MASTERY

Mastery is a complicated and difficult goal. What does it mean to master your craft and “be your best?” How do we get there? Research shows it is a 10,000 hour commitment, whether you’re learning to play piano, speak French, or become a brain surgeon. Let me put this in perspective. If you dedicate yourself to improving your craft with 5 hours of concentrated effort each week, that equals 260 hours a year. At that rate, you’ll be a master in 38.5 years. Ouch.

Dr. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist from Florida State University, came up with this 10,000 hour concept after studying leaders in music, sports, and academia.  Malcolm Gladwell included it in his book Outliers.  A couple of points:

  • You might assume that practice makes perfect.  And you would be wrong.  Talent + practice + feedback to correct mistakes – adjusting as you learn – makes perfect.  Practice is only a portion of the 10,000 hour formula.  It also involves a constant process of customized tweaking. What worked, what didn’t, and why?  What strength can you leverage to achieve the next rung on the ladder? That’s why hiring a coach for your high-school child to take the ACT college acceptance test is a good idea. Your child might get a little better at it each time they prep for it and take the ACT, but the success curve is much steeper with instruction from an expert.  That’s why all of us need coaching and feedback from someone who can see what’s wrong, in the moment, with your specific set of skills, experiences, and strengths.
  • Guess how far into that 10,000 hour commitment most people quit the refinement process?  50 hours.  At that point, they feel they’ve made enough progress to be “good enough.”  “Good enough” works in some circumstances.  Achieving mastery is not one of them.  The real rock stars rise above the masses of mediocrity by looking for creative ways to improve, and by accepting feedback (there is nothing more frustrating than a talented individual who will not accept coaching.)  Masters do not flick a “good enough” switch and hope to coast to success some 10,000 hours later.

What is mastery for you?

My mastery goal consists of a) identifying and leveraging individual and team talents to help them self-lead, and discover what they do better than anyone else in the world, and b) writing and teaching others about it.  As a success architect, that’s my value proposition to the universe.  It’s my secret sauce.  I haven’t much else to offer!

When I study the relationship between strengths, self-leadership and success, the world stands still. I lose track of time, I have a sense of bliss, and I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned.  I’m not a master yet, but my mind returns to this topic in nearly every conversation I have, no matter where I am, in every character I see on a TV show, or interview I read.  I’m practicing my craft even when it’s not the front and center part of my role.  If I’m working with a human being, then I’m watching that person for strengths, self-leadership, and success. If I’m alone, I’m thinking about the topic.

Side Note:  If this feels a little overwhelming, I understand.  I face the same struggles in this process as you do.  I didn’t want to write this blog. I’m tired. I had a long day yesterday and a busy morning today.  It will be a busy week.  I’d like nothing better than to crawl up on my couch with a bowl of popcorn and watch an old black and white movie.  Then, while channel surfing, I saw an interview (see below), and my mind engaged.  I realized that I wanted to write about Mastery today, and that I needed to do it now.

Side Note 2: Guess who benefits from my blog posts the most?  Me.  Every time I write to you and converse in the comments, I am practicing my craft. It’s another chunk out of that 10,000 hour commitment.

I digress.

This afternoon, I watched an interview with former sports great, Johnny Bench.  He was a baseball player when I was young and baseball was one of the interests my father and I shared.  I have great memories of Mr. Bench.  In this interview, he reflected on what he did that made him a hall of famer.  A few key points:

  1. He practiced whilst constantly finding ways to improve.  Mr. Bench moved from throwing a baseball hard to throwing a baseball hard, with accuracy. Speed is nice. Speed with accuracy is a differentiator – it requires mastery. He cut a hole in the side of his father’s shed and placed a coffee can in the hole. He then threw baseballs at that target for hours at a time.  Success was throwing the ball into the can.  Anything else didn’t count.
  2. Mastery is a powerful force of nature.  Mr. Bench said that great talent manifests itself by “being better than the situation.”  In other words, mastery (talent + practice + coaching) = overcoming the odds.  By age 14, he was playing with the 18 year olds. He was Rookie of the Year in 1968, and in 1970, he was the league’s Most Valuable Player – at 22 years old.

Each of us will demonstrate mastery in different ways – mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual, with an equal amount of variety in our accomplishments.

My questions for you:

A) Do you have a mastery goal?  What do you want more than anything else in the world?

B) Are you practicing smart?  Are you developing your strengths versus trying to fix weaknesses?  Do you have a success architect and/or feedback mechanisms?

C) What obstacles or challenges could you overcome if you focused on developing your natural greatness?

