Mastering Mastery

There has been a lot of chatter, by Malcolm Gladwell and others, about how long it can take to achieve mastery.   The original research Florida State was based on easily measured, ranked performance skills, which isn’t necessarily a good indicator for the world.

When I was hiring, one of the things I looked for in a candidate was past successes.  I didn’t really care much if the past success was in the specific areas of the new job.  My belief was that people who knew how to succeed, how to get things done in one area were ready to transfer those skills into other areas.

In other words, what I cared about is if these people had mastered mastery.   If they knew how to achieve mastery in one area, they had the basis for achieving mastery in others.   They had the basic skills of a professional, and those skills, I believe, are foundational. Once you master the techniques of attaining mastery, whatever the area, transferring those mastering skills to another area is much simpler than starting from scratch.

For people who have never achieved mastery in any area, the whole idea that mastering itself is the basic skill set of a professional is beyond understanding.   They don’t put their choices in any larger context, don’t take advantage of the mirrors and tools around them, don’t engage in the practice and risks it takes to learn through trial, error (failure) and repetition.

How do we give people who have no direct experience of mastery, no history of owning their own knowledge and their own choices, the comprehension that mastery is not only achievable but that it is also fun and very rewarding?

I saw a documentary on the students at the Harrow school, which has turned out many successful men since 1572.  The most striking focus at the school was training the students to achieve mastery at a range of skills, from athletics to music to academics.   Students were not expected to just learn how to follow rules and pass tests, rather they were expected to lead, to have context, to take charge of their own projects and their own choices.   If they are going to be masters of the universe, mastering is the basic skill.

The core skill of mastery, at least to me, is being willing to see the subject you want to master from as many angles as possible.   Every subject worth owning is bigger than the viewpoint of one human being.

No bit of human knowledge is absolute, rather it is held in tension, held between a range of views.  Even something that seems as absolute as the boiling point of water, which can be seen as a physical constant, changes with pressure/altitude, with impurities and with other variables.

To achieve mastery, we need to be able to understand that range of knowledge and then make the best choices for the current situation.  In fixed systems, like chess, that mastery may be knowing how games can play out, but in more flexible systems, like management and marketing, mastery is much more subjective, with lots of good choices that balance multiple needs, but no perfect choices possible.   Mastery in those systems requires constant learning, evaluation and correction to adjust our choices in the moment.

I see many people in the world who struggle.   I want to help them, but I often understand that what they need to do is to learn the skills of mastering and then use those techniques in the world.

Recovery programs, I believe, are about giving people the tools, skills and practices to regain mastery over their choices beyond the thrall of addiction.  From going to meetings, reading affirmations, exploring their own feelings and more, all the skills involved are the skills of mastery, which is why people who have mastered their own recovery have the capacity to master other challenges.

For me, the goal of being a professional was the goal of achieving mastery.   I knew that I had to master my own emotions and my own mind to survive in my family and in the wider world, so that was the challenge I set for myself.

Is there any way to get someone who is still inwardly focused and swept into their own emotions to understand the importance of achieving mastery, even at the cost of accepting discipline and stopping indulgence?

I don’t know.   I don’t know.

I do know that mastering mastery has given me everything I have in my life.   It has been what saved me, and what allows me to be in the moment, growing and making others feel safe.

And I also know that it is people who have not yet learned the tools of mastering their own capacity and power who make me feel unsafe.

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