The 3 steps to master a skill

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In this episode, Lindsay Lyman shares insights into the three essential phases of mastering a skill. Drawing from her extensive experience at Amazon and personal endeavors, Lindsay delves into how individuals can navigate these phases to achieve excellence in their careers and personal pursuits.

Tune in to gain valuable insights into mastering skills and unlocking your full potential in various aspects of life.

*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any organization.*



Episode Transcript

Hey, I’m Lindsay Lyman. I worked almost 12 years at Amazon and saw so many brilliant and successful overachievers burn themselves out and leave their jobs because they’re so stressed and anxious. But guess what? Having a successful career does not have to be at the expense of your mental sanity and personal time. There’s an easier way, and I can show you how. Let’s do this.


Hey, today I want to talk to you about the three phases of mastering a skill. I struggled with what to call this ’cause I kind of wanted to talk about it in terms of like how to like your job again, how to feel fulfilled at work. But ultimately it’s there’s three different cycles we all go through, and you go through this hundreds of times in life as you really want to get really good at a certain skill.


So, I’m always surprised when I hear people that say they are bored. I personally sometimes struggle with the other side in that there’s so much I’m fascinated by and want to learn and want to do that it feels very overwhelming. I could spend hours and hours and hours on YouTube learning new things. I love learning from like how to make sushi to like building shelves in the garage. I love Elise Myers. What she says is she’s like “I’m born with thee how hard could it be Jean?” I’m like that’s totally me. I can do things. Oh, I’d say 70-80% pretty well. If you need it like perfect and pristine, that’s not me, but I genuinely believe I’m like “hi I could give that a try.” For example, this week alone, I have installed drywall and mudded and taped it in my craft room that flooded for the second time last holiday. I also decided to start putting down luxury vinyl plank (LVP) in the upstairs of my house. So, I’m going room by room because I don’t have time to do all of it at once, but I basically this past weekend decided now was the time. I tore out the carpet, the padding, prepped the floors, bought the LVP, and laid the LVP in my daughter’s room. It’s fun. I love learning new things, and I think as humans, we are meant to learn and try new things. It’s so fulfilling. We’re meant to be fulfilled in what we’re doing.


I found that like when I’m bored at work, I’m not learning. I’m not learning fast enough and deep enough and in a way that’s keeping me engaged. I’m not at that consumer stage. When I’m bored in a church setting, I’m not creating new spiritual connections. I’m not creating it and making it up to be what works for me and my beliefs. When I’m bored in relationships, it’s because I’m just going through the motions, right? I’m getting stuck at and I’m not progressing and continually recycling through this process of mastering a skill and really getting good at things. So, there’s essentially these three phases we go through when we want to get really good at a new skill.


The first phase is one of my favorites where we like consume it. This is where like I get really obsessed into things and I can’t learn enough and I want to know all the tips and tricks and I want to talk to people about it, and I’m just like stewing in it. I’m just like consuming in all that I can. The second phase is following. So now I go and I follow other people’s directions, right? I watch that YouTube tutorial and all the videos on how other people have done it, and I follow their lead. I follow the directions and tips and tricks they’ve given me. Where the third phase is really when you create that mastery in that skill is when you go and you create it yourself. You don’t need the directions. You’re making the directions up yourself. You understand enough of the concepts, enough of the elements of how it works. You followed the directions. You played by the rules that now you get to start bending the rules and make them up how you want.


I’ve talked about this before, but I think about it in terms of food. You start by eating and consuming foods, and you find out which foods you like and which ones you don’t and why, and we’re kind of just like consumers of it. Then you learn how to follow a recipe, and other people have laid out recipes of how to mix and cook and stir all the appropriate ingredients together to create certain food, and we follow the recipe. And that real mastery of that skill comes in when you’re able to create your own recipes, right? This is what we would call a chef. Is you understand the science and concepts of how foods mix and interact with each other enough that you can go and create your own thing, right? These three phases of mastering a skill is consume, follow, create. The same thing can apply in your career. Essentially you start out your career in this consuming learning stage. You go to college, you get the degree, you get the certificate, and you spend your first couple of years on the job just like soaking it all in.


