The life of a Dad who strives to be the best dad possible

Mastery, and the pursuit thereof…

Mastery… such a simple word, but so complex too.  What is “mastery”?  Probably something different to different people.  I think to many, mastery is something attained or an accomplishment, typically at the end of a journey of sorts.  One studies or practices for months, years, or even decades to attain mastery.  Through diligent repetition, one becomes a master.  Many people even go so far to believe that mastery is denied to those without some innate set of skills.  If you are not born with these skills, mastery shall forever be unattainable; something you can only observe and sense, but never know.  Perhaps those who began their pursuit early in life or those were afforded every opportunity to maximize their chances might have a chance to attain mastery.  If your unique spiral staircase doesn’t have the right code, sorry, you are out of luck.  If your parents didn’t send you to the best of the best summer camps, well, that’s just a bummer.  If you don’t have the requisite preternatural ability, too bad.  You can just enjoy spectating from the grandstand while the “masters” perform and show you what you lack.  Sadly, many people believe those statements to be true.  And, even more sadly, because they believe that, the statements are in fact true.  For them though, but maybe not for you.  Mastery, I believe, is available to all.  The belief systems of others do not have to control or limit your potential.

What is mastery then?  If it’s not some exalted position or achievement, what is it?  Rather than provide the answer, let me tell a little story to which we all can relate.  Think of a young child, crawling along the ground.  This child spends many hours each day observing the Tall People in his or her life.  These Tall People, all of them, do this crazy looking thing.  They walk…  The child observes and, one day, decides to emulate them.  It wasn’t a question of maybe or “I will try”, it was a must or will do.  The child simply knows, beyond any doubt and with complete certainty, that walking is the way of the future.  He or she has complete faith and belief and a drive, unmatched by any other desire, to master that skill of walking.  Know it, own it, and master it.

So, what happens?  We all know the story.  The child starts by uncoordinatedly pulling himself onto his feet using a couch, table leg, or some other stationary tool.  Once the child solves this trick (usually wobbling and swaying the entire time and, of course, looking stunningly adorable too), a little smile and look of wonder crosses the face (again, looking adorable…)  After some time, a moment, minute, day, and by intention or accident, the child attempts his or her first step.  The next moment is the same for every single child in the history of children: failure.  BAM, the child plummets to the ground.  Thankfully, at that age, we all were much shorter and the descent was short and sweet.  Also thankfully, this extremely minor set back was just that, minor.  Falling, or failing, did nothing to dissuade the child from the pursuit.  More to the point, nothing would stand in his or her way.  Being able to walk was the only acceptable outcome.  Period.

Are children stubborn?  Do they doggedly persist to try to get what they want?  Ha, for better or worse, the answer is a resounding YES!  They can be relentless.  They have certainly driven me closer to the edge of sanity at times.  But, they are not this way simply because they like to test Daddy’s resolve (well, maybe they actually do, but that’s a different story), they simply have such a drive and desire that they won’t accept failure (or, not getting the object of their desire).

Just as we know how the story began, we too know how it ends: The child learns to walk.  One or two steps, another fall.  Two or three steps, another fall.  Soon, those few uncoordinated steps become a walk and then, eventually, a run (and, at this point, few kids stop running).  If you watch their faces, you can see smiles of unbridled joy.  They made a decision, set their mind to the task, and tried, tried, and tried again, any obstacles be damned, until SUCCESS.  That eventual outcome was a certainty the moment the child decided to walk.  Let’s return to this process in moment as I first want to add a bit of background and science here.

Why are children so passionate in their pursuits?  What makes them to able to have that kind of laser focus, when many adults cannot even get close to the same level of attention?  I believe it is because we are all born with a complete absence of fear.  As a parent of two young kids, I know this to be true.  Both my son and daughter are true daredevils and my daughter much more so.  She has, of course, idolized her brother from the moment she was aware of his existence and, I believe, is more willing to push the limits of her world because of watching him.  She always wants to take that next step.  She is fearless in every sense of the word.

So, when pursuing some goal, children are freed from all the fears that hold backs us timid adults.  They don’t care what their peers think (at least, not for a few years).  They are ambivalent about the effects of the actions on the world around them (sadly, this tunneled vision seems to persist through life far to often…)  They simply don’t care about anything other than the apple of their eye.  They want the prize, everyone and everything else is unimportant.  To me, that’s a profound revelation.  I think what that really means is that all of our fears, our concerns, our reservations are learned behaviors.  Yes, many are quite valuable.  Like, don’t pet the really big kitty (otherwise known as a Lion).  Don’t jump into the fast moving river; you won’t be here long if you do.  But, while the value often cannot be denied, so to can you not deny the limits those “lessons” place on most people.  They act as shackles chaining us to both the past and to our current state.  The power of inertia is just that, powerful.  To work against it takes energy and, at times, enormous amounts of energy.  But, to achieve mastery, we must work against it.

This becomes powerful stuff.  Once you know, with certainty, that your fears are nothing more than stories you have created, observed, or learned in your past, you change them.  Every one can free themselves from the weight of past failures and the explore the limitless of their own possibilities.  Since your fears are not part of your genetic makeup, they are as malleable as your hair style.  (Although, given the rate at which my hair seems to be fleeing my scalp, maybe that’s a bad analogy, but I think you know what I mean.)

So, back to the point, what is mastery then?  The answer is quite simple.  Mastery is a state of mind.  The one that lies of the beginning of any pursuit when you know, not think, not hope, not wish, but truly know that the only acceptable outcome is your goal.  Mastery is the journey.  It is the small accomplishments you make in pursuit of your objective.  It is what you become in striving for your goals.  Reaching them?  Stay on the path of mastery is reaching them is a certainty.  And when that happens?  You begin to pursue a new course of mastery.  In candor, mastery can probably never really be achieved as it’s not a destination but the journey you take and the evolution you experience along the way.  As the graph at the start of this article shows, you never reach mastery; you simply get close to it, which is great.  Once you attain a goal and approach mastery, you should yearn for a new challenge, want that next unknown, and crave to be ignorant all over again.

But, that’s the beauty of it!  It keeps us constantly striving, wanting to improve, aspiring for more.  For me, the journey to become an Ironman was a challenge like nothing I had ever experienced before.  You can read my full report on it here.  If someone has just dumped me at the finish line, the experience would have been worthless.  Sure, I might have enjoyed the crowd, the finishing chute, and my new hat.  But, I would be exactly the same as the day before.  I would have learned nothing.  I would have overcome exactly zero obstacles and been presented with no challenges.  Mastery would be denied to me.  Thankfully, that is not what happened.

Do not put much value on the destination; instead put value in what you are doing.  Hold in high regard your failures, the accompanying lessons, and the triumphs along the way.  This paradigm will enable you to overcome the inevitable failures on your path.  Have this philosophy and you will know that your failures do not define you.  Your philosophies define you; they are what keeps you pursuing, even when all hope of success seems lost and distant.  Rome was not built in a day and we all should be thankful for that!

So, when confounded, remember the child learning to walk.  That child experienced massively more failures than successes.  The number of falls and stumbles (all of these are failures) dwarf by a significant margin the tiny number of baby steps (or successes).  We all are designed to be masters (again, think of the child learning to walk), life just periodically gets in the way led us astray.  The path to mastery lies within us all; I firmly believe that.  Get back to the child that still lies in you, remember wanting something with all your mind, body, and soul, and let nothing stand in your way.  That is mastery.  Do that, stay focused and in pursuit, and you will forever be a Master and, simultaneously, on the path of Mastery!


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