This Meme Perfectly Illustrates the Road to Mastery

Even novice notetakers should find this meme funny, but also heed its warnings & learn it’s lessons.

4 min readOct 30, 2022
PKM Bell Curve Meme

This is a meme from the Personal Knowledge Management community.

The whole idea of the meme is to demonstrate the 3 types of note-takers:

  1. The beginner: they use Apple notes because it’s accessible
  2. The intermediate: they design complex systems to get as many benefits as possible
  3. The master: they use Apple notes because they realized it was all they needed

When I first saw this meme I was instantly transfixed by how true it is.

Upon analysis, I realized I’m in the second half of the intermediary stage as of writing this. For a long while, I’ve been obsessed with taking notes in Obsidian, building tracking systems in Notion, and finding ways to learn faster using Readwise & Anki. But, those things have been holding me back from becoming the jedi-master as you see on the right.

All of those apps were just distractions. They never did what they were supposed to. It only piled on the work.

In this post, I’m going to explain how this meme visualizes the road to mastery & all of the lessons it has to teach about getting there.

The road to mastery has walls built on it

Let’s call the guy in the middle John.

John’s facial expression perfectly describes what it’s like being a student right before becoming a master.

But, before becoming the master on the right, he must struggle as a student. John may be struggling, but his struggle indicates that he’s learning to become a master.

This struggle reminds me a lot of a quote from Ryan Holiday:

“The obstacle is the way.”

This quote means that the obstacles in our lives are, in fact, signals. Signals that we are headed in the right direction. Signals that we’ll become masters soon.

So, what is John’s signal? In my mind, John is battling two things: one hidden & one obvious. The obvious one is his note-taking system. The hidden one is his irrational ego which is unwilling to let go of his creation.

Sometimes, on our own path to mastery, we get blinded by our desire to hold onto things we identify with. Especially things we’ve built. But, if we want to grow, we must let go.

However, there is a value to the stage before mastery: tinkering.

Tinkering is a tool for creating masters, but it has side effects.

John being stuck in the middle isn’t a bad thing. It means he’s on the right path.

Right before John’s stressful state, he was probably in a state of exploration & tinkering. Like many of us, John scoured the internet in search of his favorite things. In his case, that happens to be note-taking systems.

During his tinkering phase, John was expanding his understanding of all of the possibilities note-taking can offer by playing around with all available options. Soon, he would become a master, but first, he would have to realize the side effects of his exploration before he could move on.

As anyone who dives into a creative outlet knows, a lot of trash is produced. For John, that is no different. While on his note-taking internet excursion, he’s pieced together a messy system that stresses him. In this meme, we see John at his worst. But remember, “the obstacle is the way”.

Within our own journey, it’s important to realize that even stressful times are times to learn. If we allow stress to blind us, we’ll miss the opportunities right in front of us. It’s important to be okay with tinkering and seemingly not making progress. You may be in your chrysalis stage, like a butterfly. Eventually, there’s a breaking point and the light shines through into your beady butterfly eyes.

However, before any one of us can emerge from our cocoon, we must drop the baggage from our tinkering period.

Tinkering, although a helpful learning experience, creates secondary problems.

John might like the functions of his note-taking system, but he’s likely picked up some bad advice, developed bad habits, & over-extends himself trying to manage the several apps he’s strung together

Ninety-five percent of his creation circumnavigates him away from becoming a master.

He must be willing to let go and be reborn a master.

Masters are born out of elimination

Mastery is a lot like a cedar forest. It’s about setting ablaze the forest of your work so you can being the process of new growth.

That doesn’t mean you forget all of the lessons you learned during your tinkering-state naivety. You simply refine what you’ve learned out of love for purpose.

You begin replanting, but with newfound clarity, you can become a master.

Where are you?

Where are you on your journey to becoming a master?

Are you still a beginner or are you on your way to becoming an intermediate?

Or, are you already a master? How do you know?

Whatever the case may be, remember, that if you still have baggage or are still tinkering instead of producing, you’re probably still an intermediate. But, that’s okay.

Mastery is right around the corner.

This piece was originally published in Note to Noteworthy. Check out more of Maddox’s daily posts there.




I skipped college, now I write for fun and not for grades.