(Ha! If only it were that easy…)

I hope I didn’t offend you with the title to this article. If you’ve been reading for any length of time at all you know by now that I believe “quick and easy” to be the absolute antithesis of “mastery”.

And yet, everyone wants “quick and easy” (yes, even yours truly!).

Self-discipline and patience aren’t necessarily my strong suit. On the contrary, I tend to be a “go-getter” and become very excited about whatever goal I am trying to achieve. And like most people, of course I too want to see results now, not weeks or months or (gasp) years from now.

But I’ve learned the hard way (and continue to learn…) that rushing the process is not the path to mastery and instead often leads to misunderstandings, mistakes, disappointment, and frustration (clearly not what you are going for when you are trying to achieve your goals!).

Don’t get me wrong, goals are certainly important—they create much needed intention for your life and help direct you to the proper destination. But by their very definition, goals exist only in the future.

The path of mastery, on the other hand, exists in the present. It is daily practice that you can see, hear, smell, and feel. Mastery is the essence of now…it is enjoying the plateau (for all growth and learning comes in spurts and inevitable plateaus) and being present in the moment, no matter how “mundane” that moment may seem.

In today’s world of instant gratification and quick, effortless success, there is a full-blown conspiracy raging against mastery. We are continually bombarded with promises of “quick and easy” ways to achieve just about anything. “Five minute abs!” “30 Minute Meals!” “Your $10,000 today could be worth $200,000 in just 6 months!”

But there is nothing “quick and easy” about mastery. Warren Buffet did not become a billionaire overnight. Oprah did not become a mega-superstar and billionaire business owner overnight. Bruce Lee did not become a kung fu master and Hollywood legend overnight.

And likewise, neither you (nor I, sadly :)) will become a master investor overnight.

So what exactly is mastery, and how do you achieve it, particularly as an investor?

Merriam-Webster has the following definition:

mas·tery noun \ˈmas-t(ə-)rē\

  • the authority of a master
  • the upper hand in a contest or competition
  • a possession or display of great skill or technique
  • skill or knowledge that makes one master of a subject

This is certainly adequate, but I believe the best definition is that mastery isn’t a goal or a possession or a destination at all, but rather, it is a process or journey.

It is something you practice on a regular basis as an integral part of your life—not solely to gain something else, but for its own sake.

Becoming a master is about patiently enjoying and experiencing the journey, the path, the “Way”, the “Tao”.

So how do we “master” any new subject, particularly investing?

Luckily, George Leonard, aikido black belt and author of the definitive book on mastery (Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, which I just re-read this weekend and highly recommend) has the answer for us!

(And guess what—it’s 5 “simple” steps!)

1. Instruction

One of the main differences between a “master” and a “hack” is first-rate instruction. If you are truly serious about becoming a master investor, I highly recommend you seek out a knowledgeable and successful “sifu” from whom to learn. Nothing beats hands-on instruction from a knowledgeable, experienced teacher who can expertly guide you along your path toward mastery.

(And make sure they are a good teacher, not just good at their area of mastery.)

2. Practice

When most people think about practice they think in terms of the verb, “to practice”. As Leonard instructs, however (and I agree…), for someone on the master’s journey it is better understood as a noun—not as something you do, but rather as something you have, something you are.

A practice is anything you devote yourself to on a regular basis as an integral part of your life—not in order to gain something else, but for its own sake. For example, instead of thinking of “investing” as something that you do, think of it as something you are: “I am an investor”.

This small change in definition clearly explains why master investors such as Warren Buffett and Jim Rogers continue to invest…they certainly don’t “need” the money, but they view themselves as “investors” and invest as an integral part of their being.

3. Surrender

Leonard states, “the courage of a master is measured by his or her willingness to surrender.”

This means surrendering to your teacher and to the demands of what you are studying, and also means at times surrendering your hard-won proficiency to reach a higher level of mastery.

Much like one of my early attempts at buying silver (and believe me, I have many more embarrassing stories to share in this respect in all aspects of my life, not just investing!), when I began I felt silly, clumsy, and unsure…I didn’t know exactly what to do or how to do it.

Luckily, however, I had a great mentor and I “surrendered” to him, took a leap of faith, and now have become a much savvier silver buyer. Had I not surrendered, however, I would still be at square one.

This reminds me of the famous martial arts stories about the young would-be apprentice who wishes to learn kung fu (or t’ai chi or karate or…). The story goes that the young apprentice shows up for three years (if not more), through rain, wind, snow, and otherwise unbearable conditions, only to be continually ignored by the master.

Finally, after three long years of patient discipline and commitment to the craft, the master acknowledges the new apprentice (and usually with something incredibly mundane—think “wax on, wax off”, not “exciting and glamorous sword fight”), but the apprentice then begins to learn the basics and one day becomes a master himself.

Surrendering to your teacher and patiently demonstrating your trust and commitment is one of the most important keys to mastery.

4. Intentionality

In order to master something, you of course must want to devote the time and energy to it in the first place, and this begins with your intention. Do not underestimate this…your intention is the very breath of you and purposefully directs your life in the direction that you most want it to go.

As Leonard says, “intentionality fuels the master’s journey. Every master is a master of vision.”

5. The Edge

This one is my favorite. 🙂 (And not just because it used to be a fun club in Palo Alto!) In addition to continual practice and dedication and commitment to your journey (in small, incremental steps…), true masters are also most likely to challenge their previous limits and take risks for the sake of higher performance.

If you don’t take any risks, how can you grow or learn anything new? True masters enjoy the “Zen” of their everyday practice, but they also continually push the envelope to achieve better performance.

So there you have it…your path to mastery in 5 “simple” steps!

If you’re at all like me, you probably do want everything faster, better, cheaper, now.

But if you’re wise…you want mastery more. (I do!)

Please let me know your thoughts on mastery and what you think it takes to become a master investor!

To your financial success,
— Kung Fu Girl

“I’m not a master. I’m a student-master, meaning that I have the knowledge of a master and the expertise of a master, but I am still learning. So I am a student-master. I don’t believe in the word ‘master.’ I consider the master as such when they close the casket.” — Bruce Lee

“The master is the one who stays on the mat five minutes longer every day than anybody else.” — Old martial arts saying