Don’t Skip Your Apprenticeships On the Way to Mastery

If you’re a talented and precocious, it’s easier than ever to become perceived as a master in your field at a really young age.

Most of older generations’ prejudices (right or wrong) against the young.have become less pronounced. Youth is more highly valued than ever. And one of the most powerful signs of this change is the fascination with young tech founder or prodigies.

Many young people want to be Mark Zuckerberg* – the college kid who founded Facebook. And many of them are genuinely trying, stepping up into tasks or positions supposedly much bigger than them.

I love this and encourage it. I do believe that we young people can do incredible things. I believe we should never let our age get in the way of what we need to do and what we’re able to do.


There is always a loss to growing into leadership or mastery too quickly.

In our quest to be Zuckerberg, we may be skipping over the real need for learning by long training and trying experience. Most masters take years to reach their core insight and capability – not months. They go through an apprenticeship first – a process of intense knowledge transfer and trials given by previous, older, wiser masters.

Apprenticeship is how Luke Skywalker learns the ways of the Force. Apprenticeship is how the Karate Kid learns the ways of karate from Mr. Miyagi. Apprenticeship is how Michelangelo and countless artists, craftsmen, businesspeople, and scientists have learned for thousands of years.

Apprenticeship is not pretty. It’s not glorious. It will not bring us fame. It takes a while. And it has fallen out of favor in our world. That doesn’t mean we don’t need it.

But since our society praises Zuckerberg follows-on, it is possible to quickly fake our ways into perceived mastery. And it’s oh so tempting.

It’s not worth it. Mastery earned cheaply is hard to keep. And it’s not clear why it’s even worth having. Real mastery is not an end in itself but a means to an end. If we really want a mastery that lets us accomplish our ends in the world, we must seek it through the patience of apprenticeship.

There are plenty of masters along the way to mastery. Let’s not ignore them for the glow of prodigy-hood. “Being a CEO” can wait – that is, if we really want to be good ones.

*(It’s worth noting that our apprenticeships can come even if we are 20-somethings in the CEO’s chair. We can just never let our *position* of mastery interrupt our curious apprentice’s mind. Zuckerberg didn’t, and it seems he has learned this way how to be an effective CEO for a public company.)

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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