Mastery


In my youth I believed that if a person was blessed with a talent for something, mastery of it will be quick and effortless. In keeping with this belief, if I did not quickly and effortlessly mastered something, (usually within a 2 to 3 months' period), I concluded that I have no talent for it and it would therefore be foolish to spend more time on it.


At one point I played 9 different musical instruments, a little bit. In my defense, this happened long before the internet, web resources, and YouTube videos that would have unmasked my silly belief for what it is - utter nonsense.


The great artist Michelangelo is quoted to having said: “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all.” He said that over 450 years ago. Long before the research was in that supported his claim.


Having a natural talent helps, but in the end, it is repetition, repetition, repetition, for hours and years on end before the brain develops the neuropathways necessary to have the end product be that of a master. Think of it this way: If the distance from the edge of the sun to the earth is the same, it doesn’t matter if the sun is small or big, light will still take 8 minutes and 20 seconds to reach the earth. Whether you are highly intelligent or talented, or not so much, it still takes many repetitions for muscle memory to be formed. Mastery comes at a great cost, which is why there are so few true masters around.


The moral of the story is this: If you wish to master a new skill first pause and ask yourself this question: “Just how good do I want to become at this?” And keep in mind that the more complicated the skill, the more time, dedication, and repetition are required to become masterful at it.


For example, let’s say you are thinking of taking up painting after seeing a beautiful painting done by a master that inspired you to no end; or, you want to learn to play guitar after listening to a classical guitar maestro who had you off to another world on the beautiful musical notes floating from his 6 string classical guitar, the question you have to answer is: “Am I prepared and able to dedicate at least 4 hours of serious practice a day for the next 10 years or so to achieve mastery of this skill?


If the answer is 'no,' you then have to decide whether being mediocre at your dream will be something you will be happy with. If not, then buy a beautiful painting by a master, or make visiting art museums your new hobby. Collect recordings of the great maestros, sit back with a cup of tea, and enjoy their work.


As my Mother used to say to me when I felt bad for not meeting my own high standards: "Sissy, you cannot be good at everything, the other people will feel bad." Her kind way to making me feel better. Of course, I now understand my life is simply too short to master all the things I wanted to master in my ambitious youth, even if I had the self-discipline and endurance to stay the course on the long road to mastery.


So decide - how badly do you want to achieve mastery? If you are not willing to dedicate the time and effort, are you okay to just to be average? If yes, wonderful. Nothing wrong with doing something just for the fun of it. (The exception being of course surgeons and other careers where a lack of mastery will have disastrous consequences for the rest of us.)


We should all inspire to be masterful at something. Be it becoming a great parent, learning to master your emotions, your career, an art form, or sport. Mastery inspires others, but also gives joy to the one who finally achieves it. As for the rest of the wonderful potential things out there, let’s have fun being mediocre at it - and enjoy the work of those who became masters at it.


Reen