Northwind Pharmaceuticals

Want to Change Your World? Seek Mastery.


Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master.  For this reason mastery demands all of a person.  – Albert Einstein

Master of His Craft

Occasionally, we are given the opportunity to stand before a true talent. A person who has mastered his or her craft and it is so obvious as to leave little room for debate. Last night, I experienced a true talent and Master of his Craft as my family and I attended the Death Cab for Cutie concert at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis. Though all of the musicians we experienced through the evening were very talented, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab was a Master. I’ve enjoyed their music for many years but seeing them perform gave me an entirely new perspective. Gibbard’s mastery was on display as an entertainer, musician, songwriter, vocalist, leader, and composer. It was awesome to behold.
Everyday Masters

I left the concert thinking about what it takes to be a Master of our Craft. We know them when we see them. Those people who inspire awe through otherworldly capabilities. It is easy to see in larger-than-life entertainment productions. The event is orchestrated to be awe-inspiring. What about everyday masters? They appear in all walks of life: teachers, nurses, plumbers, chefs, project managers, salespeople, carpenters and on and on. We see them and appreciate them, often quietly. What makes them Masters of their Craft?

Mastery is defined as the possession or display of great skill or technique. I’m going to modify this to: possession AND display. Becoming a Master of your Craft requires the application of resources that are available to all of us yet many of us do not apply them to the point of mastery.

  • Time. Malcolm Gladwell talks about mastery in terms of the time it takes to develop and hone specific skills. For Gladwell, research points to 10,000 hours as the somewhat magical number to achieve mastery. One might argue how many hours of practice it takes to get there, but time is undoubtedly a key aspect of mastery.
  • Interest. We often talk about talent as another key element of mastery. Talent might be defined as a predisposition toward proficiency in a particular area. However, even raw talent has to be harnessed and refined to achieve mastery. There have been plenty of people who have “wasted” their talents by not investing the time to master them. We may choose to master something because we seem naturally good at it, but we must be interested in investing in that direction before it will ever bear fruit. Often, we become interested in the things at which we have a natural proficiency.
  • Will. To achieve mastery of a subject or skill, we must make the choice to pursue it. Will is the conscious decision to do the things to become a master. For some, that decision might be made for them (have you ever made decisions about what your children will “master”?) For long term success, we’ve got to apply our will to choose the path and walk the path before we can ever achieve mastery.
  • Discipline. Will and discipline are typically lumped together as the same thing. As I’ve thought about it and read others’ thoughts about it, I think will is the choice and discipline is the structure and routine. Will tends to come from the emotional side. Discipline is more intellectual You might have the will to take the hard steps toward mastery, but you’ve got to have the discipline to sustain it when feelings intervene to weaken your will. Ultimately, they are two sides of the same coin. You must possess both to endure the long road to mastery.
  • Generosity. Finally, we must choose to share our mastery with the world. If Ben Gibbard had spent 10,000 hours honing his musical skills but didn’t share them, would he still be a Master? Yes and no. Yes he would have the concrete skills to play and sing but I would argue that possession is not enough. To be a true Master of our Craft, we must display those skills and share them with the world. If you can’t or won’t share your gifts and talents, then you have not become a Master. Note: Masters are often compensated very well for sharing their capabilities. However, achieving Mastery does not require that we have to get paid for sharing what we’ve developed.

Mastery is a Journey

Now, think of the Masters in your world. What makes them a Master? Apply that frame to yourself. Are you a Master of your Craft? Do you want to be? True Masters likely feel that they never achieve complete mastery. For the Master, there is always more. Another challenge. Another skill. Like much of life, Mastery becomes an ongoing journey in which the joy resides in the process.

Want to change your world? Identify your interest(s). Choose to pursue them. Apply your discipline. Share the fruits of your efforts and discoveries. This looks like a path to world-changing mastery to me.

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