What Defines a Master of a Craft

Many people can be good at something but a microscopic number can ever be considered a master. To be good is a far cry from great. Any Joe Blow from Kokomo can be good at something of their choosing, that often just takes time. You could even become a “jack of all trades”, but you’ll be a master of none. Whether this mastery is entirely innate or born from a tenacious spirit it may always be enigmatic in its origins.

It is mysterious in its existence but easy to spot. Those who possess something that others cannot even fathom - until it is speaking for itself before their eyes, rewiring their brain and their understanding of the world, they accomplish things that seem impossible, too beautiful to have been man-made, almost superhuman, something perhaps once science fiction brought into reality. These people are just like you and me, but unlike anyone else they have choices of higher stakes, to deny and suppress their gift or embrace it and strive to achieve unimaginable heights - to become a master of their craft.

Natural Ability

Many have suggested the idea that those who are sincerely great were built that way - like height or hair colour or an (ir)rational love for breakfast or dinner. The moment they were born they were naturally predisposed to excel in this particular way of thinking and doing. This point is undoubtedly argued, but it is a factor to some degree to be taken into consideration for masters of any kind.

Regardless of what you think of Stephen King and whether or not you believe he is “great” at what he does he is a proponent of the innate ability theory in his craft. In an interview when he was asked about writing and teaching writing he suggested based on his experiences that:

“Good teachers (writers) can be trained, if they really want to learn. Great teachers (writers), like Socrates, are born.”

In other words, he believes that someone who is bad at something, or not all that great at it, can, with perseverance and hard work, become good, but someone who is good can never, not even in their wildest dreams, become great. It is inherent and instinctive, you are either great or you are not.

You can elevate your skills, but you cannot transcend your own personal restrictions. Consider the previous comparison to height, you can only reach so high right? Yes, you will grow in size from birth and eventually sprout up to a matured height, but you will only ever be able to reach within your wingspan and you may be doomed to never grab that top rung.

How can you argue with home movies of NHL superstar Sidney Crosby demonstrating a mature and natural skill at such a young age? Or Tiger Woods putting like a pro in Pampers?  It is hard to deny the natural talent that led them to where they are today, but the question is whether or not that is all it took. It would be an enormous disservice to them to state that they simply coasted to where they are today. This is because despite the video evidence of their abilities right from the start we know that it still took years of practice - blood, sweat, and tears - and the will to be the best their bodies would allow them to be.


Wonderful, you have established you have some indefinable quality that nobody else has and you realize you might even be great, one day. Next comes persistence and the relentless drive to succeed and proceed into uncharted levels.

It is one thing to be extraordinarily gifted and it is another to flesh out the possibilities and make something of it. There are people who possess these natural abilities but don’t have the strength to reach the true heights of their potential. Though, it could be argued that only those that are genuinely “great” will pursue their talent without self-impedance. 

Without revealing much more than a synopsis would - an example of this can be seen in the recent film “Whiplash”. Despite the brutal psychological abuse at the hands of his tough, unorthodox teacher, the protagonist keeps coming back for more. The reason he does this is, unfortunately, because he is the only one that can match his intensity for his love of music and in turn the only one that can make him the drummer he wants to be.

Now this is a morose and dark example of the will and determination a talented individual possesses to one day be a "Charlie Parker", but it also ties into these final points.


Something that all of the greats will possess, in any medium, is an inexplicable magnetism and drive for what they love. An inextinguishable flame that burns for an eternity, a magical delirium with an undisclosed agenda; this is that little something that is as cryptic as the abilities themselves.

All of those who ever did anything worthwhile must have had this feeling. What else could bring someone to enter into this realm of infinite possibilities and drag them home? These are people that often show no inclination for anything else, as nothing else can compare. They never stop learning, they may be dubbed the greatest that has ever been, but that will surely not be satisfying enough.

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Many have given up anything and everything to continue their dream like pursuits.  There are those that have lived in poverty, left all worldly possessions chasing some ambiguous goal, one of many sacrifices they have made for their passion.


This is not entirely in reference to the idea that you must endure hardships to become great. It is referring more to the forks in the journey that require those who want to be the best to choose between such a path and one that incorporates a more balanced life - including relationships, rest, and public acceptance (usually while living).

In choosing one path over another, those who can be great will give up things to be the best. To be the best is to be something extraordinary, to be something that seems too improbable and exceptional to be true. To reach such a level will undoubtedly require time. The book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell throws out a number of 10,000 hours to master anything, and whether or not it is close to an accurate number you can imagine there will be such an investment needed. Therefore there are choices to be made, cross roads to be met and a master will almost always choose their craft, to some it could be a lonely journey and others a lonely end as well.

Someone who is truly a master of their craft cannot deny it, no matter they do. It sits like an invisible limb protruding from their chest, undeniable and unquenchable, one for which you could not amputate even if you wanted.

To be a Master, someone great, and revered for their exploits is difficult to define, especially since there are so many different areas to consider and within those areas innumerable variables to inspect.

What is your opinion? What makes a master? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Stephen King Quote




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