Eric Karjaluoto

Achieving Mastery

I feel uncomfortable using the word “mastery,” as it might carry egotistical overtones. Nevertheless, I’m trying to get more used to the idea, as I believe it to be important. In my last post, I wrote about focus. With sufficient focus, one can achieve mastery, even though doing so might take a lifetime.

Mastery is an unfamiliar notion in our culture. Perhaps this is just the nature of a technologically-driven setting. Pop culture is infatuated with youth and “the new thing.” A piece of technology is considered “old” after just a year. Meanwhile, we’re obsessed with speed, trying to do more of everything, faster than before. I appreciate what these desires can lead us to; I also fear they can have less positive consequences.

Perhaps the greatest of these is impatience. We all seem to believe that we should have what we want, right bloody now—without really understanding the consequences. So, we choose lofty job titles and seek adulation, when we should instead be practicing. Upon gaining certain accolades, you can only appear foolish when you make mistakes. This constipates the young “expert” who needs to maintain an illusion above all else. On the other hand, the novice can stumble, gain understanding, and recalibrate in order to advance their craft.

Lately, I’ve been examining people you might consider masters: those who haven’t just achieved a single success, but instead have established a body of work that can’t be dismissed. I’ve noticed that their pursuits are universally slow and methodical. These people seem to be dogmatically focused but rarely feel as though they’ve arrived. They appear to take pleasure in the simple act of practicing their craft—far more than in any associated accolades they’ve received.

We don’t talk about mastery much—perhaps because the notion seems like hyperbole or self-congratulation. That said, the opposite is the case. Those who achieve it don’t do so for ego—such shallow desires wouldn’t hold up to the commitment required to achieve mastery. Instead, this command is a byproduct of dedication to craft, deliberate practice, and a desire to create excellence greater than oneself. Such aspirations require patience, humility, and a genuine affinity for the tasks that fill one’s day.

I don’t know the path to happiness, but I recognize some actions that are antithetical to it. These include greed, jealousy, and vanity—common tendencies amongst many of us. These are weaknesses we’re culturally programmed to see as acceptable, but are a dead-end. When I’m thinking about other things I could do, or obsessed with what others are doing, I am at my least happy. Alternately, I find that I’m most at peace when simply working to make something good.

I spent the first 20 years of my career trying to look like an expert. I intend to spend the next 20 quietly practicing my craft, and mastering it as best as I can.

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