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I was humbled

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I want to talk about mythical “unicorns” — people who are so good at what they do, you almost cannot believe it.

These people exist. When I was younger and an arrogant, stupid 20-something guy, I couldn’t believe someone could actually be better than me at something.

Then I grew up and learned the meaning of being humbled.

  • In high school, two real lawyers coached our mock trial team. We’d be stumped on what to say, and they would smile, take a 5-second glance at our paper, then give us a totally improvised, word-perfect 3-minute speech with zero “ums” “uhs” and “ahs.” It was riveting. It was amazing. It made me realize I wasn’t the great orator I thought I was.
  • In college, I spent 40 hours/week on my introductory programming class. One night, I was sitting in the lab, 4 hours into a problem set, when my friend walked in, sat down, read the prompt, put his hands behind his head, TOOK A NAP FOR 15 MINUTES, then woke up and finished the problem set in about 20 minutes. I wanted to die.

These experiences felt bad in the short-term, but were AMAZING in the long term.

It would have been easy to mope around and say, “I’ll never be as good as they are.”
But I looked at it a different way: It was awe-inspiring to see someone performing at a level I didn’t even think was possible.

Fast forward a few years, and as part of my Zero to Launch program, I recorded a video where I took someone’s sales copy…and rewrote it on the spot. The reaction:

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commentfb3Here’s the video they’re talking about, where I rewrote someone’s copy on the spot.
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I love studying the best of the best. Basketball players, CEOs, movie characters…I don’t care. What I learned is this: The #1 players are 10x-100x better than the #2 people. They know more, they’ve seen more, and they’re masterfully adept at reacting to novel situations that would cripple mere mortals. While everyone else fights over scraps, masters play an entirely different game.

This is true in sports, in business, and even in personal life.

Masters get disproportionate rewards. For example, I don’t charge 2x or 5x my competitors. I often charge 100x — and get it.

I’ve told you that 2014 is The Year of Unapologetic Mastery, and this week, we’re going to look at greatness. Who are the masters that influenced me? What makes someone 100x as good as another person? What can you do to reach that level?

But first, I want to hear from you. Tell me about ONE master you met. It could be in any industry. A master car mechanic…the person at work who always seems to be 3 steps ahead at defusing tension…anything.

Share your story of ONE example of mastery you’ve encountered in the comments below.

P.S. Talk to you tomorrow with more on mastery. This week is one of my favorite topics.

P.P.S. Ask Me Anything! Today, at 3pm Eastern, I’m doing an “AMA-style” interview on Lifehacker. This “Ask the Expert” session is all about starting an online business. So if you want to ask me anything about starting an online business, join me at www.lifehacker.com at 3pm Eastern today (Monday 5/5).

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67 Comments

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  1. Spent two weeks mixing a song with top quality pro audio gear. Watch a french dude do a superior job in 30 minutes with just a laptop and plugins.

  2. When I was in college, I studied Kumdo and Hapkido with a graduate student from Korea. No big deal, right? This guy was very modest and unassuming. I’d seen him around campus, leading lectures on biblical law. He was skinny and bookish and completely underwhelming in a suit and tie.

    With martial arts, it was a totally different ball game – the first day, he nearly succeeded in strangling my friend, a 6’3″ rugby player.

    How that happened: he asks our class of 20 (all boys, except for me) if anyone has any experience in martial arts. My buddy and I say yes, but my buddy has more experience than me. He’s a black belt in Judo.

    So to test my buddy’s strength, the teacher says, “Grab my throat.”

    Dumbfounded, my friend says, “Sir?” Worried there’s a language barrier at play here. Like, “He’s not really telling me this, right?”

    “Yes, yes!” the teacher says impatiently. “Grab my throat.”

    Uncertain, my friend grabs the teacher’s throat.

    Instantly, the teacher grabs HIS throat.

    What followed was 3 minutes of both men slowly strangling each other one-handed. The rest of the class looked on in abject terror. It felt like watching Obi Wan Kenobi spar Darth Vader.

    Finally, the teacher releases my friend and coolly says, “Good.” He has fingernail marks on his neck from my friend, who’s red in the face and about to stroke out.

    What I ultimately learned from this teacher over the following 2 years was how badly I’d misjudged strength. He was much smaller than my friend, yet defeated him because his skill (strategy) surpassed my friend’s. It wasn’t about being the biggest bruiser in the room! My teacher knew how to spot people’s weaknesses and use them against the person, and he was a master at predicting his opponent’s movements.

