Pursuing Mastery (Part 2) A better way to approach life


Well, here we are in March. Three months into the journey to your more “perfect self”. How’s it going? Did you reach your long-term goal? How about your short-term goals? Hmmmm! I hope you’re not mentally saying “it was a total waste of time”. If you are less than impressed with your progress, allow me to offer another way to approach Life: Pursuing Mastery.

In the January issue article Pursuing Mastery Part I, we spoke about “goal-setting” as being the default way to achieve. It seems straightforward and simple. You simply select a goal, and go for it. If it seems to be a big goal, you can always break it down into short, medium, and long-term goals. You are starting at “A”, and your goal is “B”. Speed is essential. You plot the shortest distance between the two points, and that becomes your “A to B” plan. Above all, it is essential that you achieve your goal. How you do it is less important. As long as you get there (“win”). When the chips are down, the “ends” often “justify the means”… You may have achieved your goal, but how much did this “win” cost you?

Goal setting is a linear, two-dimensional way to track achievement. It has length and width (minimal), but no depth. Nothing really matters but the goal. The journey is unimportant, as long as you are successful. The goal (product of the mission) over-shadows the journey (the process). Depending upon the size of the goal, there may be few opportunities to demonstrate your ability to achieve. Time and energy may dictate that everything else must be put on “hold” until the end. You may need to wait until Friday-Night-Lights to play for the Championship. You may need to wait four years to get the degree. You may need to wait until the Final Exam to get your grade. What about what happens until then? The achievement becomes yet another “B” you collect along your “A to B” quest. When recounting your list of Life achievements, you may find little more than a bag of “B”s… Each isolated, with very little “bleed-over” into other aspects of Life.  You may have a trophy here, a medal there, a degree, certification, or license, but not much else to show for your time on Earth.

Many of the athletes that I see in my Practice are very goal-oriented. They are constantly working towards taking their game to the “next level”. Often, they do just precisely, that. They sacrifice, obsess, and neglect other bits of their world in the hopes of getting to “B”. This desire to get to the next level implies that there are well-defined layers to achievement. While performance standards do exist, they are limited in scope, and do not transfer well. Just because you are an All-Star pitcher does not mean that you are a good husband, father, businessman, or friend.

Let’s consider another way to approach Life. There is a more global approach known as Mastery.

Here, the journey is of the utmost importance. It is important because it is here that we spend much of our lives. Even with a goal-setting mindset, we only achieve momentarily. This is dwarfed by the amount of time spent on the journey. The journey is where the learning and experiencing occurs. Pursuing Mastery is based upon self-improvement. It is a Life-Span pursuit. It never ends. There is always something else, something new to improve. But, perhaps the most frustrating part of pursuing Mastery is the inability to achieve it.

Regardless of how much, how long, or how tirelessly you pursue it, you cannot ever achieve Mastery. You can improve exponentially, and be better than you ever dreamed, but you will never achieve Mastery. If you are still alive, and paying attention, you are still pursuing Mastery (not achieving it…!).

Because Mastery is based upon self-improvement, it’s important that you do an accounting of the things that you do, and how well you do them. Here, the concept of “Paying Attention” is key. Awareness of your actions and your surroundings are part of paying attention. We are all creatures of habit. We live in a very dynamic world. Some of our habits enhance the experiencing of the world around us. Other habits…well…they just don’t. Try to pay attention to even the smallest of things that you could correct. Notice how you are sitting right now as you read this article. Could you improve your posture? If you can catch yourself, you can pause and re-try for an improvement. If you toss a wad of paper at the trashcan and miss, stop and retrieve it. If you casually toss your keys onto the table, stop, retrieve them, and place them where they belong. You do not need to wait until Friday-Night-Lights or the Final Exam to accomplish. Catch yourself, make the correction, and acknowledge your achievement. Each and every day offers thousands of new opportunities to catch yourself, and make improvements.

Pursuing Mastery is, essentially, a “goal-less journey”… That does not mean that there are no achievements! Unlike the goal-setting mindset, the journey is the most important aspect to Life. Achievements are made, but they are not the purpose of the exercise. Achievements are the logical and natural consequences of self-improvement. As you continue to improve yourself, achievements will occur. The areas of self-improvement are not limited. They may include mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual areas of self-improvement. Because of this, pursuing Mastery has much more dimension than the linear “A to B” of goal-setting. There is much more “bleed-over” as a result. Self-improvements tend to influence other areas of Life. Keep in mind that growth and self-improvement are the reasons behind the journey, not just “getting there”.

I am often asked about the difference between Mastery and being a Master. Being a Master involves following some prescribed course of study. While it does involve time & energy, it does have a terminus. The journey is based on learning and experiencing. The course of study, however, has been carefully detailed. It has also been established by an external organization who will, ultimately, grant the “rank” of Master.

Consider that I have two Masters’ Degrees, and I am a SCUBA Dive-Master. I have also been working towards becoming a Master in the Martial Arts. Have I achieved Mastery? Not even close! Mastery is an endless pursuit (well, until you die…!). To use the SMART acronym from goal-setting, it is not Specific (except for the concept of self-improvement). It is not (necessarily) Measurable. It is Attainable (every day offers new opportunities). It is Realistic (as it applies to all of life’s circumstances). And, it is not Time-limited (remember: a life-span pursuit).  So, it is Attainable and Realistic…!

While Mastery can never be achieved, don’t let that get in the way of adopting a new way of looking at your world. It may take a little practice, but the rewards are great. Just the sheer number of opportunities offered each day to engage in self-improvement beats waiting for Friday-Night-Lights every few weeks…