I just finished the audio book Mastery by Robert Greene on Audible.com. I’ve been intrigued by the concept of mastery for quite a while. I love watching “masters” perform their work. The concurrent simplicity and complexity of their actions is inspiring to me.
As I was thinking about this concept yesterday the following “thought chain” occurred to me:
- For every action (career, endeavour, goal, pursuit) there are a range of possible rewards that could result from that action;
- The greatest rewards come only if we produce the greatest results;
- We are most likely to produce the greatest results if we have the greatest skill, ability, and mastery of the subject matter that we are taking actions in; and
- We obtain great skill, ability and mastery through repetition. It is the product of the compound effect and of the putting in of many long hours of practice. Generally there are no shortcuts. Yes there are anomaly cases where people skyrocket to wild success at an early age (a la Justin Bieber), but for the most part this is an illusion. Most people who are successful earn it through many, many hours of difficult struggle.
Sounds simple enough. If we want success and the rewards that come from success then we just need to be willing to put in many, many hours of practice. We just need to be willing to “manage the struggle”. That includes managing our emotions, our fears, being patient, building routines and habits that allow us to efficiently practice, and develop the necessary skills so that we can obtain mastery.
This “thought flow” came to me yesterday as I was walking around a bookstore (one of my favourite pastimes). So with this thought in mind I started to scan the books in the business, psychology and self-help sections. I noticed a common trend. When I boiled it down, most books were about “managing the struggle”. Giving us strategies and methods to be able to do what is necessary in order to walk the possibly long road to mastery: developing good habits, and good business practices, managing our fears and emotions, working well with people, were just some of the concepts among others.
But the general theme was the same: a toolkit designed to help us through the journey on the road to what we wanted.
As I have a tendency to do, I asked myself the following question:
Is this toolkit even necessary? Is it necessary to always need “motivation”? Is there another way? A better way?
That is when this “thought chain” occurred to me:
- It is possible that after putting in the many, many long hours to perfect the skills necessary to obtain mastery of a subject matter that the “rewards” of the subject matter still evade us. There are many examples of this throughout history, of artists or writers who become famous for their work AFTER they die. Despite the many hours of practice that they spent refining and perfecting their craft, they never actually experience the fruits of their labour.
- Also, when we are constantly requiring “motivation” to do our work, we aren’t going to naturally put in the long hours. We aren’t going to be driven the same way as someone who intrinsically loves the act. When things get difficult we are going to be more likely to complain or stop. We are also more likely to give in to the rationalizations that come when we are confronted with our fears, and instead of pushing through our fears we will just convince ourselves that we don’t want to pursue this path anyway.
That is when it hit me:
If we just love what we do, in a way that we are happy to do it, independent of any rewards, and when the performance of our work brings us intrinsic fulfillment, then the whole process is much better.
If we love what we do, if we love our work, then this occurs:
- We are more likely to put in the hard and long hours of practice because we don’t need constant external motivation.
- As a result, we are more likely to attain mastery of a subject matter and experience the rewards that come from mastery;
- In the event that the rewards of mastery evade us, it wasn’t all in vain, because we actually enjoyed the process. So the decisions we made to embrace our work aren’t meaningless. There is an “intrinsic reward” that we attain. As a result, we feel good about the work that we do.
So how do we apply this to our life? Love what we do. If we are in a business, or job, or career where we find no intrinsic enjoyment, then we need to get out. If there is a little intrinsic enjoyment then we need to focus on that part of the job. We make that our consistent focus and stop worrying about the rewards of our labour. If we do what we love, then we should embrace it, and stick with it until mastery. It doesn’t matter if we get the rewards because the act of doing is itself a reward if we love what we do.