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Tom Cleaver
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Some excellent advice

October 27, 2021 · in How-to · 7 Comments

I ran across this in the "Pocket" reads that pop up on my homepage. I would say, from looking back with 20/10 hindsight on the past 40 years of my life, that this is absolutely some of the best advice I have ever read. I know for a fact that "pursuing mastery" in our hobby over my life led directly to the successful life I have, doing exactly what I love, and paying the bills with it.

I think everyone else who posts here is "pursuing mastery" in our hobby, whether consciously or unconsciously, and I will bet any amount that it works the same way for you.

Pursue Mastery (In Anything)

More than 2,000 years ago, in his "Poetics," Aristotle wrote that integral to a meaningful life is striving for arête, or what we might today call excellence or mastery. Aristotle pointed out, however, that achieving arête — be it by throwing oneself fully into a work of art, intellect, or athletics — is not always pleasant: “A virtuous life,” he wrote, “requires exertion, and does not consist in amusement.” But he also wrote that it is in such virtuous acts — making ourselves vulnerable and giving something our all — that we lose ourselves.

Centuries later, in his wildly popular Drive, a book that at its core is about what makes people tick, author Daniel Pink makes a similar case: “Mastery,” writes Pink, “is pain.” Yet, like Aristotle, Pink also argues that mastery is meaningful, that the benefits of taking on a challenge out of one’s own volition and losing oneself in an activity are immense.

For a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, psychologist Carol Ryff surveyed more than 300 men and women, in order to identify correlates of well-being. She found that people who had “a feeling of continued development,” and saw themselves as “growing and expanding” were more likely to score high on assessments of life satisfaction and self-esteem than those who did not. Other research shows that when people throw themselves into an activity for the sake of the activity itself — and not for some sort of external reward, like money or fame or Instagram followers — they tend to report long-term well-being and fulfillment.

Attempting to master a craft may seem inherently selfish, but that’s not the case. In interviews with over 100 highly productive scientists, artists, and other creative types, the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that many found meaning in their lives precisely because they lost themselves in their pursuit, or because they turned themselves over to it. He coined this “vital engagement,” or a relationship to an activity that manifests when one becomes fully absorbed in it. Meaning, Csikszentmihalyi writes, “derives from the connection of the individual to a tradition, enterprise, and community of practice that lie beyond the self.”

The specific craft need not matter. For some it may be running, for others sculpting, cooking, or playing the cello. What does matter is that you respect and honor the traditions of the craft, pursue long-term progress in it, and participate not for the sake of raising yourself up (i.e., an ego boost) but for the sake of transcending the very notion of your “self” altogether. You want to express yourself in the work and lose yourself in the work at the same time.

Though some may say that pursuing this kind of mastery is self-serving, or worse, selfish, I’d argue otherwise. I’ve never met someone who is in pursuit of mastery, who pays close attention to their craft and cares deeply about it, who isn’t a good person. Plus, whatever they create tends to end up helping lots of other people anyways.

7 responses

  1. Exactly!
    Thanks for sharing it, @tcinla!

  2. Agree.
    Very interesting advice, Tom @tcinla

  3. Do or not do. There is no try. From a galaxie far far away.

  4. Yes. I think some “ Virtual “ lives need to read this.
    Elbow grease and a**es and elbows to quote a good friend of mine. I did this my whole life and now that my body went , back to model making which I enjoy so much. Most of the time, only one hour a day even if Sometimes it’s just cleaning and organising my bench. Gets me out of my Head Into the creative space.
    Thanks for posting this.

  5. It's basically the approach I took to work as well as the hobby.

    I just wish that the arrogant jerks who I once worked for took to the mastery of the finer points of leadership and finance that they claimed they had then maybe I'd still be working in the industry I enjoyed working in.

  6. Yes, that is good advice and I have to agree with the author. Thanks for sharing that Tom. ?

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