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What It Means to Master

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From self-help books to business education programs, the term “mastery” has become a popular concept. For many the term brings eastern ideologies to mind: spirituality, mysticism, meditation. Others think of commonly used phrases: Master and Commander, Master Craftsman, Master of Ceremonies, etc. Whatever the initial impression, the word itself conjures images of the ultimate, the nearly unachievable, the place of existence to strive to reach.

So what is “mastery” really and how do we begin to achieve it?

George Leonard, Author of Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment—perhaps the most influential text on the concept—suggests that there are five keys to mastering a discipline and uses the words of some historical masters to elaborate:

Surrender to Your Passion: “When you follow your bliss—the thing that truly electrifies you—four things automatically happen: 1. You put yourself in the path of good luck. 2. You meet the people you want to know. 3. Doors open where there weren’t doors before. And 4. Doors open for you that wouldn’t open for anybody else.”—Joseph Campbell, Author, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Practice, Practice, Practice: “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”—Thomas Edison, Inventor

Get a Guide: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”—William Arthur Ward, Author, Fountains of Faith

Visualize the Outcome: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”—Michelangelo

Play the Edge: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”—Mark Twain

Leonard defines mastery not as a goal to be achieved but as an acceptance—and even enjoyment—of the process of learning and growing in a skill. The truth is that the greatest business owners, teachers, artists, etc. would shy away from being referred to as “a master” since in many cases the more one studies and increases their expertise, the more they recognize how much there still is to learn.

In this sense, true mastery may always be elusive because it is constantly changing and evolving: a never stationary target. We may master the use of a particular skill or tool only to have a bigger and better version appear and we begin anew. A more accurate description of mastery as suggested by Leonard is total commitment to the practice of an art or discipline—with absolute dedication and preparation for mistakes and setbacks.

Running your own business is more about personal and professional growth than it is about spreadsheets and bank statements. However, to truly become successful, even the routine tasks must be mastered: Are you responding to e-mails in the most time efficient ways? Are your website policies a hindrance to your potential clients? Does the thought of doing a presentation in front of your colleagues still make you nervous?

There are so many components: the most important thing is to remember that success takes time. You have to chip away at the list and constantly re-learn all the rudiments with the latest tools and technology. You have to absolutely give yourself over to what you love.

Are you prepared to dedicate your time and energy to the achievement of extraordinary things? When actionable skills combine with passion for business, the result is nothing short of a masterpiece.

By Shea Bergesen for 10 Percent Solution


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