The Art of Accomplishment Master Class, reviewed

I recently wrapped up The Art of Accomplishment Master Class. It's an annual cohort coaching class, led by Joe Hudson. It's expensive, and takes real commitment — both time and emotional. It was also one of the most valuable experiences I've ever had, so I want to tell you about it.

Explaining what it is is a bit difficult. Here's several attempts:

  1. It's a course distilling systems and techniques from a high-end executive coach.
  2. It's a course about adult emotional dysregulation and integration.
  3. It's a course packaging several highly effective self-improvement practices.
  4. It's a course about relational connection, with ourselves and others.
  5. It's a course about the sort of insights you might get from Vajrayana Buddhism practices, but remove most everything about Vajrayana and meditation. Instead, package for Type A's and business leaders.

I had listened to The Art of Accomplishment podcast for a while, and was intrigued by Joe's coaching and perspectives. Then, my online friend Rob Hardy gave me a glowing endorsement:

It was honestly one of the most powerful and transformative things I've ever encountered online or off.

So, I was in.

The course has several parts. Each week, there's a podcast episode to introduce a topic, a cohort-wide group meeting primarily for Q&A and live coaching, solo work, a 90 minute small group (6-7 people), and an hour one-on-one meeting with another participant. Overall, participating usually takes at least 8 hours a week.

Each weekly cycle has a topic, such as "Want over Should". There's usually a core principle embedded, such as "what if getting in touch with your wants, in a deep way, is the quickest way to get you unstuck?". This opens to several solo practices, such as free writing reflections, or integrating some new action into everyday life.

Then, we spend an hour working with our partner doing exercises. These are designed to put the concepts into practice, and can be quite intense. Our very first exercise was 10 minutes of unbroken eye contact, and it only escalated from there. We shared some of our deepest flaws and fears. We acted out vulnerability. The exercises are all incredibly simple, often going back and forth answering prompts like "How should you be right now?" or "I want ____" / "What's the need behind that want?". Often, they're so simple it's hard to imagine how they'd affect change. Yet, they do.

Our small group met for 90 minutes per week, and had similar exercises. We usually had some prompt to complete or answer, and would go around until time was out. Many of these exercises were long. Imagine answering "what do you really want right now?" several dozen times. The first times will be the sorts of things you could think ahead, or plan for. After that, it becomes far more organic and real — the first 10 minutes often just gets the psychological adaptive cruft out of the way.

I grew close to my small group. We had an active chat group, and developed deep care for each other. I learned so much about each person, even though we rarely talked about work or career accomplishments. I got to know them as people; flawed, wonderful, and beautiful people. We were honest and candid, even about our own reservations or fears of participation. There were many tears.

The large cohort-wide session had a bit of a different vibe. It was an opportunity to ask technical questions about the material or practices, learn about the next section, and then watch and participate in live coaching.

The live coaching is wild. The closest thing I've seen was in the Tony Robbins documentary, where he did live interventions with audience members. Someone asks about something like their relationship with food, and within a minute, they're in tears, talking about horrible childhood experiences that they haven't processed.

Joe Hudson isn't Tony Robbins. He's not bombastic, and doesn't make everyone jump up and down for hours to build energy. Both, however, have this ability to be presented with a problem, and get around the superficial and uncover the underlying issues. They're not executing a system. It's raw emotional intelligence, and experience diving into hard issues, paired with responsive confidence.

Joe does this for several people a week. As an audience member, it's sometimes uncomfortable. It can feel too vulnerable, in a "should I be watching this?" sort of way. However, again and again, it demonstrates the attitude core to Joe Hudson's underlying coaching perspective. By seeing example after example, we slowly built tacit mental model of what he's doing. He could write down the principles, but seeing it is another thing entirely.

There's also a message board and optional extra classes available throughout the week. My cohort (around 100 people) was active, posting frequently and sharing experiences and insights. There were topic-based sessions for exploring Fear, Anger, and Pleasure which were so wonderful.

At the beginning, I wrote down what I wanted out of the course. Before doing something like this, it's hard to know what to ask for, but I made my best attempt. Aim high, ask for big things.

I wanted to be more authentic. Growing up, I spent a lot of energy managing others' reactions to me. I felt judged often, so wanted to make sure I presented myself as perfection. I held myself to that standard, but more importantly, held others perspective of me to that standard.