I remember those first few years working in corporate like I would go home just so tired and yet I wasn’t really doing a whole lot. I wasn’t adding a lot of value. I was doing a lot of entry-level work that was not having this huge impact, but I was exhausted because I’m in this consuming and learning phase, and it’s mentally exhausting. I will never forget the first meeting I walked into when I started Amazon. I went to New hire orientation in the morning, my manager who changed between when they hired me and day one came and picked me up, and we went to lunch, and then they took me into a meeting that the team had every Monday at that time, and it was a weekly Business Review (WBR). And I remember walking in there, and granted it’s my first day, I’m worried about making a good appearance trying to figure out like what building am I in, how do I get back to this building tomorrow, right? Like all of those little things. But I remember sitting in this WBR meeting and really worried I made a mistake because it felt like they were speaking an entirely different language, and I had been working in corporate for quite a while and felt pretty confident in what I was doing, but they were talking about things like cold prickle or CPPU or MUO or OSBB or DSI, and I was like what the heck are these things, right? I was in this consumption phase. So then after you’ve done that enough in your career or enough on the team or as you’ve entered corporate, you move into the following stage. Okay, so we’ve consumed, we’ve learned, now we’re going to go follow the directions, we follow the process, what’s the SOP, how do we do this?


My insecure overachievers, my friends, you love this space. It’s like tell me all the buttons I need to push and I am the best button pusher. I will go push all the buttons. And I won’t lie, I love this sometimes too. But staying there and just pushing buttons all the time, all day, every day, and getting more buttons given to you that you need to make sure you push and don’t push and do it in the right order at the right time, it’s not fun, right? It’s not engaging enough for your brain to keep going. So I think back to that WBR example. So I walked in the first day, no clue what they were saying. After a few months, I could go to the WBR. There were still things that I was learning along the way, don’t get me wrong, like I learned until the day I left there at Amazon, but I could go in and I could populate some of those data points. I could understand and what it was that they were looking for and why we were looking at it. Like for example, I learned cold prickles is really just a terrible branding, terrible name of a metric. It essentially is a data point we would look at when we had promised something would be delivered to a customer by Christmas and we missed the date, right? So the name comes from like in theory you feel bad and you get this like cold prickly on the back of your neck. I don’t know, that’s what I was told. I was like that’s the dumbest name I’ve ever heard for a metric, but whatever, I understand the data point we’re looking at and why it’s so important and why we’re trying to keep that number as close to zero as possible, okay? So I understood it, I could follow the direction. Your brain, it also loves this spot because it loves to know how your brain thinks, just tell me the buttons and I’ll push the buttons and that’s the goal and we’ll be happy and good. This is where so many of us gets stuck, tell me how and then I’ll go and do it, tell me how I should change teams and then I’ll start applying and figuring it out, tell me how I go from an individual contributor to a manager and then I’ll start taking the steps, tell me how to go after a promotion and then I’ll start doing the steps to get there, tell me how to strategically lead this meeting and then start leading the meeting, tell me how to write the business document and then I’ll start trying to write the business document.


But here’s the thing, real mastery, like someone who is truly amazing and fabulous and a skilled exceptional person at what they do, you create that real mastery when you are able to understand enough of those foundational elements that you get to go and create it and make it up yourself. You don’t need someone to tell you how, you understand enough of the basics that you know how to keep yourself safe and not get yourself into trouble, but you’re going to go make it up. For example, in that WBR meeting, one of the metrics we’d look at was DSI, it stands for Downstream Impact. When I first came on board with one of the teams, we would often look at the downstream impact at Amazon of if a customer buys this product, what impact does that have across? How long do they stay with us? What does that impact if they’re a Prime member or not, their average cart size, how often they shop with us, right? Like a ton of different things of like the downstream impact of if you can get a customer to buy certain products or spend a certain amount of money.


But at the time, I was working in marketing and when I understood the foundational elements enough of DSI, I was able to go and help us create our own marketing-specific DSI metrics that we didn’t have before. So, I wanted to understand what was the downstream impact if I could get customers to engage with our Marketing in certain ways, what did that mean long-term for the value of that customer, right? I was making it up. I was able to create new metrics to help us understand where we should be optimizing and spending more time, where we should be spending less time.


