To Become the Master You Must First Become the Apprentice

“Know all men that I, Thomas Millard, with the Consent of Henry Wolcott of Windsor unto whose custody and care at whose charge I was brought over out of England into New England, doe bynd myself as an apprentise for eight yeeres to serve William Pynchon of Springfield, his heirs and assigns in all manner of lawful employmt unto the full ext of eight yeeres beginninge the 29 day of Sept 1640. And the said William doth condition to find the said Thomas meat drinke & clothing fitting such an apprentise & at the end of this tyme one new sute of apparell and forty shillings in mony: subscribed this 28 October 1640.”

By Del Singh - Millennial Milk

This was a service-level agreement between an apprentice and master in 1640 New England. Eight years of service Thomas committed to his master, William.

If we’re looking at it from Malcolm Gladwell’s point of view, that’s about 3.5 hours of work a day to achieve a Gladwell type of mastery. Given how apprenticeships were during that day and age, the apprentice was most likely working eight (just to be conservative) hours a day, giving him the status of “expert” in 3.4 years. The years of practice beyond that would earn him the status of “badass.”

What are you looking to master? How many hours a day are you willing to commit? Find out how long it would take to achieve mastery using this calculator.

How long is the road to mastery?
The 10,000-hour rule, based on a study by Anders Ericsson, states that mastery comes after practicing a specific task…

Pablo Picasso was sitting in a Paris café when a fan approached and asked Picasso to do a quick sketch on a paper napkin. Picasso complied and quickly completed the drawing. Picasso was ready to hand the napkin back but not before asking for a large sum of money. The fan, astonished, said, “How can you ask for so much? It took you a minute to draw this!”

“No,” Picasso replied, “It took me 40 years.”

A stranger failed to value the hours of labor Picasso put in to perfect his drawing.

Pablo Picasso was a student of his craft, and apprentice to art. Not only did he produce paintings and drawings, he dabbled into various forms of art. When his curiosity led him down the path of sculpting he went full steam down that road. When Picasso’s career was over, it was estimated that he produced 50,000 total works of art—consisting of 1,885 paintings, 1,228 sculptures, 2,880 ceramics, 12,000 drawings, thousands of prints, and several tapestries and rugs.

Picasso was well beyond a master. He was a badass.

What is your trade and what are you doing to master it?

Where to Start?

Josh Kaufman in a TEDx Talk discussed how to develop a framework to quickly become proficient at a new skill in only 20 hours.

Deconstruct the skill

Find the most important things to learn first. When I was learning the guitar, I focused on practicing scales. This laid the foundation to quickly excel at playing the guitar.


Know what you know and know what you don’t know. Be self-aware so that when you make mistakes, you are able to self-correct.

Remove barriers to learning

Fully commit to learning the skill. Eliminate distractions, set goals and hold yourself accountable. Get rid of everything that is holding you back from learning your skill.

Practice 20 hours

In one work week, dedicating 40 minutes a day, you can learn enough to be dangerous.

*Find a Master

I added an asterisk because this wasn’t part of Josh’s framework. Like the old apprenticeship system, you need a master to learn under. Someone that shares their tribal knowledge with you. If there’s a specific job you want then find someone that holds that role. Develop a relationship with this person so they teach you all that they know.

Leverage your people skills and network your way to that person if you don’t have a direct connection. It’ll be easier if you have value to give. If not, then respect the other person’s time and just ask for help for 15 minutes.

Find thought leaders online or in books if you can’t find a real-life mentor. If you want to be a world-class mentor then look to Seth Godin. He pushes TONS of content that will help you learn how to become a better marketer. If you can’t learn from him firsthand, learn from him behind the scenes.

Just make sure that while you’re learning, you’re shipping.

Always Be Shipping

“Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly.” — Seth Godin

Mastery isn’t achieved while you’re thinking and reading. Although valuable, mastery is achieved when you consistently hit publish, make sales pitches, create products, and make music.

Whatever your trade is, hit publish all the time. Some of it will be shit. In fact, most of it will be shit. Eventually, people will take notice of the work you’re putting out. You’ll begin to get better at it and you’ll get to the point where you’re so good that people can’t ignore you.

It takes a serious level of dedication to evolve from an apprentice to a master. In a professional sense, it’s schooling and real-world work experience that gets you to mastery. For the masses, schooling doesn’t help in gaining mastery. It’s up to you to take charge in developing your skills. Take ownership of your apprenticeship and learn to the best at what you do.

This is for the hustlers, wantrepreneurs and dreamers. The ones that are aspiring to become masters of their trade. The corporate nine-to-fivers that go home and rage on code to launch a freelance web developer side hustle. The closet entrepreneur that’s quietly strategizing and building their platform until it’s ready to launch.

Finally, the artists—to the writers, musicians, and digital storytellers pumping out prolific volumes of work in hopes of getting their break once they’re finally noticed.

This is dedicated to people looking to become masters of their trade. The curious cats that learn new skills to improve their value or launch a new career.

This is dedicated to the apprentices of the modern-day workplace.