Mastery is Staying on the Path

Some thoughts on how to master whatever it is we choose to do.


Sitting at my desk today, taking a break from everything I was doing, I picked up my copy of Mastery, by George Leonard.  For those who don’t know it, Mastery is a short, deceptively simple book that is about what its title says: “the keys to success and long-term fulfillment.”

A grandiose claim, no doubt.

Still, it’s all in there.

As I thumbed through the little book, it fell open to the section on Practice.  Leonard identifies Practice as one of the “Five Master Keys.”

Practice, he says, is not just something you do (a verb).  For the master, it is also something you have, something you are (a noun).

I have a team development practice.  A doctor has a medical practice.  My web master has a marketing and design practice.

The interesting implication of this wordplay is its impact on how we think about outcomes.

If practice is something we do, we tend to think of that as a means to an end.  A way to reach a goal.  “I practice my guitar so I can get to Carnegie Hall.”

If, on the other hand, we have a practice in something, then that something tends to be an end to itself.  A way to keep learning.  A journey.  “I am committed to my horticultural practice.”

In our goal-obsessed culture, it feels a bit awkward and foolish to talk about a journey that isn’t focused entirely on winning and accomplishment.

Still, those people (or teams or organizations) we know as masters in their fields don’t devote themselves to what they do only to get better at it.  In truth, they love to practice, they love to be in their practice.  And the irony is that because of this they do get better.

What are you practicing?  What is your practice?  In what are you seeking mastery?