How To Pay Your Dues Extremely Quickly So You Can Achieve High-Level Success

 It summed up what every guru, influencer, and marketing expert told me years ago when I was first trying to make it as a writer.

I tried paying my dues for over 4 years. It never worked. Here’s the problem with the whole system:

Paying your dues means someone (or something) else is getting paid: The gatekeepers, the bosses, the old-school figures who enjoy nearly untouchable power and influence because they decide who gets in the club and who doesn’t.

In-Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister once stated, “Power resides where we believe it resides.”

Gatekeepers don’t want you to realize the bulk of their power is only possible because we believe these people are powerful; in reality, we don’t need them anymore.

The truth is, you don’t need gatekeepers anymore. Get a computer and decent WiFi and you can build an empire. Most times, you probably don’t even need a college degree.

What you do need is a large body of work and near-mastery in a few very specific areas. If you could get really good at a couple of things, you could make millions.

So while everyone is giving these gatekeepers their hard-earned “dues,” you can quit this losing battle and start playing your own game: becoming a master in your field 10x faster by going your own way.

Mastery Only Takes As Long As You Want It To Take

“The time that leads to mastery is dependent on the intensity of our focus.” -Robert Greene, Mastery

Centuries ago, modern civilizations created a useful path for amateurs to become professionals: apprenticeship.

An apprentice studied their trade — woodworking, blacksmithing, cooking, fighting — under a seasoned veteran. This apprenticeship lasted years, even decades, until one day, the apprentice became a master, opened their own shop, and trained apprentices of their own.

The problem is, this system is still used today. We don’t need masters to give us permission to learn or excel — you can pretty much Google anything. All the secrets of your trade can pretty much be found online.

Most people’s problem isn’t a lack of access, it’s lack of commitment. I used to work at a library, and I’ll tell you that I never saw one wealthy librarian, even though they had access to all the information in the world.

You need to put in the time. You could become an electrical engineer or five-star chef or costume designer for movies just by using Google and YouTube and Teachable. With all the necessary information at your fingertips, a simple truth emerges:

Mastery only takes as long as you want it to take.

Gatekeepers and influencers don’t determine mastery anymore — you do, by both the repetition of your action and the intensity of your focus.

You decide how often (repetition) and how deliberately (intensity) you practice. If you practice something 10x more, or 10x more intensely than someone else, you’re going to outperform them in record time.

In college, I really wanted to play the title song of one of my favorite video games, Final Fantasy X, on the piano. It was a complicated piece. I couldn’t read sheet music, I had no teacher, and no one to train me.

But YouTube was around. Someone recorded themselves playing the song, and I straight-up mimicked their finger movements, watching the video over and over again until I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore. I practiced over and over on the dinky wooden piano at the bottom of my dormitory. After about a month, I could play the piece almost perfectly.

Now take your average high school student whose parents force her to go to piano lessons. She goes once a week and practices the same scales and chord progressions she’s been doing for months.

It could take her months, even years, to reach even partial mastery of a certain song. Me, I did it in about 30 days. Of course, I didn’t technically “learn how to play the piano.” But that wasn’t the goal, either — playing a certain song was. That’s all I wanted in the first place.

Most people approach their goals much like the young high school student forced to go to piano lessons: “paying their dues,” slowly and infrequently and casually for months and years, hoping the master will give them permission to do more complicated, more fun things.

You don’t need masters anymore.

You don’t need to pay your dues.

Find a free teacher, practice often, and deliberately, and you can reach higher levels of mastery in a month than your counterpart has reached in a year.

Speed Up the Process By Consistently Entering Flow States

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow, flow is “the optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.”

Most people sleepwalk through life without ever feeling so intensely focused, time seems to stand still.

But how can you and I reach this level, consistently?

How can you completely ignore the 1,000 distractions around you and produce an intense, unbroken focus on complicated tasks?

First, learn when you’re primed to enter flow states. Then, always act during that time.

As Steven Pressfield wrote in his book The War of Art:

“When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”

Consistently following routines creates physiological energy spikes.

Although your mind and body are extremely fluid (you can adapt to just about anything if you wanted to), there are specific times of the day when you operate best.

Most people will go their whole lives without ever really knowing when they’re the most primed to operate at world-class levels. They will continue to operate as a square peg in a round hole.

Learn about yourself. Find out if you get your best work done at 5AM, 1PM, or midnight.

