Mastery Quotes

What makes a good quote?

The human experience is often hard to capture in words. Words are just concepts, representations of experience, and tools for conveying meaning and aiding thinking. But the interpretation of words is subjective, only relatable to our own personal experiences.

Sometimes, however, words are woven together in a way that reflects a universal truth, that uniquely captures a feeling, a knowing, or an aspect of experience that everyone can relate to.

Here I will collect a variety of quotable musings of thinkers, artists, writers, experts, and ‘ordinary’ people that seem to capture the essence of mastery.

6th March 2024: Type II fun, the joy that comes after struggle

“I don’t like to write, but I take great pleasure in having written.”

William Zinsser, author of Writing to Learn

3rd March 2024: The extraodinary impact of ordinary lives

“The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs”

George Eliot, from the closing paragraph of her novel, Middlemarch

17th February 2024: The reassurance of ordinary struggles

“In a day, when you don't come across any problems - you can be sure that you are travelling on the wrong path”

Swami Vivekananda

10th February 2024: Talk is cheap

“It is easier to produce ten volumes of philosophical writings than to put one principle into practice.”

Leo Tolstoy (attributed to Tolstoy but as yet unable to find the exact source)

29th January 2024: Practicing technique to free the brain during performance

“In music, you learn technique. The reason I practice is so that I can transcend it… If I spend 100% of my brain real estate concentrating on how I’m gonna do something, you’re gonna feel nothing. So if I can decrease the amount of brain real estate on the playing aspect of the cello, I can focus on thinking on what it’s about.”

Yo-Yo Ma, in conversation with David Rubenstein

23rd January 2024: Predetermined potential, unlimited routes to its fulfilment.

Anyone can achieve their fullest potential, who we are might be predetermined, but the path we follow is always of our own choosing. We should never allow our fears or the expectations of others to set the frontiers of our destiny. Your destiny can't be changed but, it can be challenged. Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.

Widely attributed to the existentialist philosopher, Martin Heidegger, but nowhere on the internet can I find valid confirmation of the source.

22nd January 2024: Self-mastery

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”

Original Remark by George Mallory, adopted by and attributed to Sir Edmund Hillary

20th January 2024: We become what we do

“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.”

Frederick Matthias Alexander, developer of the Alexander Technique

19th January 2024: From ordinary to master

“I don't have talent, so I just get up earlier."

Henry Rollins

9th January 2024: The virtue of selfishness

“All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience. My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it.”

David Bowie

1st January 2024: Tuning in to your purpose

“Go home, shut your phone off, shut your…TVs off, shut the world off, and tune into you.”

David Goggins, advice given to a 26 year old who was lost in life.

30th December 2023: Avoiding the false path

“I am a composer… I neither can nor ought to bury the talent of composition with which God in his goodness has so richly endowed me.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a composer (not a performer)

26th December 2023: Expertise vs Adaptability

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

Eric Hoffer

24th December 2023: Faith in the process

“To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing”


16th December 2023: Do we act from decision, or habit?

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits - practical, emotional, and intellectual - systematically organised for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly towards our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”

William James

14th December 2023: Always have a project worth working on

“To work is to live - and I love to live”

Charlie Chaplin

12th December 2023: Curiosity and exploration over ambition

“I maintain a hunger, but not an ambition”

Johnny Depp

27th Novemebr 2023: Trusting your own calling

“Bees don’t waste their time explaining to flies that honey is better than shit”

Unknown source

26th November 2023: Finding our gifts

“Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what brings you alive and go do it. Because what the world needs are more people brought alive.”

Howard Thurman, philosopher, author, and civil rights leader

18th November 2023: The path of mastery is ageless

“You didn't quit skateboarding because you got old, you got old because you quit skateboarding.”

Jay Adams, Skateboarder

17th November 2023: Don’t feel bad about yourself if you don’t play well

“I would never determine the value of my life by something as insignificant as how well I play a musical instrument.”

Kenny Werner, from a philosophical monologue on effortless mastery.

16th November 2023: The goallessness of mastery

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

Misattributed to Martin Luther.

15th November 2023: Learning is an endless path

“Do not think that
This is all there is.
More and more Wonderful teachings exist
The sword is unfathomable."

