Quotes on Work and Mastery

  • “Perhaps we’ll never know how far the path can go, how much a human being can truly achieve, until we realize that the ultimate reward is not a gold medal but the path itself.”- George Leonard
  • “The best way to describe your total creative capacity is to say that for all practical purposes it is infinite.” – George Leonard
  • Backsliding is a universal experience. Every one of us resists significant change, no matter whether it’s for the worse or for the better. Our body, brain and behavior have a built-in tendency to stay the same within rather narrow limits, and to snap back when changed…Be aware of the way homeostasis works…Expect resistance and backlash. Realize that when the alarm bells start ringing, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sick or crazy or lazy or that you’ve made a bad decision in embarking on the journey of mastery. In fact, you might take these signals as an indication that your life is definitely changing–just what you’ve wanted….Be willing to negotiate with your resistance to change. – George Leonard
  • We fail to realize that mastery is not about perfection. It’s about a process, a journey. The master is the one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is the one who is willing to try, and fail, and try again, for as long as he or she lives. – George Leonard
  • “Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.”- Cal Newport
  • “If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (“what can the world offer me?”) and instead adopt the craftsman mindset (“what can I offer the world?”).”
  • “Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy 1. The ability to quickly master hard things. 2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.”
  • “if you keep interrupting your evening to check and respond to e-mail, or put aside a few hours after dinner to catch up on an approaching deadline, you’re robbing your directed attention centers of the uninterrupted rest they need for restoration. Even if these work dashes consume only a small amount of time, they prevent you from reaching the levels of deeper relaxation in which attention restoration can occur. Only the confidence that you’re done with work until the next day can convince your brain to downshift to the level where it can begin to recharge for the next day to follow. Put another way, trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day enough that you end up getting less done than if you had instead respected a shutdown.”
  • “If you can’t learn, you can’t thrive.”
  • “Another key commitment for succeeding with this strategy is to support your commitment to shutting down with a strict shutdown ritual that you use at the end of the workday to maximize the probability that you succeed. In more detail, this ritual should ensure that every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right. The process should be an algorithm: a series of steps you always conduct, one after another. When you’re done, have a set phrase you say that indicates completion (to end my own ritual, I say, “Shutdown complete”). This final step sounds cheesy, but it provides a simple cue to your mind that it’s safe to release work-related thoughts for the rest of the day.”
  • “The task of a craftsman, they conclude, “is not to generate meaning, but rather to cultivate in himself the skill of discerning the meanings that are already there.”
  • “If you service low-impact activities, therefore, you’re taking away time you could be spending on higher-impact activities. It’s a zero-sum game.”
  • “the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do. On reflection, this makes sense.”
  • “No one owes you a great career, it argues; you need to earn it—and the process won’t be easy.”
  • “Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.”
  • “Ericsson notes that for a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit, while for experts this number can expand to as many as four hours—but rarely more.”
  • “Your goal is not to stick to a given schedule at all costs; it’s instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time going forward—even”
  • You shouldn’t just envy the craftsman mindset, you should emulate it. In other words, I am suggesting that you put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion, and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you. That is, regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.
  • “To remain valuable in our economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deep work. If you don’t cultivate this ability, you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances.
  • “craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you. This mindset is how most people approach their working lives.”
  • “In our current culture, we place a lot of emphasis on job description. Our obsession with the advice to “follow your passion” (the subject of my last book), for example, is motivated by the (flawed) idea that what matters most for your career satisfaction is the specifics of the job you choose. In this way of thinking, there are some rarified jobs that can be a source of satisfaction—perhaps working in a nonprofit or starting a software company—while all others are soulless and bland. The philosophy of Dreyfus and Kelly frees us from such traps. The craftsmen they cite don’t have rarified jobs. Throughout most of human history, to be a blacksmith or a wheelwright wasn’t glamorous. But this doesn’t matter, as the specifics of the work are irrelevant. The meaning uncovered by such efforts is due to the skill and appreciation inherent in craftsmanship—not the outcomes of their work.”
  • “If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”
  • “Then there’s the issue of cognitive capacity. Deep work is exhausting because it pushes you toward the limit of your abilities. Performance psychologists have extensively studied how much such efforts can be sustained by an individual in a given day.* In their seminal paper on deliberate practice, Anders Ericsson and his collaborators survey these studies. They note that for someone new to such practice (citing, in particular, a child in the early stages of developing an expert-level skill), an hour a day is a reasonable limit. For those familiar with the rigors of such activities, the limit expands to something like four hours, but rarely more.”
  • “The good news about deliberate practice is that it will push you past this plateau and into a realm where you have little competition.”
  • “To remain valuable in our economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things.”
  • “[Great creative minds] think like artists but work like accountants.”
  • To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work. If you’re comfortable going deep, you’ll be comfortable mastering the increasingly complex systems and skills needed to thrive in our economy. If you instead remain one of the many for whom depth is uncomfortable and distraction ubiquitous, you shouldn’t expect these systems and skills to come easily to you.
  • “When Carl Jung wanted to revolutionize the field of psychiatry, he built a retreat in the woods. Jung’s Bollingen Tower became a place where he could maintain his ability to think deeply and then apply the skill to produce work of such stunning originality that it changed the world. In the pages ahead, I’ll try to convince you to join me in the effort to build our own personal Bollingen Towers; to cultivate an ability to produce real value in an increasingly distracted world; and to recognize a truth embraced by the most productive and important personalities of generations past: A deep life is a good life.”
  • “Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you. This mindset is how most people approach their working lives. There are two reasons why I dislike the passion mindset (that is, two reasons beyond the fact that, as I argued in Rule #1, it’s based on a false premise). First, when you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness. This is especially true for entry-level positions, which, by definition, are not going to be filled with challenging projects and autonomy—these come later. When you enter the working world with the passion mindset, the annoying tasks you’re assigned or the frustrations of corporate bureaucracy can become too much to handle. Second, and more serious, the deep questions driving the passion mindset—“Who am I?” and “What do I truly love?”—are essentially impossible to confirm. “Is this who I really am?” and “Do I love this?” rarely reduce to clear yes-or-no responses. In other words, the passion mindset is almost guaranteed to keep you perpetually unhappy and confused, which probably explains why Bronson admits, not long into his career-seeker epic What Should I Do With My Life? that “the one feeling everyone in this book has experienced is of missing out on life.”
  • “Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.”
  • “This new science of performance argues that you get better at a skill as you develop more myelin around the relevant neurons, allowing the corresponding circuit to fire more effortlessly and effectively. To be great at something is to be well myelinated. This understanding is important because it provides a neurological foundation for why deliberate practice works. By focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the specific relevant circuit to fire, again and again, in isolation. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers cells called oligodendrocytes to begin wrapping layers of myelin around the neurons in the circuits—effectively cementing the skill. The reason, therefore, why it’s important to focus intensely on the task at hand while avoiding distraction is because this is the only way to isolate the relevant neural circuit enough to trigger useful myelination. By contrast, if you’re trying to learn a complex new skill (say, SQL database management) in a state of low concentration (perhaps you also have your Facebook feed open), you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen. In”
  • “Whether you’re a writer, marketer, consultant, or lawyer: Your work is craft, and if you hone your ability and apply it with respect and care, then like the skilled wheelwright you can generate meaning in the daily efforts of your professional life.”
  • “If your goal is to love what you do, you must first build up “career capital” by mastering rare and valuable skills, and then cash in this capital for the traits that define great work.”
  • “monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling. This philosophy attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations.”
  • “it has the three traits that make people love their work: impact, creativity, and control.”
  • “Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.”