We have a love affair with specialization. We place a premium on those who’ve honed their skills and expertise to a such a fine degree that they show themselves to be extraordinary. The pursuit of excellence, whether in art, science, business, or athletics, has fostered a showmanship of the extraordinary. We love to watch the masters perform their craft. Even a golf tournament is named after them.
But what if your mastery is a mystery? What if you don’t know what you’re good at yet?
My previous post explored those questions and suggested that, in our longing for personal mastery, we may be asking the wrong question. We may be so fixated on the excellence we see in others, that we miss the signs of it in ourselves.
It’s easy to spot a master. They’ve taken a skill or expertise and made it extraordinary; a stand-out from the rest. Cirque du Soleil performances sell out because of them. Mayo Clinic attracts people around the world seeking care because of them. These are conventional masters and it’s easy to spot this kind of mastery.
But there’s another kind of mastery that often goes unnoticed. And for those possessing it, often goes unappreciated. Unlike what we commonly think of as mastery, this is an unconventional, horizontal mastery: the ability to apply a skill deftly in a wide variety of applications.
Those of us possessing an inclination for horizontal mastery, with a variety of interests and pursuits, often look longingly at a vertical master and wonder what’s wrong with us. Why can’t we be more like them?
Well, we shouldn’t be like them. That doesn’t mean that we can’t become masters, though. The world needs horizontal masters as much as it does vertical, even if they don’t garner the same attention. Researching, starting projects, optimizing outcomes, asking great questions; each of these are skills that, when honed across a variety of domains, create horizontal mastery. In fact, this kind of mastery is only achieved by a broad base of experience.
Discovering your area of potential mastery, whether vertical or horizontal, can be challenging. When you’re perplexed by the “What am I good at?” question, keep in mind the following:
Mastery provokes discovery. Mastery of anything is simply an outward expression of what The Master Himself puts inside you. Don’t be distracted by the other players on the field. God didn’t put their mastery in you—at least in the same way. He’s trusting you with a unique combination. Reminding yourself that the gifts He planted within you are unlike anyone else’s can help you keep your eye on the ball.
Gratitude precedes discovery. In the movie, August Rush, musical prodigy Evan Taylor says, “The music is all around you. All you have to do is listen.” Change that up a little: “Opportunities are all around you. All you have to do is be thankful.” Gratitude is our natural response to the certainty that God desires the fullest expression of our gifts. I’m convinced that when we look longingly at others on the field, wishing we were more like them, and perhaps resenting our own situation, we don’t see the opportunities when they are pitched at us. Gratitude sharpens our vision of the gifts we are to master.
Experimentation promotes discovery. Seizing opportunities to exercise our gifts is the only way to be certain of their presence. Approaching opportunities as a rational experiment involves three disciplines: design, measurement, and adjustment. When evaluating an opportunity, be it a new job or a project, ask yourself what that opportunity might teach you about yourself. What are you trying to test? And for how long? Think about how you design the experiment. Next, be sure to record the results. The best way I know to do that is to keep a journal. All good scientists do. Finally, make the necessary adjustments. What things need to shift in your life to accommodate new interests? And once it’s made, how did that shift affect you?
Perseverance promises discovery. The singular quality of any master is continued perseverance, despite failure and discouragement. This may appear contradictory to idea of experimentation. But it is much different. A rational experimenter avoids the insanity of repeating the same thing over and over expecting different results. That would be obstinance. Instead, they practice perseverance by continuing to design, measure and adjust, knowing that they will discover something, even if it may not be what they were looking for.
When your mastery is a mystery, the application of daily dollops of discovery will, in time, draw out the master within you.
What are some of areas of mastery you’ve discovered within yourself?