERE Nor THERE”.

By distinguishing these states you are taking the first step to effectively navigate this new paradigm. Done well, you expand your creativity, become more productive, and relate better to your co-workers, life partners, and children, as well as strangers. 

 What’s next?

Observe yourself. Observe others. See what happens.



"Hack Mastery" is Here!


What if you devoted yourself to doing what you love? What if you could become extraordinary at it? What if your work could light you up with energy and give you deep satisfaction? What if you could live a life of continual learning, filled every day with exciting discoveries, gratification, and guaranteed success?

Workforce expert and creator of Way to Mastery Stephen Graziani’s new book, Hack Mastery, provides clear guidance on how you can have just such a life! An expert in human capital management, Steve has managed recruiting and sales teams that filled more than ten thousand jobs over 20 years. After overseeing the interviews of more than 100,000 candidates, he recognized a pattern—all those people experiencing career fulfillment and success had incorporated the same Seven Elements into their lives—as a result, they loved their jobs and they loved their lives!

Hack Mastery outlines the details of Steve’s breakthrough and clarifies what his discovery means to you. In today’s hyper-connected, technology-driven environment, how can you achieve Mastery in your profession or any area of your life? In Hack Mastery, Steve shows you how to weave the “Seven Elements” into your own life.

Once you see the world through the eyes of a Master, everything changes. You cultivate your interests, invest in yourself purposefully, and connect with people in new and significant ways. You tap into a powerful source of energy. Mastery feeds a virtuous cycle of learning and doing; it empowers you to produce extraordinary outcomes; meaning and fulfillment enrich your life. On the road of Mastery, time doesn’t fly. Time stands still!

Hack Mastery is available in print and ebook formats from HERE or directly from us (just send us an email and we will be in touch.)