I’ve written about this before, but I feel that it’s too important not to revisit every few months. Primarily as a reminder to myself.
As I get older, time seems to be speeding up. So the sooner I decide upon a craft, a purpose, something… to dedicate myself too, the better.
I’m growing impatient.
For me, this craft could be: launching a startup (something I’ve focused on for the past decade), discovering a new technology (for example a patent), or applying myself to biotechnology (thinking along the lines of biohacking and longevity). Or perhaps something within the humanities and arts (when I was a kid, I loved to draw.. mix that with my eager interest in philosophy, and perhaps there’s a good mix)?
Evidence suggests that it can take anywhere from five to ten years to really master something. It often means toiling for years in obscurity, learning the basics of a chosen field, and slowly making the transition from novice to master. It’s impossible to start learning the scales on the piano one week and perfectly play Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No. 32” the next.
Mastery doesn’t happen in two months, nor twelve.
Achieving mastery actually takes around 10,000 hours. Malcom Gladwell echoes this in his book, Outliers, citing studies and examples of world class performers that indicate 10,000 hours is the “magic number of greatness”. The precise number of hours required to reach mastery is a cause of controversy, and other performance experts have noted that it’s the quality of practice that’s important, not the amount. It’s also important to note that not all hours are equal. Hours 1-100 will be much less effective than hours 8000-8100.
With enough effort and persistence, achieving greatness in a chosen field is within reach. We can capture genius and direct our focus and attention to a singular aim that brings both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
Taking a journey inward
You may already know precisely which skill or area you want to master.
It could be the passion that gnaws at you now, an ever-present distraction from the job you find financially lucrative but unfulfilling. It could be the one that filled your days with delight as a teenager, but that you left behind as an adult, pressured by the burden of being “practical” or “responsible”.
Alternately, your calling could be lurking deep in your mind, waiting to be unlocked by a slew of experiences and some introspection. Regardless, finding your Life’s Task requires a journey inward that often starts by reflecting on your childhood.
Robert Greene (author of the book Mastery) provides this poignant description of how our dreams may diminish as we move from adolescence to adulthood:
“You possess a kind of inner force that seeks to guide you toward your Life’s Task—what you are meant to accomplish in the time that you have to live. In childhood this force was clear to you. It directed you toward activities and subjects that fit your natural inclinations, that sparked a curiosity that was deep and primal. In the intervening years, the force tends to fade in and out as you listen more to parents and peers, to the daily anxieties that wear away at you. This can be the source of your unhappiness—your lack of connection to who you are and what makes you unique. The first move toward mastery is always inward—learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force. Knowing it with clarity, you will find your way to the proper career path and everything else will fall into place.”
Reflecting on what we loved to do as children can be a powerful exercise that brings us closer to the master’s path. If we come back to the present, it’s helpful to consider what feels like play and what feels like work.
The paradox of choice
A couple of days ago I wrote about the paradox of choice.
And when it comes to deciding upon a craft to master (as I mentioned at the start of the post) I’m a bit paralysed by choice. I find too many things interesting. I have too many options.
More recently I’ve started embracing my natural inclinations and passions, while ignoring what society suggests will bring me financial security and respect. I’m hoping by following this mantra I can choose my own path to mastery.
I’ve found two guidelines are helping me find focus:
- Drawing on my strengths and natural inclinations. There are certain topics and activities that I naturally gravitate towards. Usually on the intersection of the humanities and science. So I’m spending my time moving toward that.
- Ignoring my weaknesses. Improvement in areas where we’re weak is overrated. Instead, we can partner with people who complement us and outsource or automate what we’re bad at. I’m focusing my energies on where I’m already strong and can truly be the best.
In finding what I want to pursue as my vocation for years to come, these guidelines have helped light the flame of discovery to the dark and dormant parts of my mind.
Some questions that area also currently helping me are:
- If I quit my job tomorrow, what would I choose to do?
- If money was no object, what career would I pursue?
- What do I spend my time on while I’m procrastinating or not working?
- What parts of my job or life would I be happy to do away with?
- What aspects of my current career path and ambitions are influenced by my friends, family, or society?
- Are my choices driven by a desire for money and titles?
- What can I be the best at?
Once I found an area or two of interest, I asked myself even more questions:
- Do I have a strong, even obsessive, pull towards x area?
- Can I see myself spending the next 10 years focused on x skill?
- How would I feel if I could jump onto this path today?
If you’re using this as a guide, it may be the first time in years that you’ve stopped to ask yourself these kinds of questions. Answer as honestly as possible, reflecting on “what is” rather than “what ought to be”.
Your answers will guide you in the right direction if you listen closely and are willing to take a calculated risk.
When you finally find the path to mastery you want to take, you’ll know it. Greene describes the feeling of knowing you’ve found your Life’s Path:
“You will recognize it when you find it because it will spark that childlike sense of wonder and excitement; it will feel right.”
This was the sixth post in my latest challenge to write daily. I’m working on developing my communication skills, and making my writing more personable, and enjoyable for anyone who takes the time to read. If you made it to the end, thank you for spending the time!6