The colored belt system used in many martial arts is actually a recent invention. Not too long ago, a person would study a martial art and gradually become better at it, gain a better understanding, and that would be the payoff for the work they did.
In the same way, it can’t be said for certain that a black belt has a better understanding of a system than a white belt, or that they are the stronger fighter. There are too many other factors involved, including the fact that we all learn at our own pace as our needs necessitate, we don’t start as blank slates but bring some wisdom with us when we begin a new system, and there are different aspects of a system where we can excel with greater ease than others.
Is a man who spent four years perfecting his punching a better martial artist than one who spent three perfecting his kicking?
All of this is true of magick. A 5th degree Wiccan, a 32nd degree mason, 8=3 in the golden dawn, a 9th degree thelemite, ect. It’s ultimately meaningless. Some masters don’t have the common sense that a self-taught practitioner with no degrees began with.
Community acceptance isn’t a valid judge of ability either. The community is notorious for pushing certain individuals as ‘masters’ when they lack the common sense of a small bird and have the magickal ability of a concrete brick.
Of course none of this should matter. Practicing magick isn’t about earning degrees, or having the community proclaim you a master or an elder. It’s not about being mystical. It is, and should be, its own reward.
How can anyone call themselves a spiritual leader when they aren’t happy with their own lives? A long term practitioner of magick should be able to bring their lives into a position where it is not only tolerable, but they are happy. And as insane as they may be, they should be emotionally balanced and stable. These are not things that a practitioner finds near the conclusion of their path, but things they should start working on as soon as they begin working with magick, and typically a necessity to doing any greater magickal work.