In the book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink describes research that indicates the primary intrinsic motivations for work in the 21st century are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. He outlines five steps to mastery: 1) Practice, 2) Repetition, 3) Pursuit of constant, critical feedback, 4) Focusing ruthlessly on what you need to improve, and 5) Preparing for the process to be mentally and physically exhausting. Yes, it can be a long and difficult path to mastery, but following the path allows you to define, experience, and express purpose in your work and to attain higher levels of autonomy. Excellence always comes with a price, but it is its own reward. Each person must decide if it is worth the investment.
Robert Greene, in his book Mastery, defines mastery as a form of power and intelligence that represents the high point of human potential. It is the feeling of having greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves. For masters in their field, this becomes their way of life, their way of seeing the world. He agrees that achieving mastery in anything worthwhile takes dedication, persistence, and investment over time. Through the study of masters throughout history, he discovered and outlined three distinct phases leading to this high form of intrinsic power: Apprenticeship, Creative-Active, and Mastery.
Apprenticeship: We all start at the beginning and during this phase we stand on the outside of our field and our task is to learn as much as we can of the basic elements and rules. This phase includes our education, internships, and early career jobs. This phase may last several years and those pursuing mastery need to stay focused on learning, growing, networking, and defining the direction of their career. They need to stay flexible, be open to opportunities, seek feedback and improvement, and be intentional about achieving goals. For example, Robert Greene tells a story of a man who intended to make his mark as a master architect. After working in the field a few years, he decided he needed to understand the engineering behind his designs so he went back to school and got an engineering degree. This enabled him to stretch the creativity of his designs and know what was possible from an engineering perspective as well.
Creative-Active: Through much practice and immersion, we begin to see inside of the machinery, how things connect with one another, and gain a more comprehensive understanding of our field of practice. With this comes new power; the ability to experiment and creatively play with the elements involved. At this phase, the architect who fully understands how to develop good designs and understands the engineering behind them, can create designs that express his unique talents. He is still very deliberate, works hard to improve, and is intent on perfecting his skills.
Mastery: Our degree of knowledge, experience, and focus is so deep that we can now see the whole picture with complete clarity. We have internalized the knowledge and expertise and can work creatively and intuitively. Intuitive powers at the mastery level combine the conscious and unconscious, making powerful connections and the ability to feel and think inside things. When we reach mastery, this intuition is a power at our command, the fruit of working through the lengthier process. The architect has made his mark on the world and at this phase he is in big demand and can consistently perform at the top of his field. He is fulfilling his potential and his purpose.
Achieving mastery may seem like an arduous process, but those who find their vocation and stay focused on getting better and better find the journey to be exhilarating and captivating. What can be more rewarding in work than feeling the authentic power of fulfilling one’s potential? Being a master in anything worthwhile is how we can best be of service to the world. John Eldredge says it well in his book, The Journey of Desire: Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive. We all must start where we are and take the journey. There are no short-cuts but there is guidance, through career success coaching for example. The articles to follow will focus on coaching tools to assist you on your own personal path.