I wanted to build more integrity. For years, my word didn't mean much. As a continuation of lack of authenticity, I had a loose relationship with truth. Or at least, my relationship with truth was built around shame. I should be a certain way. Much of that has improved in adulthood, but I wanted to continue building integrity.

I wanted to tap into emotions better. I rarely felt anger — I didn't burying it but then occasionally explode. Rather, I simply didn't experience it in a knowing way. Something would happen, and I'd bypass to another emotion. When I was robbed, I felt fearful and violation, but no anger. When I felt mistreated, I often contorted myself to find empathy, not anger. Yet, I carried a curiosity about anger. It's a valid emotion, right? It's important. Big change doesn't happen in the world without tapping into anger. I wanted to find it and learn to work with it.

I wanted to learn to use conflict effectively. I rarely found myself in arguments and fights because I was so conflict avoidant. I was fearful of how others may perceive me if I initiated conflict. When confronted with conflict, I immediately wanted to diffuse.

These are what I wanted. Was this too much? Maybe? They're all nebulous and squishy — hard to rationalize around. I was excited to get started.

Here's the weird thing: much of the core content of this course is free in the podcast (start with the Master Class series in episodes 8 to 16). There aren't really any secrets. If I showed you a week's exercises after you listened to the corresponding podcast episode, you probably wouldn't be all that surprised.

The real value is in the practice. These lessons are experiential, and just being cognitively aware of them isn't enough. The weekly exercises cut through cognitive resistance. For several, I came with prepared clever answers. Within a few rounds, I had to think on the spot, and my defenses fell apart. I had to be raw and in the present moment.

I'm not sure it'd be possible to self-learn these concepts. The practices, in many ways, bypass normal processing and develop muscles through repetition by working with others. I hear your vulnerability and perspective and share mine. There's minimal chit chat and downtime. I never felt I had to fill the space. Instead, as a group, we were able to try on new ways of thinking and being.

The concepts themselves resonated so much with meditation insights in a Vajrayana sort of way. Instead of a lot of silent reflection, we found the same truths through relational practice. After answering "Who are you, really?" a few dozen times, you end up in a pretty wide, open, expansive place.

Over the course, I thought I had a good grasp of the ideas, but had not yet volunteered to do a live coaching session. I'm not often anxious, but felt I didn't have any issues good enough. Or perhaps I was just fearful of the vulnerability.

On the last session, I knew what I wanted to explore and mustered enough courage to volunteer. When Joe got to me, I was still a bit afraid I was asking something dumb. Within a couple minutes, I was in tears. I had asked about how I manage a specific relationship, and he spotted a core fear that I was refusing to feel. He immediately spotted what I was avoiding, in a way that I had been entirely blind to. He opened up an entirely new perspective on how I could be more authentic.

Wow. Wow.

Insight after insight flooded in. It was an entirely new perspective, and one that felt good. I knew what I needed to do, and felt freedom to do it.

I can confidently say that I got everything I wanted. I can't put all the new perspectives into words, but feel like I have a quiver of tools that will be valuable for the rest of my life. I'm able to be more open and less guarded. I embrace intensity, including anger.

The course requires a level of commitment and seriousness that I've never seen in a class online. Over 8 weeks, my partner and I never missed any one-on-one weekly meetings. My small group had only one person miss one meeting, for a good reason. Everyone came prepared to be vulnerable and open.

Who is this not for? If you're uncomfortable with the level of vulnerability that I've talked about, it's not for you. Everyone took this seriously, even if the exercises felt silly. And unfortunately, it's not cheap. While I'm sure every one involved wants to help lots of people, they're a for-profit coaching business. In some ways, I like how candid they are — there's no branding that this is strictly an altruistic endeavor. The cost filters out many people who would benefit. However, it also filters for people who truly care about this and are willing to invest money. My experience was directly impacted by the seriousness other participants brought.

If you're interested in learning to work with emotions and have more effective relationships with yourself and others, I couldn't recommend the course more. I've read dozens of self-help books, but never encountered anything quite so impactful for me. Start with the podcast to get a feel for their approach, and if it resonates, seriously consider next year's cohort.

Special thanks and immense gratitude to Joe and all The Art of Accomplishment staff, my one-on-one partner, small group, and the rest of the cohort. I'll carry what I've learned with you all for years.

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