D) How can you increase your time investment to achieve mastery?

I know – it’s a lot to think about on a Sunday.  But, if not now, when?  The Mastery Clock is ticking… Let’s work on it together!

6 thoughts on “MASTERY

  1. Do agree then Mastery is significantly more then just trained and practiced skills – this is also about talent, passion and engagement to the matter. It is never enough to say : “Ok, I just did a good job – I need to be paid”.
    I have my own mastery goal – it is not always match with my formal job but when it’s matching at some situations I feel like I can do everything and there are no limits to my power.
    At such a moments all Universe is helping me in my goal – I am getting easily new network contacts, people which I do not know helping me and do not ask for any appreciation and so on.
    What I think is really important is personal engagement – to find your way and to be engaged always – regardless if you are estimated, paid, treated fairly and so on. This is very difficult way – and this is in reality not about job we are doing just for money – this is about passion and following our real predestination.
    One of the main difficulties as for me is to split “job” and ” predestination” . For job and well done job we expect recognition and payments – while in reality person which is just following destiny very often not paid, not recognized and the only driver is internal and spiritual engagement and filling of ” right way in this life”.

    • Hi Miroslava – I do agree that Mastery is significantly more than just trained and practiced skills. Let’s use a quick example that you inspired in me – I bet you can drive a car. I bet you can drive a car well. You may have been driving for years and years, so well that it’s become ‘automatatic’. Therefore, with all that time in behind the wheel, perhaps you are ready for the Indy 500? You’ve been driving longer than most of the people in the race! (Well, I have for sure!) Yet you and I would be an abysmal failure. That’s cause we didn’t practice to win the Indy 500. We are “good enough” to be on auto pilot as regular drivers. That can happen in our careers as well. So passion, commitment to excellence – all are part of finding your mastery. I love that you’re in tune with what you want, and have felt the joy of being in that Mastery Zone. I understand the forces pulling us in all directions – but in the end, as you said, destiny may not pay well, but we may thrive in it. Thriving is the goal! Thanks for engaging!

  2. Another thought provoking post. I don’t have a Mastery goal; I am not a specialist, I am a generalist. I want to know just enough about as much as possible, I have areas of deeper knowledge. I think that the value I bring is understanding how things work together, and how lessons learned in one area can be applied to another.
    My strengths of Context, Connectedness and Learner (all in my top 10), work together to lead me to broadening rather than deepening my knowledge.
    When I first read your post, I thought that I was in some way lacking by not working toward mastery in something, but then I looked again, and decided that with my strengths I am doing something just as valid, but different.

    • Hi Hazel! I love your post! It helps expand our horizons. I liken it to a General Practitioner in the medical field (something we are short of here in America, as everyone specializes to get more dough). We need people like you to help us get started down the road to health (or learning, or programming, or creating a community.) We know that you have a better sense of the general landscape than we do. That’s why I sent Per over to you – I knew you could help him far better than I could – and I realize now that it’s because you are who you are. You’re not lacking at all – what might be lacking is a general appreciation for rock stars like yourself!! Hence crafting our personal value prop and showing why you are an impact player on the team – connecting your “generalization” to “results”. It’s there, we just have to capture it (preaching to the choir!) Love that you took this in a new direction – thanks for coming out to play!

  3. Maureen, I’m overdue in reading this post…thanks for inviting me back in this week’s post. What I want to do more than anything else in the world is help people lead the lives they imagine, to help them lean into their greatness, to find their joy and inspire others with their awesomeness. I really resonated with your need to write and write NOW – sometimes when I find myself amid what feels like a ‘gazillion’ things to do, I get pulled toward something, something I am discovering, something I am compelled to express, and nothing else matters – I just know it’s what I am supposed to be doing. Is that the lure of mastery calling? I, like you, find myself practicing my craft without even trying. Do you think there is something inspired about an area of mastery – I think of the word ‘calling.
    P.S. You said you have great memories of Mr. Bench…what I saw vividly just now was your deeply rooted memories of your father. I wonder how he’s part of what you are up to, my friend.

    • I love your “mastery statement” Vicki – and not only do I think that is your calling – and I do agree that a calling is linked with Mastery – I think you do help people live the lives they imagine, lean into their greatness, an find their joy and inspire others – and you do it with such a variety of tools! Your relationship strengths, your talent for writing, your determine to care for them even if they can’t do it themselves in the moment!! I love it! And look at you, finding something I didn’t see myself – that my father might even be part of this whole adventure… Thank you for seeing it from that angle…. I am learning from you, but that’s the norm, not the exception! Maureen

Leave a Reply