The Path of Mastery – Article 5

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.

The Path of Mastery – Article 4

We all know that we live in a time that is fast paced and things seem to be constantly changing.  Today’s economy requires adaptability and the willingness to continuously learn and change course.  Most young people entering the work-force do not expect to stay in one job with one company or even in one career track very long.  The norm is to be looking for ways to make changes every 2-3 years as the way to advance. Given that, one might ask if the idea of mastery is relevant or realistic.

Certainly, mastery is desirable and a necessary state to strive for if you are a professional of any sort.  I want my surgeon to attain mastery before operating on me, and I want the pilot of every plane I step into to be a master pilot.  No one starts out at mastery so this is not completely realistic, but it is nonetheless desirable.

But what about those who choose a general path in business or within a not for profit sector?  If you are making frequent changes trying to find your path or advance yourself, how do you strive for mastery? Mastery in this case is more about ongoing personal growth; building the skills and character traits you take with you wherever you go. For example, you may strive to achieve mastery as a consultant, a technical expert, a great people manager, or a business turn-around expert.  Perhaps you want to make your impact by mastering the art of persuasion or public speaking.  Perhaps you have the intention of being a leader and are defining what that means for you.

Wherever you are and whatever you do, you can still focus on developing mastery in something in order be your best-self. This means dedicating yourself to knowing who you are and what you stand for and setting goals to advance in the direction that makes sense to you. You may discover that you are not in a situation that is a good fit because you are not using your strengths and talents or you are not supported in your development.  Knowing what you do not want can help you decide what you do want if you are paying attention.  For example, if you are a person with the ability and passion to lead people through creative thinking and energizing others to act, but you are in a role that is focused on implementing a day to day process, that is not likely a good fit and it will leave you feeling drained.  Understanding this can help you focus on developing yourself as a leader and finding an organization and a role that challenges you to grow and nurture your potential.  The next article will focus on defining the process of attaining mastery.

The Path of Mastery – Article 3

Some people really struggle with the task of defining their purpose and finding their vocational path.  Not everyone has a sense of calling for one specific profession or has the clear sense of what they were born to do.  Many times, these are people with multiple talents and interests who have the ability to be successful in several different areas.  It is possible to get hung up on the idea that there is one specific career path or one specific purpose you need to express through work, just as one can get stuck on the idea that there is only one true soul-mate for you somewhere out there in the world.  This can become paralyzing and more of a source of frustration than joy, and great opportunities may be passed by while searching for that one special thing.

One thing that all successful people have in common is that they take action.  They don’t sit and wait for inspiration and clarity to strike them, they move forward and look for inspiration and clarity as they go.  When you act, serendipity often happens.  Serendipity is that experience of fortunate happenstance or the pleasant surprise that shows up as an opportunity which may change the course of your life and set you on a path that you didn’t plan for but it turns out to be just the right thing.  You can’t specifically plan for serendipity, but you can be intentional about it.  This happens when your mind is set on finding or doing the next right thing, staying open and curious about what will show up, and moving forward.  Curiosity is a statement of faith there is a loving God and a loving Universe that will co-create your future and bless you with those things you hold most passionately in your heart and mind.

Purpose may emerge or become more clear to you when stop and reflect on the journey you have been on and the events that have guided you in the process.  Your sense of purpose may also change over time as you change.   I recently took some time to step back from my work to reflect on my journey and began to see some themes that thread through my various jobs and experiences.  What became clear was within all my jobs in clinical settings, corporate settings, and my independent businesses, was an overall theme of helping others learn, grow, find inner well-being, and develop their potential.  This defines my purpose, my path, and my brand.  Seeing this also inspires me to hold that in front of me on my own journey towards mastery; being the best I can be at fulfilling my purpose right now.  It is much easier to sustain the effort to achieve mastery when you know you are expressing purpose in your work and it is definitely worth your time and energy to define what that is for you at this stage of your life and career.

The Path of Mastery – Article 1

Mastery is a beautiful thing when you witness it or experience it.  If you learn to recognize and appreciate it, mastery may appear from anywhere.  Mastery goes beyond competence; it is the combined force of expertise, focus, and inner power that exceeds normal expectations.  For sports fans, recall witnessing a great athlete who seems to will his entire team to rise above what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles and find a way to win.  Music lovers can be transported to a higher state of reality in the presence of a great performance by a master musician.  We can be moved and inspired to action by a master orator or writer.  A master of any craft can create outstanding results and experiences, whether the craft be some form of therapy, carpentry, architecture, art, or preparing a gourmet meal.  We admire mastery, but how can you or I attain it? Read more

How Did We Get Into This Mess?

