Hard work. Thick skin. Padding.

“From the Ground Up” is a good way to describe how you have to build your skillset. It’s also a short documentary about skateboarder Rodney Mullen.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve become more attuned to the recipes that people attribute their success to. For example, there’s Robert Greene’s Mastery formula: mastery = time x intense focus x self-confidence. From Shadow Divers, one of John Chatterton’s principles is that “excellence is born of preparation, dedication, focus and tenacity; compromise on any of these and you become average.” From Ender’s Game comes the rule that, first, you must be really fucking good (the BRFG approach). There is Justine Musk’s assertion to “be obsessed.” And there’s Maria Popova’s formula for greatness, which is consistency paired with a great love of the work.

If you watch the documentary, you’ll notice these in Rodney. At a young age, he would skate, and skate, and skate. He would practice a trick, and practice, and practice, and practice. He was obsessive. He sunk a massive amount of time into skating. He was relentless in his pursuit of excellence. Like most masters of his craft he, intuitively or instinctively, obeyed the above formulas in some way.

Another thing I’ve started to notice recently is that the best not only play better, they train better. Like the 10,000 hour rule, this seems fairly obvious. Except that it’s rare for someone to approach their training with the same intensity that they approach their performance. Just like it’s rare for someone to disagree with the 10,000 hour rule, but even more unlikely for someone to actually act on it.

The point is, even in a pursuit like skateboarding, the rules for mastery, the formulas for greatness still apply. You don’t have to be an artist, or an athlete, or a creative, to use and benefit from them. But you do have to practice better, train better, learn better and apply them to your work, whatever that may be.

If you seek an unusually high level of ability, you have to act in a way that goes beyond the usual.

But be warned. It requires hard work and thick skin. Or in Rodney’s case, a lot of padding.