Mastery (George Leonard)

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Mastery by George Leonard.jpg
Author George Leonard
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Plume
Publication date
February 1, 1992
Media type Paperback/Hardcover
Pages 176
ISBN 0452267560

Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment is a 1992 book by George Leonard. In the book Leonard strongly criticizes the instant-results expectation of American culture and proposes an alternative based on mastery principles.

The Four Approaches[edit]

Leonard proposes that the mastery of every human activity or endeavor comes with upward leaps followed by dips and then plateaus. The four approaches are strongly differentiated by how they deal with the plateau.

  1. The Dabbler has an initial burst of intense enthusiasm—and improvement—for his new hobby, work, or love interest, but this does not last and when the first obstacle is encountered—that is, the dip and plateau—the Dabbler will find a reason to move on. This cycle will then repeat itself.
  2. The Obsessive reacts to the plateau by doubling down. He is obsessed with numbers and improvement, and does not understand that the plateau is a natural part of the process. The Obsessive will reach greater heights than the Dabbler, but this is usually followed by a devastating crash and burn.
  3. The Hacker is willing to stay on the plateau indefinitely. Unlike the others, the Hacker is satisfied with the plateau and never tries to take the next leap upward.
  4. The Master understands that the plateau is part of the process and continues with goalless practice, but when the time feels right and using the principles outlined, he will always shoot for more.

The Five Keys[edit]

The path of the Master is characterized by five "keys":

  1. The path of the Master includes instruction by someone more advanced or knowledgeable. Here, mutual selection by the teacher and student is a crucial part to get right.
  2. The Master then practices with the understanding that Mastery is a journey and not a destination.
  3. The student surrenders to the teacher and follows their instructions even if they don't know why. This does not mean that they surrender their entire personal agency as if to a guru, but that they trust the teacher in matters where the teacher knows better.
  4. The student practices with intentionality because it's not enough to go through the motions, but to strive for continuous improvement at all times.
  5. The student treats the edge with respect but not with reverence. When they reach the limit of their skill they will attempt to step beyond it. Sometimes in select situations they may even try to rush past it while acknowledging it, but rushing past the limit as if it didn't exist at all regularly is not appropriate.


  • "[All] of us who are born without serious genetic defects are born geniuses. Without an iota of formal instruction, we can master the overarching symbolic system of spoken language—and not just one language but several. We can decipher the complex code of facial expressions—a feat to paralyze the circuitry of even the most powerful computer. We can decode and in one way or another express the subtleties of emotional nuance. Even without formal schooling, we can make associations, create abstract categories, and construct meaningful hierarchies. What's more, we can invent things never before seen, ask questions never before asked, and seek answers from out beyond the stars. Unlike computers, we can fall in love."
  • "How do you best move toward mastery? To put it simply, you practice diligently, but you practice primarily for the sake of the practice itself. Rather than being frustrated while on the plateau, you learn to appreciate and enjoy it just as much as you do the upward surges."
  • "Every time we spend money, we make a statement about what we value; there's no clearer or more direct indication. Thus, all inducements to spend money... are primarily concerned with the inculcation of values. They have become, in fact, the chief value-givers on this age."
  • "To be a learner, you've got to be willing to be a fool."