Mastery is elusive. It's always right in front of us. Similar to a carrot in front of the horse, we keep reaching forward, hoping to close the gap between where our skills are and where we hope them to be.
Eventually, we get to eat the glorious taste of stepping into our most creative self. Mastery is the pivotal moment where what was once difficult, becomes clear and focused. Where every motion is purposeful. It’s important to recognize when striving for mastery, that mastery is subjective to you. Mastery isn’t an answer in a textbook. It isn’t doing everything perfectly. While perfection can never be achieved, this is a close as we'll get.
The path to mastery is arduous. Our ego in a teenage rage talking back to our parents; our inner voice tells us that we're already geniuses and that there is no improving what we are. There is awareness of self that can only come with time, relative to what we are doing.
- Time spent simply living, to know that you don’t actually know everything.
- Time spent in a craft realizing that interest or talent, might not be enough.
- Adults may know something you don’t. There is more to learn. More to train.
When you humble yourself and fully realize that you haven't made it yet you can begin making the baby steps to mastery.
Mastery starts with humility
The first requisite to mastery is humility. You must first become the dirt below your shoe in order to see the detail required to become a master.
In the mindset transforming documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” we follow a day in the life of master sushi chef Jiro Ono. At 92 years old and owner of a Michelin three-star restaurant, Jiro is regarded as perhaps the greatest sushi master alive.
We are introduced to several of the chefs training under Jiro’s intense tutelage. To be selected by Jiro is perhaps the greatest honor and privilege a hopeful sushi chef could receive. These are chefs who would most likely be able to start their own restaurants anywhere, to a good deal of success.
10 years is how long they spend as apprentices under Jiro. Think about that. Think about 10 years of pursuing mastery in something you think you’re already pretty good at. To devote that amount of time in a posture of learning takes extraordinary humility. It will also create the greatest of masters.
Cockiness is a killer of self-revelation. If your feedback loop says you’re already pretty good, you’re not going to naturally catch any subtle hints from your work that it wasn’t good enough. Sometimes we feel like complete garbage when we work on something; seek out that feeling. That feeling inside is our work bringing something more out of us. What is garbage to us today would have amazed us before. That’s growth.
Mastery is a process.
Patience and persistence are key; without them, you will be nothing. No skill was ever attained in a day that was worth attaining or provided meaningful value.
Mastery is the combination of thousands of micro skills. Hours upon hours, years upon years. How do you know when to keep it up when the voice in your head tells you to quit?
In “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” we learn that over the course of 4 months, an apprentice is still attempting to prepare a batch of eggs that is sufficient for Jiro. Not egg enough for on one plate: a huge batches worth, meaning the labor and time that went into each attempt was substantial. He had surpassed 200 attempts when he began to doubt that he would ever make it.
When he finally did prepare it correctly, he was moved to the point of tears. That is progress. What someone may consider the most basic dish to master, Jiro uses as a vehicle to pursue true mastery.
Look back on your progress. If you’re not a least a little ahead of where you were, maybe it’s not right for you. But, if you can see improvements, imagine applying additional perseverance to the addition of your new skills and talent to your repertoire. In the business sense, more value delivered, more money traded in exchange for your time.
You must obtain razor-sharp focus. I mean literally. Become a laser attached to a fricken shark. A laser will cut pretty much anything and you focus strengthened you’ll be able to cut through the pain of acquiring new skills. Developing a focus on your skills requires a single internal factor: the ability to prioritize your life. At a glance that sounds easy, but it’s not. At all.
Visualize the path to mastery
Seven years ago I wrote a list of everything I wanted in life; it was six pages worth of every possible detail I could think of. I ended up burning the whole list.
To this day, I don’t remember much of what I put in there. What I can tell you is that I’ve only achieved a fraction of what I remember listing. Thank God. If I had tried to do it all, I’d probably have felt spread too thin. It also probably would have been pretty bad for my health and still not add up to the life I wanted.
Today a new list hangs in my garage on a whiteboard. There are 7 things I’m looking to accomplish in life and I question whether even that’s too many things. Things like play soccer and do yoga are on that list. They have about an hour a day worth of blocked time. You can see what my focus is primarily aimed at and it's running a successful software company. I have 8 hours blocked for that. That’s where my mastery has taken shape and continues to evolve.
Focus on the top most important item, block it out, and commit to the long haul. It’s a process and a journey. You’ll likely experience some form of pain, countless letdowns, once you’ve made it you have a gift that will never leave you and now you get to share it with the world.