The Apprentice

A true coach can make the difference between masterful or mediocre in your life as well as your craft.

Apprenticeship is by-and-large a dead reality in todays’ world. And I’m not talking about some Trumped up reality show, I’m talking about the real deal. True apprenticeship.

While it might be dead in many circles, the fact remains that all those who achieved greatness in their life have had a coach with which they apprenticed.

Plato had Socrates; Aristotle had Plato. Alexander the Great had Aristotle. Mozart had Leopold; Leonardo da Vinci had Andrea del Verrochio. John Coltrane had Charlie Parker; Michael Jordan had Dean Smith; Tiger Woods had Earl Woods.

I could go on but I think you get the point.

In an age of instant success and fast fame we’ve become a romantic minded culture that has forgotten the price that must be paid for true greatness.

Lose the fear; and embrace the willingness to suffer for your greatness and mastery. Every prize has a price.

This an age of the seduction of shallowness and devastating distraction. Unless you see things clearly you’ll be sucked into either or both.

Read the names of those masters above once again. Each of them invested a minimum of ten years—minimum—in mastering their craft; and each of them sacrificed and paid a tremendous price in doing so.

Tiger Woods’ mentor Earl (also his father) had him begin playing golf when he was two years old. Two. When other young boys were playing with cars and trucks Tiger was playing with a putter and a nine iron.

As he grew older, while others his age were going to movies and dating, Tiger was driving and putting.

At the tender age of twenty-one Tiger was ranked the number one golfer in the world.

“Oh my God! He’s a child prodigy!”

“Oh my God! This kid came out of nowhere!”

Oh my God you’re so wrong!

Do the math.

That was nineteen years of practice and sacrifice to finally rise to World-Class. Nineteen years of apprenticeship and working and practicing away in obscurity.

Be cautious that you desire to be successful too fast, it will hinder your development and your potential mastery.

Whether you know it or not, you’re hardwired for greatness and mastery. Whether you know it or not, you will never be satisfied, much less fulfilled, until you achieve mastery.

You were born into greatness but you’ve been conditioned into mediocrity.arnold_victory

The greatest mistake you can make in the initial phases of your apprenticeship is to feel that you have to get a lot of attention or impress people. To show others how much you know. Getting attention is the worst thing that could ever possibly happen to you.

If you must get attention, get attention for your tenacity, openness, and willingness to learn and grow.

Your ears, eyes, and an apprentice mind,
will teach you ten times more than your mouth any day.

Be very careful that you go out with your message too early. It will keep you from your mastery. You may never finish your true work.

The internet and social media is full of ads telling you how to monetize your craft in some way. First of all, if monetization is your goal you’re already setting yourself up to fizzle and fail when it comes to greatness.

Hear me out.

While my message might not be popular to the masses in todays’ mentality, it’s always true and raw and real.

A true craft and mission is meaningful and true irrespective of social acceptance. Please read that again. And again.

I sat with Oprah in her conference room for two hours several years ago. Not in a group. Just me, and Oprah, and her lawyer. Period.

Oprah is the wealthiest and most successful woman in television by far; and I can assure you that Oprah did not accomplish what she’s accomplished for the money. She did it because it was meaningful for her; and it still is.

She took her unique talent and genius, mastered it fully and completely, and the tangible results are the by-product of her mastery.

Are you thinking?

Can you develop mastery without a coach? Yes you can. But it may take you twice as long. Life is short and there’s too much to learn in a short span of time.

A true master, mentor, expert, coach can’t do the work for you, but they can potentially cut your learning curve in half.

Next question.

Can you develop mastery without an apprenticeship?


No way.

Not a snowballs chance in hell.

Dr. Anders Ericssons’ research, which I’ve referenced many times, tell us that we must invest a minimum of 10,000 hours in relentless practice. Additional research states that it’s actually 20,000 hours to mastery.

Rigorous practice is not just something you do to become great.
Rigorous practice is what you do once you are great to become greater.

One thing is absolutely evident in the lives of those who reach Ultimate Performance and mastery, they never stop their rigorous practice.


Because they’re doing it for the love of doing. Not for attention, acceptance or financial reward.

The fact, is that most masters have invested a considerable amount of time doing what they do for free—some even invested a lifetime.

You must be more committed to mastery and greatness
than you are to your own comfort and convenience.

This topic of true apprenticeship is much needed; and it’s an extremely deep subject that I can only begin to address here. Let me just share with you the three distinct phases of a true apprenticeship.

  • Riveted Attention and Observation

In this phase you exercise the power of your ears and eyes in rapt attention. If you’re holding the intention of impressing, it’ll be very depressing. You have to be a true apprentice, beginner, neophyte, and you have to devote your attention fully and completely to learning.

Please understand, I’m not talking about following someone blindly or adopting someone in an Eastern guru type fashion. You’re still your own person. But when it comes to learning the craft at hand, you listen and learn. Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. You’re not the master in this phase. You’re a beginner.

While this may seem self-evident, it’s rarely seen in my experience in today’s world.

Constantly remind yourself of this fact; and check your ego at the door.

I’ve been blessed with several great coaches in my life and I’ve not argued with them—ever. If the time comes when I feel I’ve learned all I can learn, then it’s time for me to move on; and our relationship shifts to peers and friends.

By the way, any mentor or coach worth his or her salt will want his apprentice to someday continue his message and craft beyond him; and to even greater heights.

In the 1990’s Italian neuroscientists found what are now called “mirror neurons” in your brain. The simple definition of mirror neurons tells us that when you hang out and deeply observe a master, or even someone mediocre for that matter, these neurons mirror the neurological firings of the person observed.