There are times in life when we get jolted out of our normal reality by events that seem harsh and hard to understand.  Many times bad things appear to be random and there is no way to really know why they happen, such as the tragic death of a young person or someone near and dear to you.  Sometimes, even in tragedy people find meaning and respond by trying to do something good in the world.  There are other events that serve the purpose of waking us up so we pay attention to something gone wrong, something out of balance, and in need of a course correction in our life.  These are sometimes very personal struggles and sometimes they are collective experiences.

One such jolting experience was the election of Donald Trump, which has thrown many people into some level of despair and provoked soul-searching questions like why and how could this happen.  Ken Wilber, the leading scholar, philosopher, and author on Integral Theory has tackled those questions in a new eBook, “Trump and a Post-Truth World”, (see link below) and offers the most comprehensive perspective I have seen.  He makes a compelling argument that this event was a necessary correction for the cultural evolution of our country.

Integral theory provides an elegant framework for understanding human and cultural development and can be applied to individuals, groups, and societies.  Spiral Dynamics is a related framework and these frameworks demonstrate how we have culturally evolved and how our world-views have changed over time.  As we work our way through the stages of development, each stage will transcend and include the stages that go before it.  On a basic level, it is similar to child development where we learn to crawl, then walk, then run.  Each stage is necessary and has value, and we become capable of more complexity of perspective as we grow.  In the normal course of development, we also become more compassionate, inclusive, and less inclined towards violence and destruction as we mature.  However, people are not aware of this developmental hierarchy in general and so up until a certain level we tend to believe our own world-view is the superior and correct way to understand reality and those who are at a different level are inferior and wrong.

Ken Wilbur uses this developmental framework to show how those at the leading edge of evolution, at what he calls the green level, have gotten way off-track, and directly contributed to the conditions in our culture that led to the Trump election.  Specifically, he calls out those on the liberal political side for losing balance in perspective and failing to include and understand the perspectives of those at different levels of the hierarchy, and instead displaying an attitude of ridicule and superiority.  He explains the contradictions and hypersensitivities of those at the green level which were imposed on others in the form of excessive regulations and political correctness.  His point is that this contributed to the seething anger and resentment that Trump exploited which carried him into office.  He describes this result as a necessary halt in our cultural evolution, a step back to regroup and re-balance before we can move forward again.  His call is for deep reflection and self-evaluation and an overall course correction.  He also describes a vision for how this can happen.

This book does not deal with the questions of how we can counter the immediate threats of an autocratic administration, however it does deal with the larger questions of how we got here and how we can make the needed adjustments to get back to a more sane and compassionate direction for our country.  This is a heady book and not an easy read, but if you want serious answers to why we have gone so far off course, what we need to learn from it, and how to move forward in creating a more healthy and compassionate world, then I highly recommend taking the time to digest what Ken has to teach us.  You can find a copy in my digital library here.


Keep Your Broken Heart Open

I don’t understand, she said.  I had a great trip being by myself experiencing the beauty of the gorgeous national park around me.  I was not lonely and I felt very much in tune with nature and I felt happy.  And then as I was driving home I was overcome by a deep sadness and I found myself weeping.  It is a familiar sadness that comes and goes.

I know some of the sadness is still about him, the man who broke up with me several months ago.  I am still grieving that loss, even though I can see now he wasn’t really a good partner for me in many ways.  Since then I have grown in my ability to accept myself, feel good about my life, and have much more clarity of what kind of a partner I want to be with.  And yet, this sadness. Read more

Taming my Angry Inner Child

I do okay until He shows up.  He is my angry, street fighter 14-year-old self.  He shows up in a rage, demanding to be heard, insisting he is right, and demanding control. He wants to hurt and punish you for how you have caused me to feel.

When I started to be able to identify that 14-year old in me and name him as an entity that is separate from my current self, then I could begin to deal with him.  He is me from the past and is about the past hurts and insults and shame that I endured.  He gets triggered by things in the present but it feels like my past.  What do I do with him when he shows up? Read more

Wait, Pray, Listen

Dear Wounded One,

Stop working so hard to please her, hoping to receive the nurturing and validation you desperately desire.  Stop seeking it elsewhere when she won’t give you what you want.  Take ownership of that desire and realize it must be fulfilled from within.  You must learn to love and heal yourself.  When you own that and turn your focus within, you find you are not alone after all.  You are, in fact, part of the human community, connected to all.   You begin to see that Love is all around you and Love shows up in small acts of kindness from strangers, in affirming smiles, and the beauty of nature. Read more

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