  3. Do you remember all those college lectures? Of course not.

    I don’t remember what one professor talked about exactly, but he was able to WOW us weekly with his positive vibes. As a person, he was just an amazing, happy dude. I haven’t met someone so happy – or at least someone so talented at displaying and conveying such life happiness and the ability to make other people feel good about being in his presence.

  4. When I was younger I was in a Shotokan Karate Class. Our sensei were very talented, and would often show us a kata (form) that they had practiced. Though their movements were faster, more powerful, and smoother than what any of the students could do, they still they had not mastered their craft. We sometimes would see our sensei’s sensei, and we would be mystified with his unknown capabilities, and stories we had heard before.
    One day we were lucky enough to see him perform for us. He would sometimes come to visit, and teach us. I remember that even when he spoke he was incredibly powerful. There was one time that he did not teach, and performed for us, satisfying every bit of the mysterious wonder that I had built up in my head.

    From the very beginning of his kata, every move he made was at a higher level than anything most of the students had ever seen. He began in a stance that looked delicate, but also looked like an immovable statue. When he began to move it was amazing, each and every movement, whether fast or slow, had incredible power. He lifted his foot off the floor an inch and as it returned to the ground the room would shake. When he struck it was so powerful that I felt like anyone or anything that stood before him would certainly die. And the look on his face was so intense that I don’t think anything could have stopped him until he had finished, even if someone had dared to walk right in front of him. (There was a part where the room was nearly too small for what he needed to do, and without holding back his strike landed inches from one of us watching at the side.) Near the end, from a prone position he sprang into the air higher than I have ever seen anyone jump, and landed in a perfect and immovable stance, where to my surprise he had not broken both of his legs, but simply bowed. That was the most masterful thing I have ever seen.

  5. This was probably the most humbled I have been. I worked in Sales alongside this guy who now works in Real Estate. We will call him Steve.

    I was pretty good at sales and used to be just shy of the top 10 in the company. This guy was amazing though. I was ok at sales but Steve was amazing. On average I would get about 25 sales a month. This guy would nearly double that number.

    One month, he was out sick for about 20 days and he only had about two sales from the start of the month. We used to have a game going (friendly work banter) and I was so positive I was going to beat him since I was at thirty. Don’t ask me how he did it but in five days, he managed to hit 40. 10 more than me that month in 5 days. It still amazes me to this day.

    I had never felt so humbled in my life and to top it all off, Steve was the nicest guy you would ever meet which was probably why he was so good at sales.

  6. Never met him, but if we’re talking about masters Jaromir Jagr (NHL Player) is a great example. He was in the top-30 in terms of scoring this past season, is in the top-10 all time, and next year he will be the oldest player in the league at 43. The most interesting part for this audience is not his physical mastery of the game (although there are plenty of examples), but his mental frameworks.

    He’s repeatedly expressed his desire to play as long as possible, and although he probably could have signed a new contract for multiple years this off season, he chose to only sign a 1-year deal. Why? Because he knows that if he doesn’t play well, he won’t be able to find a contract for the following year, so having one-year deals *forces* him to perform at his highest if he wants to continue to have a career in the NHL. If he plays bad this year, his contract is up and then no one will sign up next year.

    Instead of taking the security of the multi-year deal and then relying on his own willpower to be the motivating force in his success, he intentionally constructed his environment (in this case his contract) to have barriers in place that push him to take action regardless of his motivation or inspiration. Sounds pretty familiar to stuff we’ve been reading here for a while, right?

  7. I recently started pro wrestling. I’ve met all kinds of characters that have been around for years and even decades. Many struggle to even pay the bills. My coach on the other hand, started at 28 and was in the WWE within two years making a killing and becoming a celebrity in no time. His story really impressed me and was the main reason as to why I wanted to train under him.

  8. My former mentor and professor of Public International Law was the most brilliant international lawyer I have met. His mind would draw jaw dropping correlations and conclusions with tremendous ease in extremely difficult areas. His mind was an amazing computer from which he could pull the exact right information at the exact right time. Brilliant, just brilliant.

  9. Retail is an art form. My first great master taught me more in my first ten minute walk around the store than I had learned in my previous four years. I learned and forgot more in two years with him than I have learned in my subsequent four years. Ten total years with my two under his tutelage being far and above the best.

    The laziest, least involved manager ever… He didn’t have to “work” like other managers and he showed me why. He was the best, most knowledgable and passed that confidence on to his staff in a way that empowered them. Everyone was an asset and important. Everyone came to work because they were excited to, their opinions mattered. He was one of the greats!

  10. Every Landmark Forum leader I’ve ever heard speak during a course (over 20) is an absolute master of leading large groups of people (150-300) through complicated emotional exercises and responsibly delivering the promises of the course.

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