This newsletter features weekly musings about life, career, identity, and behaviour by a questioning African centennial. To get it in your inbox every week, subscribe here ⬇️
Since publishing last week’s piece, I’ve gotten messages from a few readers asking for more of my old pieces because they seem to be just as relevant today.
I wanted to publish this particular one next week, but since I’m still yet to finish the new piece I’m working on, I decided to publish it this week.
This particular piece went viral on Medium when I published it in 2017. The traction it got at that time made Medium’s editors tag me as a Top Writer in two categories. I still don’t know why it went viral because the writing wasn’t Pulitzer-worthy and the ideas weren’t as properly cooked as I’d have liked.
Regardless, people seemed to resonate with it. If by the end of this piece, something resonates with you, please leave a comment to share your thoughts ❤️
: A lot of my opinions have changed since I wrote this piece, so you may find some here that contradict opinions I’ve shared in this newsletter. Just take a mental note.
The Road to Mastery
May 26, 2017
Hold up! Before you begin to make any assumptions, let me set the records straight. I am no motivational guru, or someone who has it all figured out, or even someone who’s at mastery level at any skill (yet). I am just like you, trying to make sense of life by continuous questioning of popular structures through deep self-reflection.
From one of my reflections, which focused on trying to answer the question: “How can one attain mastery in one’s craft?”, I made two interesting discoveries. Firstly, the concept of mastery has been misunderstood by its frequent juxtaposition with perfection. However:
Mastery is the level of expertise we get to in a particular craft, fueled by an accumulated wealth of specialised knowledge, that allows us the flexibility to reinvent and innovate.
Mastery of any craft cannot be attained by simply desiring. It is only attained by a deliberate commitment to restless excellence in one’s craft.
The second discovery I made was that anyone can attain mastery; it all depends on the strength of six factors. For one to attain mastery, making one’s life magical in the process, the following six factors (which I termed the “6 Potions”) must be present and constantly developed.
The 6 Potions
“A noble purpose inspires sacrifice, stimulates innovation and encourages perseverance.” — Gary Hamel
Mastery eludes those who are not clear on their ‘why’. This is because its attainment is an arduous process that causes those without enough motivation to stop only halfway. In my case, when I made the conscious decision to journey towards mastery in writing, my ‘why’ was (and is) to learn more about myself as I reflect on and share my thoughts with others coherently through words. So mastering the skill of writing is not to necessarily become the next Arianna Huffington, nah bruh! It’s to serve as a medium of expression of some of the things I have experienced, learnt along the way, or simply just found interesting to share.
“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” — Oprah Winfrey
The road to mastery is one that is laden with thorns, bumps, potholes, and boobytraps. It is anything but a smooth sail. I realize this every day as I constantly work towards developing my writing. I discovered that passion (in other words, love for your craft), is fundamental in attaining mastery because it would keep you going even when things get rough. If you don’t love what you do, you’d only end up burning yourself out physically and emotionally. Committing yourself to mastery in a craft you are passionate about allows you to enter the first gate in the temple of fulfilment. It may be impossible to get started doing what you love. However, do what you must until you can afford to do what you love.
“If you can’t fly then run; if you can’t run then walk; if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
Let’s face it; everyone starts off being the shit! Nobody ever starts doing something and is immediately great at it (the narcissistic and indefinitely optimistic folks may disagree). Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers”, mentions that it takes 10,000 hours of practice for one to gain full mastery of his or her craft. This theory was also mentioned again by Robert Greene in his book ‘Mastery’. While there are lots of evidence to back the 10,000-hour claim, I don’t think it’s fixed. It may take you less than that. It should take you less time if you’re clear on your purpose and you have a burning passion. It’s also easy to fall under the weight of self-doubt, but believe in your abilities and keep on practising. Take that extra online course, attend that seminar, participate in that workshop, take up that freelance opportunity, intern, whatever. Just keep practising.
“When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.” — Howard Schultz
It’s easy to say that we can get to where we want to get to on our own, but in reality, that’s a lie. We need people who share our vision. In the pursuit of mastery, you will fail and fall hard. This is why you need people around who can pick you up. People who will teach you and share their knowledge with you. People who will constructively criticise you. People who support and defend you even in your absence. These people will strengthen you emotionally and professionally as you pursue mastery. Carefully select these people. They have the potential to take you a step further towards mastery, or a couple of steps away from it.
“In this world, one thing you should definitely strive for is originality. Just be who you are, and be your own person. That’s what will make you stand out.” — Nolan Gould
This always ends up being one of the most difficult for most people. We spend our lives trying to imitate other people; consciously or subconsciously. But what we fail to realize is that uniqueness and originality are the main things that set people apart and separate the wheat from the tares. As you pursue mastery in your craft, remember to not only be yourself but also put pieces of yourself into your work. Masters like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Confucius would never be forgotten. Why? They not only became masters at their craft, but they put a unique touch of themselves into their work. That’s why we keep mentioning their names. If you have a mentor, don’t seek to become a copy of your mentor. Simply learn from them. Once you’re done, move on. Make the craft yours. Be flexible with it. Innovate!
“There’s too much of materialism in the world today, and materialism is the direct opposite of spirituality.” — Abdullah Rabea
In your pursuit of mastery, submit yourself to the spiritual. You cannot achieve full mastery of your craft until you experience a spiritual awakening. You may think you have attained mastery, but without this awakening, you would never actually unleash your potential to the fullest. The spiritual controls the physical. You must have heard that a lot. It is real. Your spirit must be alive in you as you create your masterpieces. Whatever you create in your awakened spirit will always manifest in the physical. Just to clarify, spirituality and religion are two very different things. People pursue religion in order to enrich their spirit (I’d save the conversation on how flawed the system is for another post). But there’s the other path of direct awakening: personal communion with God, Allah, Krishna, Ja, Chukwu, Olorun, etc. Building that personal relationship with the Divine is food for the spirit. Mastery can be attained without spirituality, but can never be sustained without it.
Fusing these 6 Potions (P’s), you should be setting yourself up for mastery very nicely. I tried to arrange them in sequence, but I couldn’t eliminate my subjectivity. So do what works best for you—in the end, that’s what counts.
See you next week!
- Arinze ❤️
I’ll resume Ask Arinze next week. Submit your questions below ⬇️