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Monday
Apr182011

mastery

What is mastery? How do you master a subject? How do you know when you are a master of something?

Mastery is one of the most satisfying things. Aiming for it is enough. Being a ‘master’ is a snare and a delusion- even if you are one. Better to be on the path to mastery.

The aim of mastery is simple- to get better and better at what you do- be it making meatballs or shooting a bow and arrow to sailing a boat to writing. Mastery in one area gives clues that can be used to mastering another area more quickly, but be warned, real mastery takes at least ten years of continuous, though not excessive, effort.

Are there any shortcuts to mastery? Yes, but if you are interested in them they won’t work. Mostly thinking about shortcuts is a waste of time? Why? Because to achieve mastery you need to be in it for the long haul. To be in it for the long haul you had better enjoy it. Short cuts are never ever enjoyable. If they were, everyone would use them and they wouldn’t be a shortcut. An example is an intensive course in something. It’ll work, but the pressure will take the fun out of it. Very often people who take intensive courses give up soon after.

Mastery is not to be taken lightly. A master craftsman is a joy to behold. He adds something to the quality of all the lives he touches. The hard part of many modern jobs is that there is no clear path to mastery, nor even much benefit to it. Being a master business executive sounds weird because it is. The whole reason to be an executive is to get on the promotion ladder to the top slot in the corporation. This is not mastery in the usual sense, more an exercise in cunning and judicious brown nosing.

Mastery is not a position, a job, a title- it is simple being very good at a demonstrable skill. The general principles of mastery are few but here they are.

Human ‘virtues’ such as patience, singlemindedness, ability to control negative emotions, all these are an aid to mastery. Concentration and avoidance of distraction are another great help. The modern world revolves around increasing distraction opportunities. If you seek mastery you must actively avoid the crap distractions on offer. And even the good ones.

You must centre your life around your mastery subject. Let’s say it is making models of the titanic out of matchsticks. Then you must chose a job which gives you enough free time to be able to spend the best of your energy on model making. Jobs that require body and soul commitment (ie.make you worried) are no good. They are a distraction from achieving mastery.

The plateau is the usual place to find oneself when attempting mastery. Improvements, fast or slow, are quickly taken for granted. Only when you compare yourself to how you were at the beginning do you realise how far you have come, and how far you have to go. Most of the time, then, you are trying to get better but are not significantly improving. To continue without some external sign of progress is the hardest thing. That’s why you need to take it a little easy and enjoy what you are doing. The Japanese have the right approach in their martial arts. They practice everyday but they do it in such a way that it is just another day. Movement from the plateau is most often effected by association with someone inspiring, or a new source of interest. This produces a new perspective. It gives to what you already know a new order. Progress, beyond a certain point, is about reorganising what you already know, re-ordering it, discovering what really is important and what isn’t.

Mastery is its own reward. That’s why it’s such a good thing to aim for. You know when you are improving- who cares what others think?

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