12 MasterClasses in 12 Months: A Review

It would be an understatement to say that, back in April 2020, we had some free time on our hands. Always eager to use my time productively I was on the hunt for creative ways to learn new things. That led to a 1-year MasterClass subscription and, since then, I’ve completed 12 MasterClass courses in 12 months.

This is my review of those 12 classes. 

Jimmy Chin
Adventure Photography
20 lessons
Length: 4 hours, 10 minutes

I’m a huge fan of Jimmy Chin and actually ran into him once while climbing The Gunks in upstate New York. We were both climbing similar difficulty routes that day so I’ll always be able to pretend that we climb at the same level. This MasterClass was highly dynamic because it mixed on-location climbing shoots with focused lessons on overcoming different photography challenges. It was a great balance of theory, real-world practice, and entertaining stories from Jimmy’s countless adventure. My rating: 4/5 stars

Steve Martin
25 lessons
Length: 4 hours, 41 minutes

Steve Martin is a comedic legend and I was excited to take his class. Like most MasterClasses, it’s a blend of personal story and targeted advice. There are a few great workshop segments where he gives feedback to a group of four budding comedian’s acts. I also enjoyed how they spliced in clips of Martin’s old performances to illustrate important points. My biggest complaint is that he occasionally seems unprepared or unsure what he’s going to say. My rating: 3/5 stars

Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness and Meditation
20 lessons
Length: 6 hours, 31 minutes

I’ve been practicing meditation for the past 5 years but I never really had a good introduction that tied everything together. This is that course. It’s maybe the only MasterClasses that I’d consider paying full price for. Jon is the OG of modern western meditation — he has a PhD in biology from MIT and was one of the first people to organize formal scientific studies of meditation. I loved this course because it struck a great balance between theory and guided meditations. By the time a theory session is over, you’re feeling energized to begin the next meditation. My rating: 5/5 stars

Daniel Pink
Sales and Persuasion
16 lessons
Length: 2 hours, 57 minutes

I’ve never read any of Daniel Pink’s books, so I can’t say how they compare to the MasterClass. I was intrigued by the course title “Sales and Persuasion” because I think it’s one of those areas that we all can improve. My biggest course takeaway was the importance of empathy in persuading others. The course leaned heavily on data from human behavior studies, like loss aversion, attribution error, and power positions. I love those types of behavioral studies but they can be a double edge sword when relied on too heavily, which Pink does at times. My rating: 3/5 stars

Neil deGrasse Tyson
Scientific Thinking and Communication
13 lessons
Length: 2 hours, 14 minutes

My biggest complaints about this course are the length (it’s a bit short) and deGrasse Tyson’s constant need to toot his own horn (it’s a bit off putting). With that said, I thought the lessons on asking questions and speaking to your audience were valuable. I also liked his point that it’s just as lazy to dismiss an idea as it is to blindly accept it. Keep a skeptical, scientific mind and ask questions. My rating: 2/5 stars

Frank Gehry
Design and Architecture
17 lessons
Length: 2 hours, 32 minutes

This was one of my least favorite classes. It was mostly Gehry reminiscing about old projects in no specific order. There were a low amount of learning moments. On the plus side, he’s definitely honest and doesn’t pretend to tell you that his way is the only way. My rating: 1/5 stars

Judd Apatow
32 lessons
Length: 6 hours, 34 minutes

I suppose it’s no surprise that Judd Apatow’s MasterClass was the longest of the bunch. The theme was mostly film writing and producing — fields that I’m not planning on entering anytime soon. With that said, I found this MasterClass extremely fascinating. It was a cool behind-the-scenes look at how movies are made and how comedic moments are birthed. I like how he went down into the weeds, talking about details like budgeting, developing scripts, casting, and improv. I also loved how the class used clips from Apatow’s movies (Knocked Up, This is 40, Trainwreck) to act as lesson launch points. My rating: 4/5 stars

Neil Gaiman
The Art of Storytelling
19 lessons
Length: 4 hours, 49 minutes

I could listen to Neil Gaiman read the dictionary. His poise, style, and accent are absolutely enthralling. My favorite lessons were when he casually pulled one of his books off the shelf, read a passage, and proceeded to reveal its backstory. Similar to Apatow’s class, it felt like a secret glimpse into the world of creativity. Neil also gave some solid tactical advice for character development, working through writer’s block, and finding your voice. My rating: 4/5 stars

Bob Iger
Business Strategy and Leadership
13 lessons
Length: 2 hours, 11 minutes

I was excited for this class after reading Iger’s incredible book “The Ride of a Lifetime”. Unfortunately, his MasterClass was a disappointment. The book was full of interesting stories yet the class glazed over them. Skip this class and read the book. My rating: 2/5

Sara Blakely
Self-Made Entrepreneurship
14 lessons
Length: 3 hours, 30 minutes

Blakely is the founder of Spanx, which made her the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world and her story is compelling. Her story is wisely weaved throughout the class and is balanced by personalized lessons in entrepreneurship. The lessons I pulled from this class were: starting small can lead to big things, failure is the norm not the exception, and how to think creatively while solving problems. I think the class’s biggest achievement was putting a new twist on old business topics. My rating: 4/5 stars

Paul Krugman
22 lessons
Length: 3 hours, 56 minutes

I haven’t taken an Economics class since my freshman year of college with Professor “Crazy Willy”. He was notorious at the University of Delaware because he was extremely strict and objectively crazy. He took pride in it. He docked 5 points off your final grade if you arrived late to class and I vividly remember him chugging a students’ Red Bull in the middle of a lecture. Krugman’s class was notably less crazy but entertaining nonetheless. It’s a great introduction to many of the topics we hear on the news but know very little about (e.g. The Fed, healthcare, economic bubbles). I recommend it to anyone who has interest in how modern economies actually function. My rating: 4/5 stars

Chris Voss
The Art of Negotiation
18 lessons
Length: 3 hours, 4 minutes

This was my first MasterClass and it’s a great one. Voss’s book, Never Split the Difference, is my favorite book on negotiation. It’s one of the few books that I’ve read on Kindle and listened to on Audible. The class does a good job of mixing role playing to help the theory come alive. MasterClass also tries to tie in thematic elements to each class, and they aptly wove in a crime solving ambiance (Chris was a former FBI hostage negotiator). I recommend this class to anyone interested in improving their negotiation skills. My rating: 5/5 stars


Was I happy with my MasterClass subscription? Absolutely. Would I pay full price ($192 / year, billed annually) for one? Maybe.

