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