Once you’ve mastered anything, you know how to master everything

I’m back from Atlanta, where I received a wonderful promotion and honor from Sijo Muhammad.  Much to think about, as, accepting the honor, I have a responsibility to give back even more to the world, and have to consider how to do it.


The thing I have considered most deeply is the concept of Mastery.  It conjures the image of someone who is human perfection, but that is an illusion.  The master of a fencing school is just the teacher. The headmaster of a school is merely the principle, organizing the education of the students, overseeing the actions of the teachers.   We need more accessible definitions of these things,  definitions that we can all aspire to, even if achievement is not guaranteed.


Wouldn’t it be absurd if we could spend a thousand hours studying something and not achieve a measure of proficiency?  Or ten thousand hours and not achieve expertise?  Or a life time and not find mastery?  Just how difficult do people think this stuff called “excellence” is, anyway?


I’m sticking with my definition: mastery is control of the basics of your craft at the level of unconscious competence, such that you can create spontaneously, under pressure.  It is a verb as well as a noun, a process as well as a position.


And because no one “finishes” their education in anything more complex than tic-tac-toe, all there is is the path.  The daily actions.  Show me your daily rituals, and I can predict your results.


Being a “master of life” then, would be identifying the core attitudes and actions which can apply to all four basic areas of your life, those which, practiced, would take you to greater and greater performance, deeper satisfaction and happiness, more contribution, profound healing, and the state called “awakened adulthood.”


And whatever these things are, whatever you believe them to be, they need to be practiced EVERY DAMNED DAY.   Rain or shine.  Up or down.  Busy or bored.  Every great man or woman in any field I’ve ever seen practices their craft every day, and constantly studies and models the performance of those who have come before.  Many also teach and mentor–one of the very best ways to determine if you really know what you know.


Let’s look at the “secret formula” regarding this, then:


GOALS.  They know what they want to accomplish, why they want it, and have identified role models who have gotten there first.  They break these things into long-term accomplishment goals, and short term action goals.   A tiny, tiny minority of them seem to be able to “zen” it: they just do what they do, and get there without really planning very much.   These are freaks, operating at a level of integration so high that you can’t pick apart the seams.  The seams are there: you simply don’t have the discernment to see them. They paid their dues out of your sight.  Ignore them (and the voices in your head that try to tell you that “if you don’t have natural talent you will never accomplish) and do the work.


FAITH.  They believe that they CAN and SHOULD succeed at their goals.  Again, they’ve studied the path, and the people who have succeeded before them.   And no matter what your goal, SOMEONE has gotten there first, in some sense.  No exceptions, unless your nose is so pressed to the glass that you’ve lost all perspective.   No one, no goal is so individual and unique that the actions of others do not mark the way.  No human being accomplishes anything of any consequence at all that was not built on a foundation laid by others.  As individuals, human beings aren’t much smarter than chimps.  It is our capacity to share and pass complex information from individual to individual, and generation to generation, that makes the difference. And you can even share with yourself!  As Jerry Pournelle once told me: “once you’ve mastered any discipline, you know how to master any other discipline.”   Amen.

DAILY ACTION:   Whatever you wish to master, do it every day.  If you don’t do it every day, you haven’t really decided to master it.   The “Five minute miracle” fits beautifully here: do you love this thing enough to focus on it, briefly, five times a day?  For say one minute each time? That means that if you wish to master your life overall, you spend one minute on each of the four basic areas, five times a day.  Twenty minutes total.   What is your life worth?   A minute of focus is like checking your map while driving or walking in the woods.  Keeps you on track.    Your actions cannot depend on some particular person reacting in some particular way.  It can’t be “I have to sell Joe a vacuum cleaner.”  It has to be “if I make 100 presentations, I will sell at least one vacuum cleaner.”  Play the odds, and you’ll win.  You don’t need some particular sale, to win some particular competition, make some particular person fall in love with you.  What you need is to make sales, improve your sports performance, and find love.    You can have anything in the world you want, if you can just let go of how its supposed to look.


GRATITUDE:  People are so tough on themselves.  They say “I’ll be happy if I achieve.”  That works, sure.  But it also makes your happiness dependent on external events.  And for children, this is fine. But adults need to know how to push their own buttons, how to motivate themselves, and how to control their own emotions…or they will never evolve.  If you can discipline yourself to perform a “daily ritual” of thought, emotion, and action, you can be trusted to step outside the pain-pleasure dichotomy, and do what must be done simply because it is who you are.    You can train yourself to feel positive, grateful, optimistic, ALL THE TIME, or at the least check in five times a day, and if your emotions aren’t where you want, need, and deserve them to be, make the shifts necessary to move in the right direction.  And what happens? Gratitude is an antidote for stress.   When you aren’t stressed out, you leave the “tunnel vision” state that stops you from seeing answers to your problems.


You also attract mentors, allies, and lovers to you like crazy. Every healthy person seeks the company of other healthy people.  And most importantly, if you learn this, you are TOTALLY in control of your success in life, because no matter what you do, all you’ve ever wanted is to avoid pain and gain pleasure. To be happy, however you define it, and whatever you have to do to hold it.  If you can make yourself happy in the blink of an eye, you are free of co-dependent relationships, and the world no longer owns you.


Again–this kind of freedom is not for children, or the child-like.   You can be “happy” stoned out of your head or jumping from bed to bed.  But…it catches up with you, friends.   If you would be happy, aim at LONG term happiness.  And that demands a sense of growth and contribution.


But again, once you have defined the daily rituals that will take you to the next level of your life, why not enjoy the ride?




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