Mastery is Fluid

One of the biggest lies pushed on everyone in modern society — but especially in the academic world — is the idea that you can actually be finished learning something. This is physiologically impossible. Knowledge and mastery are in a constant state of flux much like physical health.

💬 As a triathlete at Nike I was painfully aware that performing my best at a given event meant peaking exactly on the day of that event. The rest of the time different aspects of health and fitness fluctuated.

The Ancients Understood

The ancient Eastern cultures still understand this better than many in the West. Consider the martial arts, yoga, meditation, or even medieval knighthood. One’s sensei or guru or master is a life appointment and both approach the relationship with utmost respect.

We giggle at the concept — even though it is in all of our films — but this model of learning is responsible for some of the greatest focus and mastery ever achieved by humans.

💬 I wish I had one dollar for every montage of master and trainer ever portrayed on film. It’s not just a romantic fictional notion — it’s the truest form of learning.

Ironically we see this form of learning in the Ph.D. university programs — but reserve it for only the highest level of financial investment at these institutions. That is just BS.

If more people considered themselves masters in search of students our world and culture would be so much better off.

Entropy Always Wins

Entropy is the first law of the universe. This means everything is in a natural state of decay including knowledge. Use it or lose it, as they say. You can never know anything as well as everything else in that given moment. This is why humans invented writing — and then the Web — and then searching.

In fact, the ability to pass learning from one generation to the next is what many scientists believe fundamentally distinguishes humans from all other species.

“What level am I?”

That is for you — and those who would employ you — to determine. That’s not me dodging the question. It is the most reasonable and objective response given the reality that mastery is fluid.

How can you check yourself? Challenge yourself, setup assessments for yourself, enter into competitions.

The Wrong Question and the Right One

Asking what level you are at is actually the wrong thing for you and everyone else to ask. The better question is

“What is my capacity to learn and act on that learning quickly?”

Constant Learning Required

Just like fitness — skills, abilities, and knowledge usually require constant work to maintain. This means reading and researching at least two hours a day in most professions — some say as much as four hours a day.

Useless Titles, Grades, Certificates, Diplomas, and Trophies

These are nice for capturing and remembering a specific moment of achievement, but they are nearly worthless when determining anyone’s current level of mastery.

Everyone gets the same title from the first day Full-Stack Engineer mostly to capture everyone’s intent — much like a martial arts dojo — but You’ll never get a grade, certificate, diploma, trophy letter of recommendation from SkilStak.


Because at some level every one of those things is inaccurate as soon as it is given — the level of inaccuracy entirely depends on each individual.

For example, let’s say everyone gets an A in a class. The very next day some continue to work on maintaining that A while others breath a sign of relief and never work on it again. A graph of knowledge entropy would fork rather sharply at that point.

Two months later when these A students go for a position or entrance into a college — or whatever — their knowledge no longer is any where near what was measured at that moment in time. The law of entropy has come into effect.

Some will have better memories and retention than others. Some will need to work harder every day to maintain their skills and knowledge.

The only absolute here is that the level of mastery will vary — perhaps rather radically — between these candidates even though they both got the A at the same time.

Broken Modern Mastery Assessments

And yet much of our academic and business assessment systems do not even take any of this into account.

💢 It’s interesting that when skills mastery is a matter of life and death we humans have figured out what to do about it — but everything else kinda gets ignored. CPR, for example, needs yearly recertification to ensure you have kept your skills up. But no such system even exists for most tech professions.

Your Output is Your Achievement

Your output is the only measure of your achievement that matters.

This is why many modern employers don’t even look at anything else. They want to see your output and assess your current ability as well as see demonstrated commitment on your part to keeping yourself current enough to produce in new and distinctive ways.

[Learning That Keeps Up]