Worth Repeating: Mastering Your Craft

Some conversations with friends and family members over the last few months have caused me to think a lot about success; what does it take to not only succeed, but be the best? how does one who is currently, by whatever standard of measurement imposed, deemed unsuccessful become successful? and what tools are out there to help?

Well, here’s my perspective:

Success is basically defined as accomplishing something or reaching a certain level of popularity or income/profit. i.e. a successful actor or a successful movie. On a more personal level, it may be reaching a level financially where one no longer has to live paycheck to paycheck, or when an entrepreneur starts getting work from word of mouth rather than direct advertising.

From my small experience, any success I’ve gained in my life has come from a commitment to master my craft. Please bear with me as I share a few personal examples.

I play the saxophone, and in high school came the time to audition for the numerous bands on campus. There were quite a few other saxophone players, and so quite a bit of competition. But I worked hard, practiced, and in some small sense, mastered my craft, and was the first chair saxophone player throughout the 4 years I attended high school.

Also in high school I played Volleyball, and was captain or co-captain the years I played. I and my co-captains attained that position by, again, on a small scale, mastering our craft. We practiced outside of practice, constantly had a volleyball in hand, and devoted ourselves to being the best we could be.

All this among the other endeavors I and my close friends were involved in, which included performing groups, choir, student council, decent grades, and everything else that came with the territory. It wasn’t hard, and I didn’t even come close to mastering everything I did, but the stuff that mattered most to me, I tried my best to master, and measured my success against my previous success as well as the success of others.

As a soundsmith, I’m in an industry that is ripe with competition. Since the process has grown to become almost entirely digital, it has also become more affordable, and I, along with many many others were able to break into the industry with very little investment. I was a sound recording major at BYU, but didn’t just rely on the education I received there to jump start my career. I started reading everything I could; books, forums, blogs, anything I could get my hands on to learn more about the craft. By the second year of school I was passing out of classes by handing in recordings the first day of class that I had done the week before at the studio I was working at. I got an A, and never went to class once.

Since then I have started my own business, am working at getting new and more clients, and trying to be successful. Now, I am by no means the best sound engineer there is in Utah, I can think of plenty of people who actually deserve such a title, but I consider myself successful. At one point I was fully supporting myself as an engineer, and am working on getting to that point with my business. The decision to not just limp in, but to become a master of my craft, is what makes all the difference between my reaching that success and failing.

Now, if you’re trying to do something, be it achieve a goal, start a business, be successful, get published, release an album, play a sold out show, raise good kids, the list goes on, here’s my 2¢ on how to do it.

Read everything you can about the subject. Want to be in politics? Then read everything you can on both sides. Want to be a great songwriter? Read every book you can on songwriting. Want to produce a short film? Read everything you can on producing. Reading is the easiest way to learn from industry and other types of professionals on any subject, and you can learn so much in such a short amount of time.

Experience matters almost more than anything else. In certain industries, what you have done almost matters more than what you know. Take film, for example. Nobody on a film set cares that you graduated first in your class with a film degree, if you are a grip that doesn’t know what a c-stand is, or a flag, or gaff tape. You cannot become a master of your craft if you do not actually DO whatever your craft is. So, while you’re reading all the books on whatever you’re trying to learn, spend as much time as you can actually doing it as well. Write if you’re trying to become a successful writer. Take pictures if you’re trying to become a successful photographer. Act if you’re trying to become an actor. You get the picture.

Master your craft. It takes dedication. It takes discipline. It requires you to understand what you’re competition is and/or what obstacles stand in your way. But I can attest to the reality that if you devote everything you have to mastering your craft, it will not be long that you can taste the sweetness of success. You cannot, or rather you should not try to do it any other way.

Now, a final recommendation to you. One book that I’ve read 3 times now and am constantly revisiting, and will now share. It hasn’t changed my life, that would be a little extreme, but it has greatly changed my perspective. If you’ve read it, pick it up and read it again. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it no matter if you’ve already become successful or if you are just starting to try. Link.

Mastering your craft: worth repeating.

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  1. Awesome.
    My dad always told me about how Michael Jordan was the first guy at the gym and the last to leave, making the correlation between him being the Best Basketball Player EVER, and his intense work ethic. You can’t treat the arts, or any profession really, like a hobby and expect “Jordan” results.

    • Vikki Miller
    • April 29th, 2010

    Good post.

    I struggled for a long while after graduating with the meaning of success and then one of my tutors while doing masters put everything into perspective. I was having a ‘moment’ where I felt like an utter failure because everyone I had graduated with were doing jobs they wanted to do, and becoming better designers. I on the other hand was back at university and just reading and writing with minimal design.

    My tutor, who is possibly one of the most experienced and connected graphic designers in the world asked me to look at what success meant to me. What was success?

    Oddly it fitted perfectly with my entire research project, because all too commonly people measure their success against the progression/riches/name of others, when in actual fact that might not be where they are aiming for, and their own personal success might be something different rather than monetary, or fame orientated.

    The business I should be involved in bases success on how many awards a designer can win, the prestige of the brand names that are being worked on, and how much power and monetary compensation is afforded.

    I’m now in a position where, although I am a lot poorer than the people I graduated with five years ago, I’m in a much happier place mentally and with life.

    I completely agree with your three points of success. Only through complete immersion in all facets of something will real success (depending on what the individual decides is success) happen.

    Two Thumbs Fresh.

    A book I like flicking through, that isn’t really substantial, but it’s quick is ‘It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.’ The first design agency I ever worked for was called after that book ‘Good.’

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