The process-oriented mindset is one of several styles of moving to the beat of your own passion.  Another name for it is “mastery.”

One of the best breakdowns of the requirements and outcomes of pursuing “mastery” is the one the celebrated art curator Sarah Lewis delineates in her book, THE RISE:  Creativity, the Gift of Failure and the Search for Mastery.

This 2014 book is a fascinating exploration of the constant pursuit of excellence that is pretty much what distinguishes real artists and artisans, real explorers and thinkers, and real entrepreneurs from the wannabes.

She says,

Mastery requires endurance. Mastery, a word we don’t use often, is not the equivalent of what we might consider its cognate — perfectionism — an inhuman aim motivated by a concern with how others view us. Mastery is also not the same as success — an event-based victory based on a peak point, a punctuated moment in time. Mastery is not merely a commitment to a goal, but to a curved-line, constant pursuit.

Mastery is more than goal-setting and doing the grind to meet whatever goals you set so you can move on to the next set of goals and the next.  It’s a deeper way of playing and the path you follow curves and spirals on inwards and outwards, upwards and downwards.

First, you have to believe that whatever skills you have are infinitely expandable.

You must also hold on to a deep conviction that if you just put in the effort to learn and practice and build on your skills until you get to Good, then you’ll get the chance to put in some more work to go past your best Good to something more.

“The long road ahead” by Mike via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The “something more” is always going to be elusive.  You are never going to get there because when you do get to the next level in your climb towards excellence, there’s always going to be one more level to reach for.

“Mountain” by barnyz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Whatever.  Following the path of mastery means you are determined that you’re going to make the run anyhow.

And then you go do it, one step at a time.

“Take the long road and walk it” by Holm Engelbrecht via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The only caveat is that you have to remember that you are never going to be a “master” at everything.  You can, however, get pretty good at whatever you choose to focus on.

If you change your mind about your favorite passion or if you get bored with it once you get good, the cool part is that you can take the skills you’ve developed so far and apply them to another, new passion.  That’s a major two-fer, I say.

Long Road to Walk” by Henti Smith via Flicker [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]


A while back, I played around in Cal Newport’s thoughts on “craftsman mindset” as presented in his 2012 book, SO GOOD THEY CAN’T IGNORE YOU:  Why Skills Trump Passion in the Work You Love.  You can access that post by clicking on the button below.


You do need to remember that passion is still the fuel you will need to use in this style of moving.

If you don’t have an intense emotional investment in whatever you’re doing, what’s going to get you up on the morning of Day 2,357 when you’re facing another massive pile of stuff that needs to get done?  How will you move your sorry butt along this interminable road you’re following?

“Passion” by CLAUDIA DEA via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]


Because a lot of the postmodern “follow-your-bliss” crowd who heeded the call to the “Hero’s Journey” that professor of literature Joseph Campbell famously explored have been standing around lost and all, a bunch of folks have been making the choice to get onto ye olde mastery road.

If you’re one of the brave souls who want to do that, you might want to take a gander at an acknowledged classic in the world of in-the-field guidebooks for wannabe masters.

In 1991, the late George Leonard wrote a book, MASTERY:  The Keys to Success and Long-Term FulfillmentAt the time, Leonard was already an Air Corps pilot, an educator and one of the leading thinkers in the rapidly developing “human potential” movement.

Leonard helped found the ground-breaking Esalen Institute in 1962.  He was already the author of a number of published books as well as a master of the Japanese martial art, aikido.

All of that stuff went into the making of this small but really powerful book.

Leonard arranged his books around what he called the “Five Keys to Mastery.”  These are:

  • INSTRUCTION. To be a master you need to get guidance and instruction.  This doesn’t mean you need to go get a guru or anything like that.  You just need to follow your curiosity about whatever you want to do better and go find the people who can help you do that and help you get better at what you already can do.  Teachers are everywhere.  You just have to notice.
  • PRACTICE. Practice, practice, practice.  Make your practice as deliberate as you can.  Make it as right as you can.  Welcome the inevitable plateaus that you’ll experience when nothing seems to be happening because that’s when the learning is happening.  Practice some more.
  • SURRENDER. Surrender to your passion.  Let it take hold of you hard so you’ll be able to do all that learning and all that practicing when nothing seems to be working out right.
  • INTENTIONALITY. Make your dream real and present right now in your consciousness.  Act as if your dream has already happened and is there with you in the here and now.  Make your moves for the dream whenever you can and then go practice some more.
  • THE EDGE. Play the edge.  Work on pushing it further outward from where you are and dance.  Keep on doing that.  And practice some more.