Choose your community and connections carefully. They are forming your neurons as well as your results.

Learn how your community either makes or breaks you in this article.

The implications here are vast. The thoughts, feelings and actions of your master mentor/coach literally become psychoactive in your brain mind.

  • Relentless Practice

In the Riveted Attention and Observation phase your prime objective is to gather information and knowledge. To activate your mirror neurons.

The Relentless Practice phase is Ericssons’ ten thousand to twenty thousand hours. Its Kobe Bryant shooting 800 jump shots every single day between 7AM to 11AM before his team started practice for the 2012 Olympics.


This is the phase that literally separates the warriors from the wimps; those who conquer versus those who quit; and it’s the toughest phase by far.

Every single day until his death at age 67 Leonardo da Vinci told himself first thing in the morning, “Ostinato Rigore.” This translates as “stubborn, relentless practice. Tenacious work.”

Damn I love this!

That’s what made him one of the greatest masters in history.

I’ve adopted this mantra for myself; and it’s written on the top of my Critical Six Action Items <reference 21 Days> for each and every day.

You don’t learn to walk by following rules.
You learn by doing and falling over.
~ Richard Branson

  • Experimentation and Wisdom

Whoever coined the phrase “information is power” was incorrect. Information is nothing but a bunch of random data. Information is potential power but it’s not power.

To move closer to power you must organize information into knowledge. To get knowledge you must study, you must specialize, and you must dive deep. But while knowledge is one step closer to power it’s still not power.

Only through putting specialized knowledge into action, big, bold, and consistent will it become experience. Experience over time turns to wisdom. Wisdom is power.

You can’t get power vicariously. You can get knowledge, but not experience and wisdom. This is why a coach is so invaluable as well as a full apprenticeship. But as already stated a coach cannot do it for you.

You have to get yourself in the ring. You have to fight your own battles. You have to consistently act, analyze your results, make adjustments; and then act again; and again.

This is why I believe the advocates of 20,000 hours are actually closer to the truth than those of 10,000. My experience is that 10,000 hours minimum is what it takes to go through phase one and two. Once again, Riveted Attention and Observation; and Relentless Practice.

Then the Experience and Wisdom phase kicks in for another 10,000.

To put this into a manageable context 10,000 hours equates to just under 3 hours per day every single day for 10 years.

Too long to become masterful you may say?

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.
~ John F. Kennedy

What else are you going to do with the rest of your life?

Step up.

Your move.

Stay Awake, Love Life and Be Epic!



4 Responses

  1. Thank you James! Fear may not be the problem. I am more convinced than ever that a small portion of the feeling we call fear, perhaps the driver of it, once identified and removed, leaves the emotional energy we love but solves the stop and action happens naturally.

    As a small child, I was fearless and nobody was able to change that. I developed optimism, an ability to discern the silver lining time after time while everyone else was worried about failure. Age 19, based on circumstantial evidence with inductive reasoning that guaranteed I was guilty, I was arrested. Nobody believed me either. Except I knew they were all wrong and I was found innocent eventually when the real perpetrator was discovered. I took a sales course over 30 years ago based on 'conviction'. In order to convince anyone of anything you needed to be convinced yourself.

    What stops people is not fear but doubt. The source of doubt is the mind. The mind is filled with the stuff and certain 'channels' fuel worlds of doubt. The heart however when given free rein can be doubt free. Remove doubt and suddenly the path is taken, action occurs almost without effort.

    Remove all doubt… that is a course I'd be interested in taking and giving.

  2. Hey Michael, with all due respect good luck with that one. Doubt is a normal human emotion and has value in the right context, quantity and time. To attempt to remove our humanity is the true problem. Much better served to learn to master and direct all emotions to their right place and time. Anyone who tells you they never doubt (or fear) is either fooling themselves, not being honest with you, or just trying to sell you a romantic notion. Something to ponder #LIVEBIG

  3. I love this article, James, you are so right on and this is something that is missed in many of the programs people provide. (not to say they don't have golden nuggets) I am glad you included practicing and action. Practice and action are the keys to experience and essentially to growth and awareness.
    I fully embrace what I "need to do" in order to grow, even if those parts of me are resisting and throwing a fit! lol Growth does not happen through sitting and thinking about it, except maybe a bigger butt.
    When talking with people who tell me they are "spiritual" and/or "on a spiritual path" I sit back and watch how they handle adversity, drama, how they receive gifts and their expression of gratitude, their words and actions. They SHOW me if they are truly living the spiritual path or if they are just reading the books and attending the seminars. Most people fall into the later category thinking if they study hard enough they will reach inner peach and reach heaven.
    It shocks them when I ask "what are your daily practices to become aware and consciously grow? Do you observe yourself through being the witness? How are you taking personal responsibility for what you are creating in your life or are you blaming others for what you are not getting?". The excuses and justificatioins usually begin flowing.
    You are correct, it takes a tremendous amount of committment, energy and time. But then again it takes a tremendous amount of committment, energy and time to live life haphazardly

  4. The big problem here is that in order to be a real apprentice we need to put aside our ego. Most people won´t accept they are not masters, Buddhas and wise.
    To be a real apprentice we need to learn to be humble and accept we don´t know the answer to everything, to accept we need to learn more and to accept our limited minds as human beings.
    I see that very difficult in our modern times.

    Thanks for the lesson James. It is always a pleasure and so inspiring.
    Thanks for taking the time to share this with all of us.

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