I wake up before dawn every day, usually somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00. No alarms needed, it’s just the way my brain and body work.
I used to prefer sleeping a bit later, because waking up early can make me drowsy during the afternoon and requires a power nap to recharge myself. However, when early rising started happening consistently a few years ago, I learned to embrace it. I now fully enjoy waking up while it’s still dark, and it has become “my time”. The silence in the house is a nice way to quietly start the day as I read, write, drink coffee, and watch the sky start to lighten. Every sunrise is a unique gift, and I often photograph them. The photo above is the view from our front window a few mornings ago.
I often go for walks while it’s early; before the cars are on the road, the neighborhood dogs start to bark, or there are other distractions out and about. On a recent walk when I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, I came across something great that I want to share here…
The episode is only 14:06 long, so I encourage you to listen to it in order to catch David’s expressiveness as he discusses the topic. If you want to read it instead then there’s a full transcript at the same link.
For any writer, photographer, artist, dancer, painter…or anyone who’s doing something that you enjoy and strive to get better at, David’s words are simply stated, yet full of inspiration and hope. The episode was so impactful to me that I stopped walking to play back this section several times:
“We live in a culture focused on being great, not becoming great. On being talented, not becoming talented. And on being creative and prolific and successful, even lucky, but not on becoming those things.
Becoming takes time. And grit. Your grit might not be as, uh, gritty, as someone else’s grit, but it’s grit all the same.
Becoming is not easy.
Becoming depends more on mistakes than on getting things right straight out of the gate.
It takes focus.
And it’s messy, full of moments that invite us to either quit or keep going.
But what is deeply hopeful about the idea of becoming is that it is largely in our hands. It does not rely on a random gift of genetics. It does not demand that we be better than anyone else or even compare ourselves to anyone, including ourselves.
Becoming is hopeful because it means while the person I am today might not be able to pull it off (whatever it is), the person I will become tomorrow or next year, might be.
I’m not talented enough to do tomorrow’s big thing today. I never am. If I had the talent or ability right now to do the bigger things about which I dream, I’d have done them already. I might not be able to do it now, but I will be in a year. Maybe two or ten. Because while I’m not yet the guy who can write my next book, I am becoming that guy. And, though it feels like a paradox, writing my next book (and all the books that led me to it) makes me the person capable of writing exactly that book. The man I am when I start a book is not the man I am when I finish it. Yes, we make our art, but our art makes us.
But remember, too, that merely sticking it out, merely persevering, is of no particular value. Just being patient, and putting in the time, is not the same as over time becoming, learning, or growing.
Being is static. Being one thing or another is fine if you’re content with that, but it’s not really the stuff of possibilities, is it? Becoming is on-going. It’s cumulative. Evolutionary. Becoming is about transformation.
But we don’t talk like that. No one talks about who we are becoming. They talk about who we are, as if it’s been decided, nailed down, set in concrete. As if the person I was when I was born is the person I am now and will be in 20 years. But we are not. We become. Or we can, if we are willing to learn.”
As I continued walking and listening to the rest of the episode, I thought about all the things I’ve tried in my life that I enjoy doing, and what my arc has been with them as I’ve continually strived to do them better. Photography, music, writing, craft-related activities…it doesn’t matter…his words apply. They’re a potent reminder that it’s about the journey, not just the destination. And it’s also a reminder that the journey is our “becoming”. I think we forget that, or perhaps never even realize it in the first place.
Remember his words while you’re on your journeys and you occasionally reach points where you have to try over and over again, or put in much harder effort to reach your goals. Stay focused. Keep doing, learning, and growing. You’ll get there eventually, and you’ll be a “better you” for the effort. Enjoy the process…and become!
Back in 2012, I was going through a tough time at work. We all occasionally have those difficult times and they tend to come in waves, and wow…this was quite a wave! Horrendous workload, mounting deadlines, ongoing layoffs, and some difficult people combined to make it a rough environment to deal with.
I tend to be a “heads down” type of person when things gets tough. I dig in and push hard to get through whatever’s happening, and I aim for the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, the work circumstances above typically lead to long hours, less time with family, poor sleep, a lot of stress, and no time for anything but….work.
Looking back at that time it’s clear that I was physically exhausted, but there was also something else happening emotionally that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I didn’t realize what was bothering me until I emerged from the fog many months later in 2013. The answer was that I was spending all of my available time on work and I completely paused my hobbies, learning, and creative activities. Since I’m an active, creative, continual learner, this was really hurting me and I didn’t realize how much at the time.
During your life, you’re fortunate if you experience a few truly meaningful moments of epiphany. Many people don’t. I’m referring to those moments of sudden insight that stop you in your tracks, reset you, and alter you as a person to point you in a new direction that truly affects your life. The situation above was an epiphany for me.
On the day in 2013 when I realized what I had slowly given up throughout the previous year, I made a promise to myself to:
Never lose sight of “me” again
Never stop learning
Related to #2, I believe that when you lose your curiosity about the world and your drive for continual learning that a piece of you “dies”. Part of what makes us grow as people is constant learning, experiencing new things, seeing new horizons, and meeting our goals. I learned through my experience that this is an essential part of who I am, so I can’t lose sight of that again.
Fast forward over the years since then and I’ve kept my promise to myself. I’ve happily explored the paths that my curiosity and learning have taken me down by seeing new places, doing many new things, and acquiring new knowledge and skills along the way. I’ve learned from many different sources and people over the years, and I’ve shared the best of those with others around me so they could benefit as well.
The short story above about the importance of continuous learning brings me to the subject of this article, which is MasterClass.
What is MasterClass?
MasterClass.com is a premium learning platform with an impressive list of instructors who you’re sure to recognize. Luminaries include Ron Howard, Wolfgang Puck, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Martin Scorsese, Annie Leibovitz, Judy Blume, Natalie Portman, Carlos Santana, Malcolm Gladwell, James Patterson, Steph Curry and many more. These people are true masters in their field.
From the accomplished names above and many others listed on the MasterClass website, it’s easy to conclude that the subject matter is quite varied, and this is one of the main things that immediately attracted me to MasterClass. The current list of learning categories includes the following (with multiple master instructors in each category):
Film & TV
Music & Entertainment
Business, Politics & Society
Sports & Games
Design, Photography, & Fashion
Science & Technology
The content on MasterClass is exclusive to their platform. You won’t find it on other learning websites, YouTube, in books, etc.
I’ve found the classes to be fun, engaging, insightful, and valuable. That’s exactly what a learning platform should be! It should excite and engage you in the learning process so that you’re left wanting more.
As of February 2020 when I wrote this, the cost of one course on MasterClass is typically $90, and I was originally planning to sign up for just the one course I was interested in. You can make a case that the $90 cost is worth it because of the high quality, but there’s a better offer that I opted for instead. For $180, you get full access to all of the classes for one full year. Looking through their catalog and instructor list, I saw many classes that I would take if I had access to them, so I opted for the one year all-access subscription instead.
Once you join a single class or an annual subscription, you can watch the class videos on your laptop through the MasterClass website, and there are also apps for iOS, Android, and streaming TV boxes (e.g., Apple TV) if you want to watch on a large screen TV.
Many of the classes have what I’ll call “light” assignments at the end of some of the lessons. These exercises are meant to reinforce the main points of the lesson and in some cases also practice what you’ve learned. You can choose to do the assignments or not, but I found them valuable so I completed them. Some classes, like Malcolm Gladwell’s, have a more sophisticated “end project” in addition to the assignments for each lesson.
You can join MasterClass, start a course, and progress through lessons any time and at your own pace. There are no set start and stop dates.
Finally, one other thing worth mentioning is that MasterClass Gift Cards are available for your favorite learner on your shopping list. The gift of learning is a great gift indeed!
