I’ve been walking all over Portland with flashcards in my hands, talking to myself. I’m studying cocktail recipes and the basics of spirits, wine, and hospitality.

The hero’s journey requires learning new skills or information. In my case, my journey to becoming a craft cocktail bartender will require learning about beer, wine, spirits, cocktails, and hospitality. I decided to create an ultralearning project to accelerate my study.

How to acquire knowledge and experience quickly is the fourth topic of this 4-part series on living the hero’s journey.

  1. Deep Change
  2. Creating a Life of Fulfillment
  3. Finding Your Calling
  4. Ultralearning

The term, “ultralearning” was coined by Cal Newport. It means a strategy for acquiring skills and knowledge that is both self-directed and intense.

I learned about ultralearning from Scott Young. He’s the author of Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career. After listening to a podcast interview by Jordan Harbinger where Young described how he’d completed the MIT computer science undergraduate curriculum in just one year instead of four. All for free using the classes MIT posts online.

Here’s a link to Young’s TEDx Talk. He called his project The MIT Challenge.

What is Ultralearning?

Ultralearning: A strategy for acquiring skills and knowledge that is both self-direct and intense. The opposite is learning that is designed to be fun and convenient. Think Duolingo Vs. Total Language Immersion.

You could learn a language with Duolingo, a language learning app, which calls itself a fun and addictive way to learn a language through bite-sized lessons.

Or you could embark on a three month of total language immersion adventure. Immersion might include living in a foreign country, taking six hours of classes each day, and staying with a host family that does not speak your language. You could make it even more effective by committing not to speak your native language until you return home.

Three Phases

The phases of an ultralearning project are:

  1. Research: decide what you’re going to study, who can help you, what benchmarks you’ll use to measure your progress, and how you will practice.
  2. Scheduling Time: determine how long your project will take. How you will alter your daily life to accommodate learning and practicing, and what milestones you’ll reach on your journey.
  3. Executing Your Plan: is the doing of your learning project. There should be an emphasis on:
  • Focus – in the age of distraction, ultralearning requires focus.
  • Direct Practice – the more closely your activities can incorporate doing instead of just reading, the better.
  • Drilling – like an athlete, drills will help you achieve mastery of the skills you’ll need to be successful.
  • Retrieval and Retention – the emphasis of this learning process is to retain and be able to use the knowledge and skills you seek, not just to have read or watched videos.
  • Feedback – will help you know that you are making progress and focus your efforts where you need more practice and study.

Each phase is described in detail in the book Ultralearning. I found the book to be a good road map. However, I skimmed to each section to extract the relevant information rather than reading the fluff, which seems to be there to reach the requisite 280 pages of a non-fiction book.

My Ultralearning Project

I’m calling my ultralearning project the Self Directed: Master of Beverage and Hospitality. Like a master’s degree from a university, but without the student loan debt.

I’ve designed a two-year, six-semester study of beer, wine, sake, spirits, and coffee – plus hospitality with four certifications.

  • Spirits Educator
  • Sommelier
  • Cicerone
  • BAR 5-Day Class Graduate

Included in my project is becoming a working bartender and many smaller milestones.

Fortunately, I have some wins to share with you. I have completed the BAR Starts online course, and I’m about halfway through the BAR Smarts course. And best of all – I begin orientation and training today as a bartender!

What Have You Wanted to Learn?

Is there a learning project that would propel your hero’s journey forward? Is there a subject that you’ve wanted to take a deep dive into? Have you been putting off change because of the high cost of education?

You might be thinking of a skill that you’d like to master instead of an entire course of learning – think juggling, calligraphy, driving a golf ball, or cooking a specific dish. If that’s the case, I recommend The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman.

Find Your Path

Throughout this series, I’ve presented the hero’s journey path as linear – Deep Change leads to Creating a Life of Fulfillment – which results in Finding Your Calling, which calls for Ultralearning.

The truth is you can start at any phase. It’s possible, even likely, that you’ll be in more than one period at a time. Begin where you are and find your path into the adventure of your life.

Go Answer the Call