Launch School
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Launch School

Coping with the Slow Path to Mastery

Part 1 — Staying on the Path

Photo by Yeo Khee on Unsplash

Who This Article is for, and What it’s All About

This article is catered primarily to fellow Launch School students, but could be valuable for anyone that is studying in a long, self-paced, mastery-based program in which there are no official deadlines, and you can only progress after you’ve demonstrated mastery of a topic. This article is particularly for those that are moving at a slow pace and feel frustrated with the process. The content of this article stems from my personal experience of moving through the Launch School curriculum, at quite a glacial pace, and discusses some of the insights that I have gained about how to stay on the path, no matter how slow.

My Journey So Far

I was once told a joke by an older gentleman with a silly sense of humor. ‘What did the snail say who sat on the turtle’s back?’, he asked. ‘Hmmm, I don’t know’, I replied. And after a brief pause for effect, he exclaimed, ‘Weeeeeee!’ It was a lame joke, but we both chuckled and for some reason it stuck. This story relates to my journey, as in the beginning, I was the snail having a grand time riding on the turtle’s back. The turtle was the community of Launch School students that were moving faster, yet still slowly and patiently toward mastery, and that had much to teach me. I have read countless student articles about study habits and strategies and I have been constantly tweaking my own process. I’ve even made dramatic life changes to speed up my studies, as you’ll soon see.

My journey through Launch School has been undeniably and almost fatally slow with many bumps in the road. I began with the Prep course in March 2020 and I am now currently studying the LS180 course, a total of 6 courses completed including the prep course. One may ask, ‘why even bother to continue?’ There are many answers to that question, but the greatest is that I am determined to finish what I started and begin an exciting new career. Another answer is that I greatly value the knowledge and skill that I have gained and trust the Launch School process. Yet another answer is that I have identified many of the causes and I have implemented their solutions (to be revealed in part 2). I am now moving significantly faster and I am certain that I will be finished soon enough. Suffice it to say that in the first year or so, there were many factors (working overtime, social outings, etc.) which kept me away from a consistent study habit. On top of that, I had not developed an efficient study system, and it was always 3 steps forward, and 2 steps back.

So it was that in March of 2021, I decided to resign from my job as a teacher, move back to the US, and study full time. About two months had to be dedicated to getting all of my ducks in a row, both abroad and at home, but since I have made the change, I am making real progress in quite good time. My goal is ideally to finish the next 5 courses in the next 5 months. At the pace I’ve been moving recently I think this will certainly be doable.

Staying on the Path

As I’m sure you can see, my path has been very, very long, and I still have a long way to go. With such a long path it is easy to get discouraged and to feel that one should just give up and move on to something easier. It is hard to work for a reward that is many months, if not years, in the future. This section discusses a few ways that I have found to stay determined, motivated, and positive, and to enjoy the path itself.

Visualize the Long Term Reward

Research and discover jobs and opportunities that excite you. Think about what interests you, whether that is video games, photography, sports, health and wellness, languages, music, etc. and then research some of the companies in those industries to see what jobs are available. For example, I was an English teacher internationally for the last 5 years and have a lot of interest in teaching and learning languages. I then identified that I would love to work for a language learning company. I then started researching language apps and found that Duolingo has some really exciting opportunities (and some insane benefits). This has rekindled the fire and has reminded me what I’m working so hard to achieve. It now seems so obvious and I don’t know why I haven’t started this process earlier. If you haven’t already, try this out. You won’t regret it.

Engage with the experiences of the program’s graduates. At Launch School, there is a treasure trove of articles, podcasts, and presentations regarding the experiences and results of graduates from both the core and capstone programs. Engaging with these materials helps to keep the goal in clear perspective and to realize what is possible if you just keep moving forward and stay on the path.

Emphasize the Short Term Goals and Celebrate Every Success

Break down the long term goal into manageable pieces. It is essential to keep your eye on the prize and remember why you are working hard, but if the ultimate goal is the only focus, it is easy to despair in the length of the journey. Therefore, keep putting one foot in front of the other, achieve each small goal, and realize that consistently doing so will one day bring you to the finish line.

Understand the true value of each short term goal. With every assignment completed and every exam passed, at least two incredibly valuable things have happened. Firstly, you have made it that little bit closer to the ultimate goal and the fruit of your labor is ever nearer. Secondly, you have acquired knowledge and mastery of a skill, which is a true treasure that can always be relied upon. Money and wealth come and go, but a valuable skill can provide the framework for a good life. In the wise words of the hip-hop group Hieroglyphics from their song At the Helm:

Life is a blast when you know what you’re doin’
Best to know what you’re doin’ ‘fore your life get ruined
Life is a thrill when your skill is developed
If you ain’t got a skill or trade, then shut the h*ll up

Celebrate every success. They always say that its about the journey, and not the destination. This principle speaks to that idea. Whenever you succeed, it is a great idea to celebrate that success and reward yourself in some way. In doing so, the success will be that much more meaningful and the journey will be that much more fun and exciting.

Utilize the Community

Launch School students are high caliber people and should not be overlooked. I admit that I have not reached out to the community as much as I ought to, but without fail, every time I have engaged with the Launch School community, the experience has been incredibly valuable. The students at Launch School are naturally very intelligent, thorough, and serious people with a focus on mastering fundamentals and have a wealth of knowledge, experience, and wisdom to offer. It is foolish not to engage with this community. Additionally, we are all on this same path together. Some move faster, and some move slower, but we all have insight on how to navigate this path. Those that move faster can usually offer advice on how to study more efficiently and productively. Those that move slower can often offer advice on how to master concepts fully, or how to find a balance between study and a busy life.

‘Happiness is only real when shared.’ The origin of this famous quote is a bit morbid, so I’ll spare you the story and let you look it up for yourself if you please. However, I believe there is a lot of truth in it and we can use this truth to make our long and difficult journey happier and more meaningful. There is a lot of buzz around the Launch School community about finding study buddies and moving through the curriculum together. It may be hard to find a good one that moves at the same pace, but it is an invaluable asset if one, or more, is found. And this is for good reason. The benefits are manifold. A good study buddy is a source of inspiration, motivation, accountability, pace-keeping, commiseration, competition, challenge, wisdom, constructive criticism, perspective, and last but not least, shared happiness. When you succeed and you have someone to share your success with, that success is more significant. You will feel more pride and excitement at being able to showcase your accomplishments to a friend that is interested in and understands those accomplishments. You will also feel pride and excitement when you’ve helped your partner succeed.

In Conclusion

Many of us are taking a very slow path to our goal of mastery and it can be exceedingly frustrating at times how slow that path is. However, with the right perspective and attitude, we can ease that frustration and see the journey in a much more positive light. We can utilize visualization tricks to keep us motivated and excited about our goal, we can celebrate our short term successes and have fun, and we can find meaning and joy in helping each other succeed. I’ve said a lot of words to explain a simple and tired cliche. “Life is a journey, not a destination”.

I hope you enjoyed these thoughts and found some value out of them and I thank you for reading!

(P.S. I’ll reveal a few things that I’ve learned about studying faster and more effectively in Part 2. Coming soon!)

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Ian Austin

Ian Austin

Aspiring Software Engineer, currently studying at Launch School. “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make”