The Three Stages Of Mastery and Success: How, Why and Who

Richard Shrapnel's 'The Three Stages Of Mastery and Success: How, Why and Who'.

In life and in business, you often start with understanding how to do something and then possibly progress to why it is important to do it that way and then stop. That’s where most people get to at best. But that is one stop short of actually knowing the most important lesson and that is who you need to be.


Active Knowledge Question:

If you were recruiting someone for a critical role in your business, what would be the most important thing you would look for in that person?


The Journey Of Mastery

If you truly want to be successful, to achieve your greatest potential, in any aspect of your life then you must quickly transition from the how, to the why, to the who.

The who is the most important. While it may take you years to master the how and appreciate the why, if you don’t address the who then you will never reach your potential – no matter how long or hard you try. It all starts with the who.



Do you want to be as successful as you possibly can be in your life? It could be in anything – business, career, creative arts, music, sports, health, relationships, parenthood, even a hobby. It doesn’t have to be your work or how you earn a living. It can simply be where your passion and joy is, or something that has just caught your interest.

Most people who commit their time and energies to an activity would like to be successful. Some to the extreme where they would describe themselves as highly competitive – the must-win types. Others just want to be able to feel a sense of pride in what they have achieved – a job well done.

My experiences in mentoring and observing people building success in their lives is that they tend to start at, what I would call, ‘the outside’ and just seek the answer to how. How do I do this? It’s about the actions to achieve the outcome. How is also the what– what do I need to do?

You should see how as being very superficial and, at best, only the start of the journey– an introduction as such. If you were to seek a teacher in anything, if they only know the how, then they are not a teacher, they are a learner just like you.

Many people stop at how.



Learning normally starts with the howNo matter what it is that you are seeking to learn, it starts with how. This is how you go about it.

How is fine as it allows you to experience whatever it is you are trying to learn and, most importantly, to experience it for yourself. Every person is unique and different and the way you experience something is unlikely to be the same as someone else. Theory is important, but practice is where you understand.

For me, I love repetition. Maybe it’s my background in traditional martial arts where every session was just drills, drills and more drills. We don’t do enough repetition these days when learning motor skills. There is currently a Mercedes car ad running on TV in Australia where the phrase they use is something like ‘precision first, and then speed’. It’s an important message when learning. Precision first – get the technique right and then speed will naturally follow.

Once you are well into the how, you can then begin to ask and appreciate why. Why do we do it this way and not the other way? Understanding the why behind the how allows you to tailor the how to suit various circumstances. You now have practised enough personally to understand how it all works. Now you are exploring why it is typically done a certain way, allowing you to modify and tailor the how.

You have shifted to another level of learning and now can begin to teach others because you can, with knowledge and experience, modify practices to fit their individual needs.

Your understanding of the how and why continues to grow and deepen as you continue to practise yourself and teach others, widening the breadth of your learning significantly. Learning is now compounding as you put in more hours. It can’t be sped up and the greater investment of hours pays off.

Many people do not have the commitment to reach why or deepen it.



What allows someone to move from the superficial learning of ‘just show me how’, to a greater understanding of ‘can you explain to me why we do it this way’? And then, from there, progress to further deepen their personal capability, understanding and ability to teach others?

It is no mystery. It is who they are as a person.

It is the personal traits within them that have seeded their desire to learn, to improve, to deepen their knowledge and to preserve over, what is likely to be, a long period of time. Teaching others actually allows you to learn a lot more and to understand the why on an even greater level.

But it is the who that we often miss and neglect.

Someone comes to you and asks you to mentor them. What is the one thing that you must judge? For me, it’s if they are the type of person who has the passion and commitment to see it through. Who are they as a person and do they have the traits that will underpin their future success?

If you really want to become successful in whatever pursuit you are chasing, understand who you need to be as a person and begin to invest in that from the outset. It is the one thing that will either underpin all your efforts and make you the success you want to be, or the weak foundations that will collapse under you along with all your ambitions.

Many people do not want to understand the who as it does not fit well with the current social view of what success is reflected in – wealth, self-first, position, and social influence.


The Foundations Of Successful People

I honestly believe that there is a universal consensus on what makes for a successful person and I do not think that it has changed for thousands of years. Certainly, this is the view I have formed from my life experiences and doctoral research. It’s expressed in different ways by various traditions and cultures but the core messages are the same.

So what is the foundation for being successful in life? Here’s my take. I describe it as the achiever trait, and it is built as follows:

'The Achiever Trait' by Richard Shrapnel
‘The Achiever Trait’ by Richard Shrapnel
  • A core of humility which allows you to learn and be grateful, to not take yourself too seriously, to seek continuous improvement, to take failure in your stride and to work with the best, at their best.
  • Surrounded by an attitude of gratitude. You are able to wake each morning with a positive outlook on life and with an excitement about what the day will hold and what you can achieve. Not seeing everything through rose-coloured glasses but rather a lens that looks for opportunity.
  • A triad of beliefs, words and body that allows you to commit and endure so you can relentlessly pursue the goals you have set. By this I mean:
    • The body is your physical, emotional and mental health.
    • The beliefs reflect the way you view yourself both consciously and subconsciously.
    • Words are powerful and are used to uplift and encourage yourself and others and not to put-down or crush.
  • And play, where you nurture, feed and allow your imagination and creativity to see what is impossible and make it possible.

People with the achiever trait have set themselves up to succeed and win an enduring life of success.


If being successful is something you would like to achieve in your life, then it all starts with who you are as a person. And once those traits become present and are built on, opportunity and success will come your way.

Successful people focus on who they are first and foremost.


If you would like to read more about success, then here are some of my earlier articles on the subject:


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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel