The Journey to Mastery is not quick; it is a journey for which one lifetime may not be long enough. Like so many journeys, there’s much to see, to excite, to motivate, and to learn along the way. All of which requires determination and focus. Like every journey that is worth undertaking, the Journey to Mastery will lift you from the moment you set out.
In a previous article I discussed the whole of the Journey to Mastery. From Explorer to Novice, Practitioner, Expert and, finally, Master. This article will focus just on that final transition, on what it takes to be a Master.
The Journey to Mastery is for the Few not the Many
It’s worth remembering that only a few have the commitment to complete the journey to Mastery. There they elevate others in their market, and the market itself. This isn’t because only a few can be chosen. It’s because only a few will choose to make that journey their life’s work. To make that choice requires a willingness to change, to let go of much of the doing in favour of being. It’s a hard choice. For many letting go of (often very) hard-won skills, in favour of supporting others to do the work is a tough thing to do.
Mastery is about mindset and identity, more than capability, skills, or knowledge.
It’s important to focus on understanding your place in the work you do, your identity.
Pride can get in the way of this change. A pride in the work you do so well, pride in the value that you add as a practitioner of your art, pride from the recognition by others of your expertise. You have to let it go. Your motivation, your pride and your joy have to shift from your own achievements being recognised by others, to the achievements of others being recognised. Do that in the knowledge of your influence on their capability. You can no longer lift the trophy. That’s for them, yet you make it possible for them to do so, and you will always stand back, away from the limelight.
This requires you to be humble, never to brag, and to be a rock for the people you care about. Always there, always supportive, always guiding – never judging. In all my years of work, nobody I have seen has seamlessly made this change. Everyone falters at the boundary; they doubt their right to step up. If your ‘imposter gremlin’ is screaming at you that you are not worthy, not capable, and not ready, and yet in the quiet moments you know, for sure, that you are, then take the step. You can’t complete the journey to Mastery without the skills, nor without the experience; they are necessary but not sufficient.
Actions on the Journey to Mastery
Watching my clients I can see some common factors. A willingness to find stillness, through meditation or other forms of relaxation is powerful. A determination to think deeply, perhaps with a Thinking Partner, has much to recommend it. This transition is about your character, who you really are. Unless you know yourself, you will not become a Master of your art, however hard you strive. In getting to know yourself, you will have to change. I can assure you that the changes you make, however subtle, will make you wish you had done so years ago.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” — James Baldwin.
A Thinking Partner is someone who works with you using the ‘Thinking Environment’, based on the work of Nancy Kline. In this time you are guaranteed the space to allow your thoughts their full expanse. It is extraordinary what can happen when you are honoured by the gift of appreciative attention, without interruption. It is in these times that I have faced the things that needed to change and unlocked the subtleties and nuances of my work. You will too.
The value of Mastery is subtle, not overt.
It’s as much about humility, confidence and character, as it is about skills and experience.
Responsibilities and Rewards
As we journey to Mastery we are faced with many responsibilities and reap many rewards. When we are Explorers and Novices we look to the Practitioners and Experts to help us. Practitioners are often also great teachers but their relative inexperience means they can only charge basic rates, if they can charge at all, for their support. Experts tend to work with those who are Practitioners, lifting their skills, and they charge a premium rate for that work. The Masters, though, are revered and spend their time working, generally, with those who already established Practitioners and Experts charging the highest rates.
I recall one of my mentors, an executive in one of the UK’s major banks, who was at the top of his game. He was recognised by the regulators, by government, and by peers as one of the foremost experts in his market. He was supported by someone whose Mastery of one small aspect of his skills made their fee of thousands of pounds an hour “worth every penny” to him.
Those who seek out a Master’s wisdom care about the value of the work.
The costs are almost irrelevant, because the value is so great, and fees always reflect that reality.
In a recent search for negotiation skills training, for example, I found a number of courses starting from $30/£20 online for about 30 hours of video-based training. I could find pretty much any price including a fee of $7,000 from the former FBI negotiation expert Chris Voss for just a few hours of work in a small group setting. Chris wasn’t training, he was critiquing; providing opportunities to role play, to test, to extend your existing skills. That’s a technique that Masters use to lift Expert performance.
For anyone starting out in negotiation Chris Voss’s course might help a bit, many of the subtleties, however, would be missed. For an already experienced negotiator, it will encourage them to work on their skills and give insights on where there were weaknesses. Yet, for an Expert negotiator, it would be transformative. This has appreciative learning at its heart, each critique gives voice to the wisdom that is unlocked by the tutor and exposed to the student.
If you are already an Expert at what you do, I hope you charge the appropriate fee for your level of expertise. Playing small, sharing Practitioner insights to help novices for the few pounds they can afford, keeps you small. Playing small will hold you back from becoming the Master you want to be. All too often I see businesses failing to reach their potential because they undersell their skills. Even in difficult times don’t let that be you.
Stay Fresh, Stay Connected
All of this said, Masters of their art are not divorced from their art, they still do the work as well. Without that connection to their roots much would wither quickly on the vine. Mastery is not a fixed state, but a dynamic one.
“The world alters as we walk in it” – Robert Oppenheimer
For the Masters of their art understanding how the world is altering as others in their market and elsewhere walk in it is important.
You still have to do.
Be the best Practitioner you can be, on your own terms, in order to lead, to support and to stay fresh
One of the great underlying skills of Masters is an ability to see what will happen in a different context. This ability to accurately assess how, often small and nuanced, differences, will change the outcome of a set of actions is a superpower. In my work I’ve seen businesses rush to emulate a success they see elsewhere in their market, only for it to come up short when they do it. There are always differences, but can you tell which ones matter, and which can be ignored? Masters can.
Time to Inspect
Another of my past mentors said, “You do not get what you expect, you get what you inspect!” This was a Master who understood that you have to keep your hand in the market in which you work. You have to keep watching, because it is changing. Every day. One of the best ways to watch is to do. You do that, don’t you?
Only a few have this commitment, not just to become Experts but to go on to Mastery, to elevate others in their market, and their market itself. This isn’t because only a few can be chosen. It’s because only a few will choose to make that journey their life’s work. If this is the thing that truly matters to you; your magnum opus, then let’s speak.
‘Model Four: The Nature of Appreciative Learning | The Professional School of Psychology’. https://psychology.edu/about/four-models-of-adult-education/model-four-the-nature-of-appreciative-learning/.
‘More Time to Think: The Power of Independent Thinking: Amazon.Co.Uk: Kline, Nancy: 9781844037964: Books’. https://www.amazon.co.uk/More-Time-Think-independent-thinking/dp/1844037967/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=More+Time+To+Think&qid=1596468219&sr=8-1.
Image by: William Buist © 2020