Real mastery comes when you understand enough and you know how to follow the core directions, but you’re willing to give up the process and how we’ve always done it to go make it your own. This is where leadership happens, management happens. In that following stage, come in, follow the process, push the buttons, keep the people moving through it. Leading is having an idea, not knowing exactly how to get there, having like a general idea but not really knowing and making it up as you go one step at a time. At Amazon, we always talk about like yes, we’re building the ship while we’re flying it in the air, and it’s so true because as a company, we would rather take action and stay one step ahead than wait and feel really good and make sure we have all the steps mapped out because that slows us down and it never goes according to plan.


So, we’d rather just like start taking action and learn more along the way and keep going in the direction we want to go. But here’s the thing, most of you probably know that you get stuck in that following phase, and it’s hard for you to move into that create phase because it’s scary, like asking you to leave that safe and secure thing you believe is there and go make it up. It feels terrifying. It doesn’t feel good. That’s I say your brain loves the following stage, it’s like no, no, no, no, no, no, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right? If this process is working, let’s just keep pushing buttons. But the human part of you is so bored, it’s like I don’t want to keep pushing buttons, I want to go make new buttons that someone else needs to go and push or that no one has to push, that a machine is going to push.


Most people are not going after that next career move because they’re stuck in this following phase, but if you know you have more to give and you know you should be making more money and you should be having more of a say on the strategy and treat it as such, we got to get you into that create stage. Here’s what I want to remind you, the first step of doing it is the hardest, going from zero to one takes more energy than going from one to two, it takes more energy, it takes more confidence, but something in motion stays in motion. It’s like you got to rip the Band-Aid and do the really hard thing and then just keep running.


This is a lot of what I help people do because here’s what it takes to do that. It takes shifting from a place of confidence that I can follow the process and push the buttons to a place of self-confidence of I can keep figuring this out as we’re going, I can keep building the plane while we’re in the air, I can figure out the one next thing to do to keep us in the air and I’m okay with that. It takes support from multiple people to help you feel like there’s a safe place to fail or sturdy people you trust to lean on when it’s down and you’re in that plane and it’s super windy and you feel like you’re about to fall out because you haven’t figured out what that next step is yet.


It takes making sure you have a clear endpoint and a focus on exactly what it is you’re trying to create while you’re building it. If you’re in that plane and it’s going hundreds of miles an hour, you want to make sure you’re very clear you know what direction that plane is going because if not, you’re going to spiral and spin and you’re going to stop building it and you will crash and burn. It takes having the right tools to create it, to make it up, to build the plane, to know how to fly in the air while you’re totally freaked out and to keep that steady eye on the endpoint. I think coaching does this, it’s the tool that teaches you how to be okay when you’re not okay, to be calm when it’s hard, to have fun along the way and get clear on where you want to go.


But here’s what I want you to remember, if you’re feeling stuck, I want you to have a little bit of a reality check in and if you’re following along, spending your time trying to figure out the system, I want you to think of what’s one thing you could do, doesn’t need to be big, you don’t need to have it all figured out, just literally what is one thing you could do to go and lead and make up the next thing to do to get to where you want to go. You might need some support along the way, that’s okay, reach out to me, reach out to your friends, reach out to all the other resources you have, do what you need to do, but if you’re stuck in this following phase, we got to help get you into that creating and leading phase.


The three phases to really master a skill, to get very exceptionally good at something is first you’re going to go and consume all you can, second you’re going to go and follow along and third you’re going to go create and make it up. Alright y’all, you’re amazing, you got this, we’ll talk soon. If what you’re learning from this podcast is helping, this is just the beginning. Each week I offer a limited number of coffee chats so that you and I can connect one-on-one and talk specifically about what’s going on for you. You’ll leave this call feeling more hopeful and motivated but I’m also going to teach you a few things to try right away to get unstuck. Space is very limited and these are free, so grab your spot before they’re gone. Click the link in the show notes or go to and sign up today. You got this.

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Hey, I’m Lindsay Lyman

I spent the last ~12 years growing my career at Amazon. I’ve built teams, launched new products, and created my own jobs. As a certified coach, I teach people how to manage the noise in their head to feel motivated and valued at work again.

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