Why pay for this content?
I’ve been focusing on my writing more seriously in recent years, and one of the first classes I started was Malcolm Gladwell’s “Teaching Writing”. I mentioned this to one of my friends and he asked “Why would you pay for that? There are so many online learning platforms and university writing classes available that you can use for free.”
That’s true, and in fact I’ve tried some of them. As you might expect, I found that the quality and consistency is hit or miss. Some have been quite good, but others consisted of poor content, poor instructors, or were recorded with shaky video and terrible audio that made them unwatchable.
So why pay?
My answer is that MasterClass has a different and specific draw than other classes on the internet produced by people who I don’t know. The draw is that MasterClass courses are taught by well known masters in their field whose work I’ve read, listened to, seen in movies, etc. I have a direct connection to what they’ve done because I enjoy and respect their work. If you’re a long time fan of one of the instructors then you’ve likely read or seen many of their works in the past, which means your connection to them could span a significant period of time in your life.
The point is that there’s great value in a strong connection between instructor and student that achieves the core purpose of any learning platform, which is to engage you. In the particular case of MasterClass, you know the work of these instructors, you like it, and you’re drawn to what they do and how they do it. Those facts can engage you more deeply in their courses and therefore you’ll hopefully get more value out of them. That engagement, and the quality of the instructors and content, are the core value proposition for the cost of MasterClass.
Just to be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking classes and learning from people who you don’t know. We all do it every day. I just wanted to mention that that’s not the premise of MasterClass.
One final thought on this before moving on. There’s also great value in learning from people who have “been there” because they carry with them a lifetime of experience and insight that beginner instructors simply don’t have. The MasterClass instructors deliver their content with carefully crafted structure, and their statements carry impact. They know the message they want to deliver, and it comes across clearly and concisely. For example, I can’t tell you the number of times I pressed ‘pause’ during Malcolm Gladwell’s videos so that I could write down a valuable “gold nugget” thought that I knew I would want to refer to in the future. This is not just glossy content with a price slapped on it because of a famous name. It’s truly insightful.
What do you get for the price?
Regardless of whether you spend $90 per course or $180 for the all-access pass for one year, the quality of the material is the same. You can read about the details and sample some of the content for yourself on the Masterclass website, so here I’ll summarize just the highlights from my perspective:
The classes are taught by masters in their field.
The production of the class videos is excellent with high quality audio and video.
Consistently high quality of content. The learning material does not disappoint.
The classes are well structured, and each typically contains about 20 lessons that average about 10 minutes in length per lesson (with some being as long as 20 minutes). This structure makes the content easily digestible, especially if you’re on the go and you only have limited amounts of time to watch lessons here and there.
There are downloadable PDF files available for most of the classes with relevant details for each lesson in that class. What’s in these PDF’s is unique to each class, so there’s no single format or content structure. Often they’ll link out to further materials available on the internet from the instructor (e.g., Malcolm Gladwell linked out to several of his long-form articles written for New Yorker magazine to support the points in certain lessons).
You can participate in community discussion boards on the MasterClass website where attendees discuss the class, the assignments, and start new discussion threads of their own.
There’s an extensive list of supplemental articles related to the courses written by the MasterClass editorial board. This is an extra bonus to membership beyond the classes themselves and there’s so much great reading to discover there…
Mobile apps are available for all platforms.
The bottom line
In summary, MasterClass is great concept with luminary instructors providing high quality content in a strong, consistent, easy to use learning platform available on all types of devices. For those interested in the subject matter available, it’s a treasure trove of insight into the minds and work of these masters in their field.
I can comfortably recommend MasterClass to those thinking about trying it. The main tip that I would offer to you is to thoroughly review their course catalog before you sign up to determine if you might be interested in taking more than one class. If you’re interested in more than one, then most certainly the $180 all-access pass for one year is worth it for you. Enjoy your learning experience, and have fun with it!