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Conditions for Mastery
In her book, Mastery: Interviews with 30 Remarkable People, Joan Evelyn Ames claims that there were certain common conditions between all the acknowledged masters she interviewed. They cut across a variety of professions – chef, architect, journalist, astronomer, monk, graphic designer, juggler, musician, physicist, etc. She had one remarkable conclusion that came from each of her interviews. “The major pitfall on the road to mastery is success and all the temptations that come with fame and recognition.” How to become great and stay humble about all you still need to learn – that is the quest of the true master.

Common conditions found amongst all the interviewees included:
  • 1. Having a teacher, mentor, instructor – most often highly skilled in their own area of endeavor. Those few interviewees who never had a true mentor felt the lack of support and inspiration made their paths more difficult and slowed their progress. Five years earlier, George Leonard placed instruction as the first key to mastery. “There are some skills you can learn on your own, and some you can try to learn, but if you intend to take the journey of mastery, the best thing you can do is to arrange for a first-rate instructor.”
  • 2. Practice and hard work – most interviewees did not place much importance on native talent. “Talent may provide a person easy access to certain levels of accomplishment, but its benefits diminish if it is not combined with commitment, hard work, and determination to stay on the road to mastery over the long haul”, says Ames. And, according to George Leonard, one needs to practice the basic moves thousands of time. This doesn’t often play well in our bottom-line, immediate gratification culture.
  • 3. Love of one’s endeavor – passion and enthusiasm for addressing the problem, cooking the perfect meal, doing the impossible juggling trick, or building a formula for trading commodities. This passion allows people to push prior limits and create breakthroughs and advances in their fields. They take great joy and experience great fulfillment in immersing themselves in the quest for learning. Olympic gymnast, Peter Vidmar said, “People who get into something for the money, the fame, or the medal can’t be effective. When you discover your own desire, you’re not going to wait for other people to find solutions to your problems…I set goals for myself, but underlying all the goals and the work was the fact that I enjoyed it. Gymnastics was fun.”
  • 4. Determination and commitment – moving through adversity, not giving up, looking at a problem in a new way, reading, reflecting and moving on. George Leonard refers to this as intentionality and talks about the importance of visualizing the results. This was true for Jack Nicklaus who claimed that “a successful shot was 50 percent visualization, 40 percent setup, and only 10 percent swing.” However, this ability was predicated on years of practice. The vision gives one the stamina to keep working in the face of adversity.
  • 5. Taking risks – being on the edge - Masters appear to thrive on uncertainty and the exploration of unknown territory. We saw this in the great explorers of old, the astronauts of today, and those many experts who are starting their own businesses and challenging large organizations. Leonard cautions us that “there must be many years of instruction, practice, surrender, and intentionality” before even considering playing on the edge.
  • 6. Luck – Masters say they nurture or even make their own luck by being prepared through hard work and practice.

Lastly, Ms Ames was struck by a single concept. “Mastery is an unending process and so there is never a final destination to be reached…True masters thrive on continuous learning and growth; they are committed to the process itself.”

Mastery Is Enduring Jobs can be taken away. Mastery cannot. Choosing a profession or trade connects people to the basic human needs that drive us as a civilization. Professions and trades endure. Why? because high levels of expertise (mastery) in various fields of practice are required to serve the basic human needs of our global community - education, financial security, health and well-being, home and shelter, security, environmental health, spirituality, transportation, etc. Those needs have historically required crafts men and women to hone their skills and invent practices in order to take care of these basic needs. George Leonard, in his seminal book on MASTERY, claims that it takes 10-17 years to master any profession, trade, sport or art form. more...  
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