I’ve recently written quite a bit about the path of mastery, or a journey of personal growth and development that knows no end and is worthwhile in and of itself. This has included posts on some of the core principles underlying mastery, the importance of doing the work itself (and the trappings of being promoted above doing the work), practicing self-compassion as a guide-rail along the path, and aligning how you spend your time and energy with your innermost self. I not only counsel my executive coaching clients on applying these topics, but I’ve been working on applying them in my own life too. It can be really hard.
So much of the current ethos runs contrary to mastery. The culture pushes us to chase status and instant gratification; to eliminate hard work or challenging emotions immediately; and to consume our way out of discomfort. If you grew up in this culture then you’ve probably got lots of very strong conditioning and habit energy toward these patterns. I know I do.
The goal shouldn’t be to completely rid yourself of these leanings. It’s okay to want to achieve. It’s okay to feel good about purchasing a new pair of nice jeans. It’s okay to cap an especially taxing day with a beer and pizza. The key is to keep these things in check; understand they’ll never bring lasting fulfillment (that’s an inside job); and pay close attention to when your letting yourself get blown around by these less-nourishing whims more often than you’d like to be. My meditation teacher Judson Brewer says you could boil entire presentations on mastery down to two words: “pay attention.”
And yet, despite all your (and my) best efforts, every once in a while the practice of mastery will regress, sometimes even severely. That’s fine. It’s just the way it goes. There’s a beautiful quote from an unknown Japanese Zen teacher that I keep in mind all the time, and if you’re into reading my stuff (i.e., your into mastery), I suggest you keep in mind too.
“The way practice works is that we build up our practice, and then it falls apart. And then we build it up again, and it falls apart again. This is the way it goes.”
As long as you keep working to build it up again—and not being too harsh on yourself when it falls apart—then you’re exactly where you need to be on the path of mastery.