A lesson from a master

In my mind, I have a list of people who could help me take my life and work to the next level. On that list are people like Venkatesh Rao of Breaking Smart and Ribbonfarm fame, Taylor Pearson, author of End of Jobs and systems wizard, Ryan Holiday, uber-strategist and writer, and ultra-worker Sebastian Marshall.

Unfortunately, these people aren’t friends, so when I have a problem I can’t just hop on the phone and talk it out with them. If I want their advice, it’s gonna cost me. Which is fine. But it does raise a question: if I only have a limited window to talk with and learn from these people, when is the best time to use that window? At what point should I use it to get maximum leverage from the experience?

If you’ve seen the early Fast and Furious movies, or played games like Need for Speed: Underground, you’ll know what NOS is. It stands for nitrous oxide. Using NOS on an engine is like jamming a shot of adrenaline right into your arteries. It amps everything up. An engine equipped with NOS can get a short hit of extra horsepower. But for a finite amount of time. So, like conversations with the above people, the question is, when to use it? At the start of the race, to get to the head of the pack? On the home straight? Halfway through to aid an overtake that gets you into third?

An analogous scenario is in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Or any art or craft. You have a day with a master. During that day, the master will attempt to teach you as much as possible, and you can ask any questions you desire. But who benefits from such an opportunity the most?

Is it the newbie? The master can teach him the basics, the fundamentals that he’s learnt over many decades and difficulties, the timeless and tireless principles of his craft. The master, doing this, can save the newbie many years of wasted effort and fruitless exploration.

Or does the journeyman benefit the most? Someone whose fire of passion is in the process of hardening into a diamond of purpose can learn a lot from a master. He can learn the principles and fundamentals, but also discover the subtlety and complexity of advanced techniques from an individual who has already mastered them.

Or perhaps the expert gains the most? The master can teach the almost-master how to traverse the final chasm before mastery. He can teach him the answers to the deepest, obscure riddles that are thwarting the experts transition to a peak performer.

By now, I suspect you’re expecting an answer. Well, I don’t really have one. I thought I would after I’d externalised my thinking on this. But I don’t. Or I do. But it changes constantly. Sometimes I think the beginner benefits most from a lesson with a master. Other times I think a master is better off teaching almost-masters. After all, they are the ones who have shown their dedication and love. 

I don’t know what I think. What do you think? If you had one lesson with a master, when would you take it?