The Great Offense of Mastery

The need to develop mastery is buried deep within the human spirit.  It creeps up in our myths, movies, songs, and dreams.  Even though we often can not express why, we feel something intensely satisfying about the idea of ‘leveling up’ – progressing through stages from Padawan to Jedi Master.

It’s what I like about Pat’s approach:  this blog is about becoming a better person.  It’s about solving specific problems by combining expertise across diverse fields.  It’s about achieving mastery, a dying art in a modern world that celebrates shallow engagement.

In many ways, “expert” has become a dirty word.  Technology, globalization, and W.E.I.R.D (Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic) culture have all worked to flatten the distinction between expert opinion and common knowledge:

  • The internet has lowered the bar of entry for the global conversation on complex issues (issues most of the people arguing don’t understand).
  • The rapid growth of the world’s population and the expanding horizons of the STEM fields forces some academics to become increasingly specialized in order to stand out, the lay person getting farther and farther from understanding as the ivory tower gets taller and taller.
  • Ideas of egalitarianism that simmered during the early Enlightenment exploded into public life during the American and French Revolutions and spread like a virus, adapting to each new intellectual trend: Romanticism, Marxism, Postmodernism, and their modern counterparts.  If everyone is ‘equal,’ people who are kinder, more charismatic, wealthier, or more skilled are viewed with either awe or skepticism.

These thoughts are so deeply embedded into the fabric of our lives that  we rarely notice them.  When an elite basketball player sets an NBA record, commentators talk about how he was “born with a jump shot.”  When a skilled woman (or man) gets a coveted position before people with seniority, the grumbling inevitably begins: “Who did they f*ck (or f*ck over) to get that job?”  During a recent exchange, someone tossed in this particular gem:

“Well you have evidence, I have evidence.  Who’s to say mine or yours is more accurate?  Study bias is rampant online.”

Most incredibly, no one else on his side of the argument seemed to see a problem with this! 

On a practical level, anyone who is willing to do deep work, to dig into a task until they are unmistakably, undeniably better at it than their peers, should be encouraged.  The global challenges of today will be solved by the hard work of master craftsmen, thinkers, and communicators – not by retweets and hashtag activism.

On a personal level, though, are you content being another ‘Like’ on the Facebook wall of someone else’s life?  The things that require discipline and self-control, the ones that develop mastery, are the ones that bring us the most satisfaction and last the longest.  That may mean different things to different people:  crafting a masterful work of music, closing all the loopholes in a legal document, really listening to your kids or spouse when they come to you with a problem (against every instinct to run away or just-fix-it-now).

Whatever it is – GO FOR IT.  Grind through the challenges and ‘level up’ in life until you can only faintly remember the old you.  Most importantly, encourage others to do the same.  Do not be the one who tells others they’re doomed to fail in order to feel better about your own struggles – be a Renaissance Nerd.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s