“If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.” -Neal Stephenson, best-selling novelist

When you consistently begin acting during your prime time, you can expect to see 10x or even 100x better results over time.

The more you practice during these times, the more focused your mind will be. This repetition will train your mind to remember that focus and reproduce it on a daily basis.

Distractions will grow weaker. Flow states will become commonplace.

Operating at your peak level will become a daily routine.

Learn when you operate best for certain tasks, then act every single day.

Power will concentrate around you.

“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” -Somerset Maugham

If You Don’t Control How You Spend Your Time, You Won’t Have Any Left

It’s very easy to let time slip away. Give distractions a minute, they’ll take a whole hour. You need to protect your time. If you don’t, you won’t have any left.

Once you cut out all the fluff, distractions, and procrastination, you can accomplish in one week what it would take others years to finish.

Four-year colleges are a great example of this.

If you’re like me, you have a four-year degree. But you probably only ever took less than a dozen classes in your desired field. The rest was fluff, like pre-requisites and “general education” you were forced to take that had nothing to do with your goal.

Let’s do some quick math. If you had three hours a week in class, for four 16-week semesters, that total comes to 192 hours of learning.

That’s eight days.

To receive half of a “four-year” degree.

Obviously, there’s more to it than just class; homework, essays, and studying all take time. But for most students, 95% of the school is fluff. Remove the forced summer/winter breaks, screwing around, and partying, and you could complete the requirements for a “four-year” degree in a couple of months.

Most people carry this misunderstood “four-year” principle for the rest of their lives.

They hear “15-year mortgage” and assume takes 15 years to pay for a house. They hear retirement is at 65, so they can’t fathom retiring any earlier. They get two weeks of vacation a year, so they think it takes five years to earn that summer trip to Europe.

Most people don’t see the trap they’re in. They don’t realize they could complete 1000x the results, 100x faster than before.

NaNoWriMo is one of my favorite examples. If you’ve never heard of it, National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Every year, thousands of writers finish enormous books in four short weeks. Many of these writers have created six and seven-figure incomes from their NaNoWriMo projects.

I can use myself as an example of saving an incredible amount of time. When my wife and I moved to Korea, I knew absolutely no Korean.

But while my coworkers signed up for a 16-week Korean language class, I found a video where I learned to read the Korean alphabet in literally 5 minutes through a pneumonic memory strategy. Months into their Korean class, my coworkers could still hardly read the alphabet. I was reading menus at restaurants and navigating bus terminals for us.

If you remove all the breaks, fluff, preparation, and procrastination, you can accomplish your biggest goals in a few months — or even weeks.

Focus on the 100-Hour Asset

Seth Godin once wrote:

If you invest 100 hours in a rare skill, you’re likely to acquire it. If you could learn to sharpen a tool better than your peers, organize a high-performance database, see the nuances in some sector of cryptography, know how to build a pretty-good WordPress site or really understand the arc of a particular writer’s career, you’d have something of value. Something that anyone who was focused enough to invest 100 hours could have, but few will choose to commit to.

String together a few of those, or dig deep and develop a 1,000-hour asset and now you truly have something.”

Investing 100 hours into something doesn’t take that long. If you reinvest your free time and focus on making small progress, every day, you can learn new skills rapidly. We’re not shooting for 10,000 hours, just a measly 100.

Focus on investing 100 hours into a rare skill. Few people will choose to commit to that — it’s just too easy to indulge in entertainment and distractions.

None of this is “paying your dues.” This is about learning rare skills faster than almost anyone, reinvesting your free time, and learning how to become a master (or at least a near-master) extremely quickly.

I was struck by something I once read by best-selling author and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. He said that even if you’re working a full-time job, you can still put in about four hours of work every day on your side-projects, from 5:00am — 7:00am and 7:00pm — 9:00pm.

This changed the game for me. At the time, my wife and I were teaching English in South Korea, and it was an exhausting schedule. But I really wanted to be a full-time writer, so I started waking up at 5:00am to write and work on my craft. Same for 7:00pm, right after dinner.

After about six-nine months of that schedule, I had built a full-time writing business, gotten a book deal, and about 40,000 followers and subscribers.

Just put in a couple of hours, every day. Focus on learning and creating instead of entertainment and distractions.

“Most people have no clue what they are doing with their time but still complain that they don’t have enough.” -Grant Cardone

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