Yamaoka Tesshu, Japanese swordmaster

14th November 2023: The gift of life’s struggles

“Satisfaction is the joy you get after struggle”

Arthur Brooks, being interviewed by Rich Roll

7th November 2023: Don’t be overly attached to your aspirations

“Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want”

Naval Ravikant

19th October 2023: Finding your calling

“Don’t quit your daydream.”

Keanu Reeves

3rd September 2023: Process over outcomes

“All great things are done for their own sake.”

Robert Frost, Poet.

28th July 2023: Direction of travel over goals

“You define a direction of travel, not a goal, because if you start on a journey you will discover things you didn't know you could discover which have high utility. If you have an explicit goal you may miss the very things that you need to discover.”

Dave Snowden, How leaders change culture through small actions

24th July 2023: The illusion of control

“In the end, it seems that mastery has less to do with pushing leverage points than it does with strategically, profoundly, madly, letting go and dancing with the system.”

Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems, a Primer

18th July 2023: Perfectionism, the ultimate mastery blocker

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

who writes here on Substack at

24th June 2023: Get into the arena and embrace the journey

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

21st June 2023: Consistency

“Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short as you feel. But ride.”

Eddy Merckx

16th June 2023: Taking the leap of faith

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

Kurt Vonnegut

8th June 2023: Creative experimentation and exploration

“There is no path till you walk it and you have to be willing to play the fool”

Ethan Hawke

4th June 2023: Collaborating with our inner daemon

“Your unconscious mind truly is your ‘genius.’ Befriending it as such, and interacting with it as if it really is a separate, collaborating presence, puts you in a position to receive its gifts, and it in the position to give them to you.”

, Substack writer at

3th June 2023: Aliveness is in the striving

“Our fondest wish, attained, ceases to be our fondest wish. Success is the greatest of disappointments. The spirit is most alive when it is lost.”

Guy Davenport

30th May 2023: Process over outcomes

“A goal without a method is nonsense.”

Dr. W. Edwards Deming

28th May 2023: Beginner’s mind

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Pablo Picasso

27th May 2023: Letting go

“You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame;
how could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes?”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

26th May 2023: Creative art suffers when we focus on outcomes

“I try as much as I can to not be outcome dependent. I think a lot of people, their art suffers when they become outcome dependent, they will willingly compromise which also means compromising substance or they'll pander to an audience.”

Ren Gill, Musician in a YouTube interview, 25th May 2023

25th May 2023: Aspiration and persistence

“My legacy is that I stayed on course… from the beginning to the end, because I believed in something inside of me.”

Tina Turner

23rd May 2023: Surrender to the process with awe for the process.

“Willfulness must give way to willingness and surrender. Mastery must yield to mystery.”

Gerald May

21st May 2023: The transcendent nature of artistic creativity.

“Art is the ultimate expression of the insatiable human hunger to create. Its purpose is to send inspiration and energy to other humans across space and time”

, Substack writer at

20th May 2023: Finding your own aspirations, not another’s ambitions.

“O, hell! To choose love by another's eyes.”

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Act I, Scene 1.

19th May 2023: Fulfilment derived from the process.

It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

18th May 2023: The value of humilty.

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”

Zen Kōan

17th May 2023: Achieving a goal doesn’t bring happiness.

“You know when I’m going to sleep at night, I’m not just a guy going to sleep. I’m two-time Golden Globe winner Jim Carrey going to get some well-needed shut-eye. And when I dream I don’t just dream any old dreams. No sir. I dream about being three-time Golden Globe winner Jim Carrey. Because then I would be enough.”

Jim Carey, Golden Globe Induction Speech 2016

16th May 2023: Deeply held values, not rules.

“Clean code is not written by following a set of rules. You don't become a software craftsman by learning a list of heuristics. Professionalism and craftsmanship come from values that drive disciplines.”

Robert C. Martin (Uncle Bob), Software Engineer and Agile Manifesto signatory

15th May 2023: Inspiration, not competition.

“I've heard the stories. Like, Eric Clapton said he wanted to burn his guitar when he heard Jimi Hendrix play. I never understood that because, when I went and saw a great drummer or heard one, all I wanted to do was practice.”

Neil Peart, Canadian Drummer with the rock band Rush

14th May 2023: Type 2 Fun.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Hungarian Psychologist who popularised the concept of flow.

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