Why ‘doing your best’ may not be the best career path

I recently read in the enlightening book by Gary Keller, ‘The One Thing‘, that there are two ways people approach developing a skill in something.

The first is an ‘entrepreneurial’ approach, in which you do something to the best of your ability. An example of this would be an illustrator who takes up illustration part-time to have a go at making an income doing something they’ve always loved to do, and they try their best at it.

[Listen to the audio version of this post read by Alex, scroll to the bottom].

This idea seems pretty harmless, right? You’re forging ahead, doing what needs to be done as an entrepreneur to create a product or service that is useful in the world.

Well, this is a good approach, but it has a limit.

The entrepreneurial approach might encourage you to do your very best, but you are actually limiting yourself by not committing to doing the best it can be done.  There is a difference. This is the ‘purposeful’ approach.

By approaching your skill as something to master, rather than as something that requires ‘just enough’, you create with purpose. When you know you are breaking new ground, you will be invigorated.

This does not necessarily mean becoming the very best in the world at a particular skill, but it does mean working towards becoming world class at something specific done in your own unique way.

Think of Salvador Dalí, Agatha Christie, David Blaine and Mark Zuckerberg (connecting people digitally). These are all people who dedicated – and are dedicating – their lives to mastering a craft.

Working with purpose will motivate you and lead to the creation of outstanding work that takes you further than all the other ants working on the same anthill.

This should primarily be directed to the creative work itself, but you also want to apply a level of mastery to the other aspects of your business, including marketing and running it effectively because these things will support your core mastery.

This is something I’ve applied to my own work, and simply knowing that I’m on the path to mastery in helping people make an impact with their art through my writing, I feel enlivened and exciting about what I’m creating – at least for a lot of the time!

This may make you think twice about trying your hand at several types of different skills all at the same time for too long, though this is encouraged if the reason for doing so is to support a main craft.

Being the ‘jack of all trades’ goes against the concept of mastery because it requires continual work in one area. Choose one craft – one focal point, and commit to it.

It can be a traditional form of output like fine art, or it can be mastery of a more conceptual result, like helping people overcome low self-esteem through the various tools that are available.

Focus on continual improvement in an area, and get excited about moving through the progression to higher levels.

Always be thinking about how you can get faster, more in flow, more dynamic, more informed and more effective at the work you do. Don’t settle for OK, or ‘just enough’.

Mastery will never be an end goal you reach, but an ongoing approach to work – and that’s the point.

Mastery is a mindset.

To be in-demand requires you to be continually improving, dominating your industry, and always over-delivering. Working towards mastery in one craft will get you there. Be patient, as the rewards will be significant.

What are you purposefully on the path to mastery towards?

Did you enjoy this post? Do comment with your thoughts below, and share this. It is appreciated!


  1. This was one of my favorites man! So true.
    And your title photo is perfect. True woodworkers know we’ll never arrive. Just keep ascending. or be a handyman.

  2. That’s why a lot of people fail creating “Daily Drawings” (including me), instead, it should be called “Daily Drawing Message” – so your art would have a purpose, while practicing/mastering your craft, of course 🙂

  3. Great advice, hard to follow. I have been a computer programmer since leaving college and it is the only way I can be sure of making an income on which to live. But I spend the rest of my time on the piano (performing and teaching) and photography, want to make one of them my profession, and cannot bring myself to focus on either one at the expense of the other. Do you have any advice? Can I do both? If not then how do I choose?

    • If mastery was easy, everyone would do it. If you can master something in this modern age, you will be leagues ahead of the rest. My best advice for you is to make a decision – either doing one thing and developing mastery in that or doing a hybrid, or doing both and sacrificing focus in either. Best of luck!

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