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The Road to Mastery: What to Focus On When Entering An Apprenticeship/Internship

When I was picked for Seth Godin’s 3-day seminar, it was the first kind of internship that I’ve ever done. At that moment, I had a very amateur understanding of how to fully absorb an experience of this nature. I had to ask for advice from people much smarter and experienced than me. I am incredibly grateful, because their advice helped me embrace a life-changing moment.

Without a doubt, three days of intense work, connecting, sharing, reinventing, and thinking can do a lot for you — especially when the teacher is one of your champions. And without a doubt, on your path to mastery, you will find yourself entering an internship or apprenticeship or mentorship — whatever you want to call it. The idea is that you’re working under someone who is smarter and much more experienced than you, someone who is so great at what they do and succeeded in ways that you desire, someone who is sharing their valuable time and wisdom. The opportunity to learn from them, ask questions, being pushed to do better work, is what ultimately helps you grow your expertise, and, more importantly, yourself.

Walk into an internship or once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with the wrong mindset, and you could miss out on some of the golden moments in the development of yourself. I sigh when I hear of students on campus complaining that they aren’t getting paid in their internships. That’s another discussion on its own, but nevertheless, many people fail to recognize the value of the opportunity that they’re in. If they aren’t walking away changed, it’s not the internship’s fault, it’s theirs. It’s the lack of a proper mindset that forces an amateur to act as an amateur, and to ultimately sabotage the opportunity.

Robert Greene talks about this specifically in his fantastic, timeless book, Mastery. He outlines what we must focus on as apprentices:

“The principle is simple and must be engraved deeply in your mind: the goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind and character—the first transformation on the way to mastery. You enter a career as an outsider. You are naïve and full of misconceptions about this new world. Your head is full of dreams and fantasies about the future. Your knowledge of the world is subjective, based on emotions, insecurities, and limited experience. Slowly, you will ground yourself in reality, in the objective world represented by the knowledge and skills that make people successful in it. You will learn how to work with others and handle criticism. In the process you will transform yourself from someone who is impatient and scattered into someone who is disciplined and focused, with a mind that can handle complexity. In the end, you will master yourself and all of your weaknesses.”

When I was reflecting on my experience, the tone of my voice, as many of my friends noticed, was that I changed. I seemed different, matured, focused. Indeed, in just three days Seth was able to help me understand the lizard brain, the connection economy, the rapid changes in our culture, the power in technology, the idea of shipping, being generous, working hard, and what to focus on as a growing writer.

When you enter an internship/apprenticeship, it would be foolish to make your only goal to be brought on full-time — that narrows your vision, blinds you from all the other opportunities that can help you grow as a person and exercise a multitude of skills that will be required of you in a more demanding environment. Instead, it would be in your favor to focus on the transformation of your mind and the evolution of your skills.

It has been a little more than a year now since that internship. I woke up today reflecting on how I’ve grown as a person from the moment I left Seth’s office to the person writing this very post. Has my writing improved? Am I keeping up with my education? Am I working to my full potential? What is it that I am doing and how can I do it better? Where is my level of understanding and what areas must I improve? What am I afraid of doing, and why?

Indeed, I’ve been a big believer that the pursuit of mastery is really a pursuit for a meaning life.