“On the road again” by Cheryl Van Stane via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]


Thanks for coming with me on this mini-exploration.  As your reward, here’s a wonderful YouTube video with a plain name, “Olson Guitars Shop Interview.” The 11-minute video was uploaded in 2014 and tells the story of one master’s journey through the world that still keeps on going.

Jim Olson, the luthier in the video, started handcrafting and selling acoustic flattop guitars in 1977 during a time when there wasn’t much demand for them.  He kept making them anyway.

Eventually, because his guitars were taken up, prized, and played by musicians of international renown (like James Taylor and Phil Keaggy), Olson got to make more and more of them and kept on getting better and better at what he does.

The video, which was produced by Thomas Strand, tells his story.  Enjoy!

(If you’re interested in his guitars and what the guy’s doing now, click on his name above and it’ll take you to the Olson Guitar website.)

“Old man walking” by Martijn Loth via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


Shadows press in.

The cries for help sound in my ears

And “but” and “but” and “but” –

Objections rising up on all sides

As I step and step, avoiding potholes,

Negotiating fallen trees and rock slides

Along this narrow ledge

Winding up some other precipice.


Times like this make me wonder

Why I keep on following this road,

But that’s not real.

This is the road I am walking.

The only real in all of this

Is that there are no definitive answers

To any of the Big Questions:

“Who am I?”

“Why am I here?”

“What can I do to help?”

Conditional answers spring to mind.


My moves are linked to those made

By others in my life

And we’re tied all together by

Invisible threads stronger than titanium.

So we follow each other ’round and ’round,

Winding each other up in cocoons

That limit the moves we want to make,

The moves we CAN make.


The lesson comes again:

You cannot love another to safety.

They have their own cliff edges to walk,

And the best you can do is

Try not to trip them up

And to try to keep yourself from

Falling off your own ledge in this process.


The howling wind does not help.

The rain’s making it a slushy mess,

But, you keep on walking because

That’s the all of it,

Isn’t it?

By Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit: “towards ?” by Leonard Matthews via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]



(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you…)


Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.


12 thoughts on “A MASTER’S JOURNEY: Jim Olson

  1. David Pratama says:

    Dear Netta,

    Thanks for the very interesting article, which is quite a new topic for me. I guess the idea is based on Sarah Lewis as the art of the process of self-development and motivation to achieve more and with a higher purpose. 

    It is always beneficial to learn ways to motivate and improve ourselves as I truly believe in the life-learning process. The five keys of mastery seems to make sense as a way to do it. 

    Thanks for sharing and keep up the great work!

    1. David, thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

  2. Just big Wow. Everything you write shines with wisdom and love. I have booked-marked it and would check the books you’ve referred for my next read. Such a beautiful and resourceful website.

    1. Jeeda, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. I’m so glad you enjoy the website.

      Please do come again.

  3. Yes, It is. Netta.  Yes, it is.  Wish I would read and read and read and never finish your story and poems.  I leave you now with my soul carrying this small snippet from your lovely poem:  What a wonderful piece on Mastery!!.

    “My moves are linked to those made

    By others in my life

    And we’re tied all together by

    Invisible threads stronger than titanium.”

    Keep publishing.

    1. Anusuya, thank you for your kind words and your encouragement.

      Please do come again.

  4. Parameter says:

    I like it when you said our gifts are expandable. No matter how good or gifted you are, there is something more for you to master and achieve. So to be good at what you think you are a speciality, you must be willing to train and learn.

    It is where we must master our failures and turn them into successes. We must strive to improve all the time.

    1. I do agree with you, Parameter.  Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.

      Please do come again.

  5. Michel Maling says:

    You are correct in saying that in order to achieve mastery in something, it helps to be passionate about that subject matter. This is the only way you are going to motivate yourself to put in the hard work to make it happen for you. If you are doing something merely for the money and not because you love it, you are not going to work as hard on it, and what work you do accomplish is going to feel like hard work.

    I love the poem at the bottom that mentions that everyone has their own cliff edges to walk. Each person has their own path in life, and not everyone is going to choose the same one, as thank goodness we are all different.

    1. Michel, I am pleased you enjoyed this post.  I do like your point that your intentions and your motivations can make the inevitable hard work that must be done to actually achieve mastery in something go easier. 

      When you love something, you tend to just do the heavy lifting and the scutwork without a heck of a lot of complaining, it seems to me.  Everybody’s got their own edges to walk.

      Please do come again.

  6. Welf Bolke says:

    Mastery is really like you say in your blog, not talked about often in today’s life.  The young people do not no know how to be an master in their work. They just think, “Well I have some years behind me and now I qualify as an master in my field.”

    I like this topic and will definitely read more.

    Thanks for sharing.      

    1. A very good point, Welf.  Mastery is a heck of a lot more than just putting in the years. 

      Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

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