The classes were educational and entertaining but the price tag is a bit steep, especially if you’re only interested in one or two classes.

I was able to get my membership with a friend during a 2020 BOGO special, making the half price point more palatable. If you’re interested in any of the above classes (or the 100+ course catalog), my recommendation would be to find a friend who’s interested and share an account.

Happy learning.

My Lost (and Found) Advice to Someone Starting a New Career

Photo by Ivan Karpov

Back in the summer of 2018, I had lunch with my cousin Dallas in New York City’s Koreatown. It was his first week working at a tech startup after transitioning careers from a high school teacher. The combination of him being my younger cousin and me leaving a stint at a similar startup was a dangerous combination. It brought out that feeling we’ve all had before.

That feeling when we think we know what we’re talking about. 

That lunch is a great memory and I’m proud to say that Dallas has gotten a few deserved promotions since then. But until last week, the nitty gritty of our conversation was a bit vague. Another conversation dissolved into the winds of time. 

Or maybe not. 

We were recently chatting and he mentioned that he still sometimes looks back on my advice from that dumpling filled lunch. He keeps the list on his phone and was kind enough to share it with me. Surprisingly, I think it stands the test of time. 

Here’s the advice I gave my cousin as he embarked on his new career. And it’s the same advice I’d give today to anyone in a similar situation.  

📌 Keep a running list of your accomplishments. It will be useful during your year-end review and for maintaining your resume. 

📌 If you have nothing to do in a meeting, take good notes and share. 

📌 If you have too much to do, ask your manager to prioritize.

📌 For client emails that require a decision, provide options. Give the pros and cons of each option and make a recommendation. 

📌 Craft every communication based on the recipient. Usually managers will want a summary at the top. You can follow with details and they will dig in as needed. 

📌 Use a service like followupthen to keep track of email follow up.

📌 You’re going to be asking for a lot of internal favors or questions on behalf of your clients. You don’t always want to be making withdrawals. Find ways to make deposits.

📌 Ask your manager what her expectations are to knock your job out of the park. Write them down and check in every so often to see how you’re doing. 

📌 Always look for ways to improve or standardize things. Those things often fall through the cracks.

📌 Find ways to make your manager look good.

📌 Find ways to let people know what you’ve accomplished in normal convos. When a leader asks how you’re doing, mention a recent accomplishment. This is obviously a balancing act but they’ll eventually associate you with success.

📌 You’ll likely have to do the next level job while still doing your current job. Look at the things that those people are doing and start doing them. 

What would you add to the list?

Drawing the “E”

Let’s play a quick game. 

  1. Identify your dominant hand
  2. With your dominant hand, as quickly as you can, snap your fingers five times.
  3. With your dominant hand, as quickly as you can, draw a capital E on your forehead with your finger. 

Did you do it? C’mon, give it a shot.

Ok, good. Now scroll down to learn more.

There are two different ways you can draw the E. You can draw it so someone looking at your forehead could read it. Or, you can draw it so it’s readable from your perspective (and thus, backwards from someone else looking at your forehead). 

If you drew the E so you can read it, you’re currently in a high-power position. If you drew the E so someone else can read it, you’re currently in a low-power position. 

Before you get too excited (or upset) about your current power position, let’s look at the 2006 Psychological Science study that explored the implications of this little game and made some interesting findings:

  • High-power participants were three times more likely to draw a self-oriented letter E
  • In social situations, higher-power people anchored more heavily to their own vantage point while lower power people were more likely to take another person’s perspective
  • High-power people were more likely to make errors in judging emotions in others

The authors summed up the results succinctly. “Across four experiments, we found that [high] power was associated with a reduced tendency to comprehend how other individuals see the world, think about the world, and feel about the world.”

What I find most compelling is that the participants were able to be primed (i.e. influenced) into these low or high power conditions. And by nudging the participants into a particular condition, it influenced how they acted.

I could put this to good use.  When I played the game I wrote a self-oriented E, meaning I was in a high-power position (and likely less likely to express empathy). If I were to venture a guess, my constant focus on achieving goals and getting stuff done makes me more naturally inclined to be in that mode. Which, according to the study, “leads not to a conscious decision to ignore other individuals’ perspectives, but rather to a psychological state that makes perspective taking less likely.”

Maybe we can move ourselves into a lower-power, and more empathetic, frame of mind. 

The authors moved people into the low-power position in a methodical, dry way that only a University funded study can. “Participants assigned to the low-power condition were instructed to write about a personal incident in which someone else had power over them.”

This feels a bit too rigid for the real world and I doubt it’s the only way we can step into the more empathetic mode. What about writing (or visualizing) about a time when we’ve collaborated well with others? Or when we’ve been the low person on the totem pole. It’s almost the direct opposite of the lauded power pose used to boost confidence before public speaking. There are times when we don’t want to be in that power mode. Times when empathy, perspective taking, and strong emotional judgement are most important. And that’s where the low-power position comes in. 

So, how did you draw the E?

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image credit Ralf Schmitzer