Friday, November 26, 2010

Mastery

A major piece has finally clicked into place.

As I was reading through I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was (Barbara Sher) there was a section concerning those who are scanners (those who enjoy interest and involvement in many things) and those who are divers (those who enjoy diving deeply into a smaller series of items). Those who are unhappy divers, she posits, are those who have come to fear commitment, don't know how to learn, love novelty, or freak out when they start to go deep. Her proposed answer is to learn how to stick with something, to not lose commitment, to be comfortable with the fact that you will start of as a beginner - and accept it. It is only through commitment and time that we come to mastery.

As these thoughts continued to roll around in my head, I was confronted by a second issue: that of dedication. A company here in New Home has received the Malcolm Baldridge aware for Quality, an award given annually to companies which exhibit the highest commitment to and levels of quality. As looked at the company - which was also named as one of the best places to work here in New Home - and what they did (which was not what you would expect) I realized that the commitment they had to achieving this milestone represented gaining mastery over what they did and what they needed to do to get that award.

What is mastery?

Mastery: A possession or display of great skill or technique; skill or knowledge that makes one a master of a subject.

We as a society have too often settled for mediocrity instead of mastery. We have convinced ourselves that being able to do something is sufficient; that being able to do something really well is only important if 1) it makes us more money immediately; or 2) it personally pleases me.

Because there is a payoff in mastery. It is the payoff of knowing that I have done something well, that I have accomplished something, that I have "beat" something.

This explains to me my love of video and role playing games from years ago that tends to try and reassert itself from time to time, especially when I am feeling low and unenthused: they were something that I was good at and could win in time after time, where the "time" spent equated into being better at them.

But now I (like so many others) have allowed my concept of mastery to become reduced to a small circle of those things that directly please myself. The thought of seeking mastery in all areas of my life - even if there is no immediate payoff or pleasure - has been far from mind. I'm just trying to get by: how can I be expected to master anything?

But mastery is its own reward.

Mastery does not merely give the sense of accomplishment: it gives a sense of true ability, of being knowledge about a subject. It allows one to do things that those who are less expert could never do, like musicians who are so good that they can "fail" to play correctly and yet it sounds beautiful.

It also gives a sense of true accomplishment - which comes from inside, not from anything that others will directly notice or say. Too often we base what we spend our time on around what will results in public acknowledgement or reward, thinking that this is the way to self esteem when in fact self esteem is the quiet private victories that break forth into public life.

But it seems to me that we start mastery at the wrong place. Many start mastery at things that they do. This is putting the cart before the horse. In reality, mastery needs to start with mastering the self first. What are things which control me? What are the physical habits and mannerisms I have which run me instead of me running them? This is where I need to start.

Will mastery help this things? Certainly any study in one are helps in others: by practicing Iaido, I train my body and my patience; when I practice writing Japanese characters, I train my hand and my memory. Still, to conquer skills without conquering self is to see the wreck that those in our society who suddenly achieve notoriety make of their own lives.

The other mistake that I have made in the past is to start things without the intent to master them. Initially it probably started as a simple willingness to try new things; it has since morphed into a starting a plethora of things without finishing them or really try them.

This then is my goal for now, for next year, and for all of my life:

1) To look at my life as it is now and make the determination for each of the activities therein that I will either become master of them or stop them.

2) That I will only undertake those future activities which I intend to master.

3) That in my career and in all areas, I will master those areas which I am involved in instead of doing the minimum to get by.

To master something is to control it, not have it control me; to make my decisions and commitment based on will, not on emotion; to stick to something until complete, not to be diverted at the first sign of difficulty.

It is to be a substance, not a vapor.

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