I’ve always considered this to be the most challenging part in learning and artistic growth. It takes so much time to become a master in a certain field. Let’s start with a couple of questions, so we know what we are actually after.

Is mastery the goal, or maybe something else? If so, what do we mean by mastery? Can we master a skill completely or is it rather a life long learning experience to get always closer towards mastery without ever reaching it completely? Do I want to become a master? If so, why?

This article will not cover all of these questions. But let’s start with…

…what do we mean by ‚mastery‘?

mastery

(ˈmɑːstərɪ)

n, pl -teries

1. full command or understanding of a subject
2. outstanding skill; expertise
3. the power of command; control
4. victory or superiority

 

Source: Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014. on: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/mastery. 11/10/2017.

 

You might have a sense of what mastery means to you. Perhaps you have a particular image in mind or a place where you want to be when you are a master in your own field. If this picture is already as concrete as possible, you’re on the right track but you are also in big danger. The dream is nice and sweet but obstacles can spoil all the fun very early.

If we view mastery as a stable, unique point in our development we are likely to either plateau early and stop learning or we are afraid of never being good enough at what we love doing.

(Recommended reading about „intelligence“: Dweck, Carol. Mindset. How you can fulfill your potential. Random House Inc. New York. 2006. p.218-224.)

 

While we’re heading towards mastery we can lose our motivation, easily. Our progress increases but if we fail to be specific about what we want and when we want it, reaching out for mastery can become something vague, something that makes us feel like grabbing for air.

motivation-gap
diagram no. 1 – the motivation gap –

 

To make reading more concrete let’s have the following dream of mastery as an example:

 

Playing my music at the venue „…“

 

Obstacle No.1 – Time:

Do you know how much time it will take for you to reach your goal of mastery?

Does this question speed up your heart beat? It’s distressing, isn’t it?
At this point you are in danger of either giving up or even worse, never getting started on your journey. Suddenly you become very creative – in inventing many reasons why the journey towards your mastery is not even worth to get started. You might end up with some of the following thoughts:

1. other things are more important
2. nobody cares (so let’s watch the next episode instead of practicing)
3. this journey is way too expensive
4. that’s not me. I’m not like …  (put in a famous name of a master in your field)
5. I will never be as good as …
6. I’m afraid of having success because I’m afraid of losing control
7. I’m too old.

Dive deeper! Dare to question your thoughts.

1. Of course other things are more important, e.g. relationships. But does that mean that I shouldn’t get started? Will it necessarily and always interfer with my „more important things“ in life? Is it really about priority or is rather my fear getting in my way? I decide.
2. That’s simply not true. If I enjoy doing it for myself other people will feel my joy and will be able to connect.
3. Did I already calculate? Expensive in what respect? Does mastery have to be expensive?
4. Of course. I am me. And that’s totally fine.
5. Why not? If I know how to practice and if I’m willing to work, I will be as good as… and still be me.
6. Success does not limit my freedom of choice. That’s a basic aspect of human beings. (I know some neurologists question that. But that’s another topic.) I decide on what I am willing to lose control of. If it means to let go of anxiety and insecurity and becoming more inventive, more experimental, more playful – then YES. I’ll go for it. What is my real motivation? – I’ll clear that up first and act on the basis of clear thinking and thoughtful decisions, not fear.
7. I’m not a 90 year old reader who wants to become a Heavy Metal – drummer. So this is simply a lame excuse.

 

But the fears and doubts are still there…

 

The next step is to overcome these fears. Now it’s getting a little difficult. We have to make things specific and start doing them before we lose our fear.

 

Courage comes with action.
Do it! And your fear will disappear.

(Couldn’t resist the rhyme.)

Why specify time?

The more time we need to achieve mastery / the goal, the more we tend to lose our motivation. There could always be a never closing gap between motivation and mastery. In diagram no.1  I call this the „motivation gap“. How can you overcome the motivation gap?

Another view on mastery

Define your goal of mastery as something specific that you want to achieve within a certain amount of time. If you need more time to achieve mastery and start to feel tired about it, redefine your mastery. Don’t give up your big dream but put little steps of mastery on your timeline that can be clearly defined. Define little mastery steps you can fulfill on your own.

Diagram no. 2 shows how this can be done.

 

mastery-steps
diagram no.2 – steps of mastery –

A certain amount of time must be defined in the beginning. At the end of your timeline you want to have achieved mastery – this should also be clearly defined and should realistically correlate with time. (e.g. if you never sang before, of course you won’t become an opera singer at the MET within a couple of months.)
Mark your timeline with many mastery steps. Again define every step of mastery as clear as possible. If you master a step, celebrate! If you don’t master a step don’t beat your self up for it. Be flexible about your next step of mastery so you’ll have something to celebrate again.
Draw your individual line of progress from one mastery step to the next. See the whole picture and celebrate your progress, even if you don’t reach mastery a 100% (see diagram no.2).

 

Example

Your mastery: Playing your music at a nice venue

Things you need that aren’t beyond your control: awesome musician skills

Doable steps of mastery for the next two months

 

November:
– practicing and caring for basic rhythmical skills on 5-6 days per week, 15-30 minutes per session
– developing technical skills and security on your instrument on 3-5 days per week in short (5 minute) but more frequent practice sessions per day
– a reserved time slot to take care for your inspiration and creativity alone
December:
– a reserved time slot to take care for your inspiration and creativity alone, at least every second day
– practicing and caring for basic rhythmical skills on 4-5 days per week, 15-30 minutes per session
– developing technical skills and security on your instrument on 3-4 days per week in short (5 minute) but more frequent practice sessions per day

(…)


Now it’s your turn:

Think about small steps of mastery that work for you and dare to make a little plan on that for one or two months. Be reliable. Stay true to yourself and your plan. If this works out for you try the same over a longer period of time. You are likely to become a successfull and joyfull achiever of your goals.

Let’s celebrate small but frequent „masteries“!

 

©Tamara Pientka, Nov.’16