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The Pursuit of Mastery



If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all. [Michelangelo]

I finished reading a book called "Drive" by Daniel H. Pink.  I gave it a three to a three and a half star out of five because it could have been more concise.  I found myself scanning quickly over many areas. I guess it felt a bit redundant in certain areas.  I did find Pink's chapter on "Mastery," however, to be enlightening and something that many people should consider if they want to be a master at what they love. 

He mentions in the book that mastery has three laws.  1. Mastery is a Mindset. 2. Mastery is a Pain. 3. Mastery is an Asymptote.  Let me explain numbers 1 and 3 briefly first.

Number 1: Mastery is a Mindset which means that the pursuit of mastery is all in our heads.  Some people, for instance, believe that to be a master at something, such as a painter or sculptor, you need intelligence, and intelligence has a restricted supply that we cannot increase.  Basically, we either have the talent or we don't.  Other people believe that mastery occurs in a regular series with effort which Pink called an "incremental theory."  Ultimately, the more effort and time you put into your project or skill, the more you will become a master at it.  In the end, to attain mastery your mindset must be about effort. 

Number 3: Mastery is an Asymptote.  A horizontal asymptote, for example, is a straight line that a curve approaches but never quite reaches it.  Why? Because the curve continues into infinity yet never touching the horizontal line.  As a result, mastery is an asymptote--a goal that you work toward to achieve, but you never quite reach it.  An athlete is a great example for this one.  As an athlete strives to master his/her art he/she gets better with practice, but even at the end of all the enduring and grueling practices, he/she can always be better; thus he/she never quite reaches mastery.

Now for Number 2: Mastery is a Pain is understated in Michelangelo's quote above.  Many people want to be a master at what they do, but they don't really understand what it takes to be a master.  They somehow envision that in order to be a master at something they love that it should feel good or have some sense of ease or grandness to it.  But it doesn't.  Mastery takes time (actually a minimum of 10 years of intense practice!); a whole lot of practice that will probably be difficult, maybe painful, and perhaps even unbearable.  It will be an all-consuming effort.  Mastery takes dedication, persistence, and tenacity to stick with it. There will be times when you feel like you're not going anywhere especially when you plateau, but the masters are the one's that stick with it even when the going gets tough.  To gain the art of mastery you must resolve to do what you desire to do, remember your Why, your Motive, or your Reasons for doing it--what Drives you--and keep going even when you don't want to.  It's going to be grueling at times, and it's going to take a lot of hard work, but no one said that the pursuit of excellence or mastery was going to be easy.  Just ask any Olympic winner, neurosurgeon, or astronaut. 

Reference: Pink, D.H. (2012). Drive. New York, NY: Penguin Group Inc.

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