Achieving Mastery in Life
In the past couple of weeks, I met several people who were on the journey of personal growth, but felt frustrated at what they perceived to be slow progress. It reminded me of Stewart Emery’s writing on mastery, which had significantly influenced my perspective of life, success and personal achievement.
I took some time to review what I learnt from Emery, how I applied the lessons, and what I took away in the process. I hope that this will help some of you who are also on this journey. In the meantime, you can also read about possible business applications in this article.
- Mastery is a product of consistently going beyond our limits. It typically starts with technical excellence in a chosen field and a commitment to that excellence.
- The first step to mastery is the removal of everything in your environment that represents mediocrity. One way is to surround yourself with friends who ask more of you than you do.
- Another step is the removal of resentment towards masters. Develop compassion for yourself so that you can be in the presence of masters and grow from the experience.
- A master, rather than condemning himself for his “ordinariness”, will embrace it and use it as a foundation for building the extraordinary. You must be able to correct yourself without invalidating or condemning yourself.
Progressive Mastery : Lessons from the journey
Emery had, in my view, essentially mapped out the key steps to mastery in anything in life. Applying these steps however had been not so easy. How have I applied it and what have I learnt on my journey?
1. Choosing and committing to an area of ‘technical excellence’.
I had more than 10 years of corporate experience in management and business development, and also spent years studying organizational behaviour, human potential and happiness. I was knowledgeable and passionate about these topics. But would I claim mastery in any of these areas? Admittedly, no.
It took me almost a year to identify an industry and functional niche that I felt truly passionate about and committed to.
My chosen domain? Helping people to live their best lives, by converting knowledge and ideas into action and form. That clarity gave me focus, energy and conviction, and l found my learning and internalization process steepening manifold. Was it worth the months of distillation and repeatedly going back to the drawing board? Definitely.
2. Removing mediocrity and resentment towards masters.
It was not easy to remove mediocrity altogether, especially when many came in the form of family and close friends. I did the next best thing, which was to find new friends and associates who would challenge me, and to surround myself with masters in the form of books, audio and video materials.
I also became mindful of my own feelings of envy, insecurity and the constant comparison of myself with others more successful than myself. Acknowledging these feelings, accepting that I had equally unique strengths and greatness, and knowing I was growing better and better each day, gave me the biggest empowerment.
I chose to compete with myself and no one else – this decision changed my game significantly. The game changed from getting ahead of others, to being the best that I can be today. The best masters I found and learned from were not those who have “arrived”, but those who have transformed in their journey and are still growing even today.
Correction without Invalidation
Obviously, I had many failures and learning experiences. Making a conscious effort to learn and correct myself was easy. Doing it without invalidation or self-blame was, in all honesty, the most difficult. I still catch myself with thoughts like ‘I should have’, ‘if only I had’…
The remedy? Doing daily goal-setting and journaling to remind myself of my own progress. And surrounding myself with people who are on a similar journey – they serve as a mirror for myself, and a source of encouragement.
Abraham Maslow says, “What a man can be, he must be… self-actualization (is) the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”
Clarity and mastery, I realize on hindsight, tends to go hand in hand, and reinforce each other in an upward spiral. Both come through consistent action and constant distillation. And both start with a desire to be even more… If you are reading this article because you are seeking to be a better you, then you are well on the right track. Be compassionate with yourself, enjoy the process, and I look forward to hearing your success story someday.
Meantime, here are some perspectives and ideas on mastery in the business context, which I hope will be useful to you and your team.
To your mastery,