For most of my life I felt like I was a “Jill of all trades, master of none.” I have a very diverse background, with connections to many walks of life, and a variety of abilities, experiences and life trials. I used to feel frustrated by this, feeling that there was nothing that I was really great at. I envied those who seemed to be so clear about what they wanted to do in their life. I marveled at those who found a skill that was so obviously their special gift, and then could set out to share it.
I spent many years trying many things. Most anything I tried that I had interest in, I did well with. Even while doing well, I always felt unfulfilled, though I loved the learning and experiencing. Did you know that I ranked number two in my flight of 25 (mostly male) cadets at Air Force Officer Training boot camp?
Betchya didn’t know that about me, did ya? ;-)
It’s not something I readily admit, as it feels so misaligned with my life right now, but it was certainly something that brought me tremendous growth and experience.
When I discovered coaching, things began to change. Coaching became an umbrella under which all of my unique history could be held, and become an offer to share with others. I noticed that with my diverse background and experience, I could relate to so many people, and have great compassion and empathy for where they are in their own journey. I could see a bigger perspective, and be a catalyst for transformation and movement.
I was no longer a “master of none.” I was becoming a “master of life.”
But here’s the thing. I’ve come to realize that there simply is no such thing as mastery.
What!?!? All those years wanting to be a master of something, only to find there is no such thing as mastery?
I know you masters out there might disagree with me. After all, how can we argue that the top olympic athlete isn’t a master of his or her sport? Is the teacher-of-the-year award recipient not a master teacher? What about the virtuoso musician? Is he or she not masterful? Who could argue that the mother who raised ten successful and healthy children isn’t a master parent?
I have come to see mastery a bit differently from “being the best” or “being successful” by today’s standards. To master something, by definition, is to “acquire complete knowledge.” To know something is to “perceive or understand as fact or truth.”
Here is where the mystery of mastery comes in. Living in a time in which our own science continues to discover how incomplete or untrue or nonfactual our perceptions and understandings have been over the centuries, how can we possibly believe we know anything as fact or truth? Mustn’t we always leave room for other perspectives, other truths, other ideas?
After all, that olympic gold medal winner’s records have all been broken or will be soon. The virtuoso musician may not know much about a new style or expression of music, or the latest techniques on their instrument. The teacher may have been great in their day, but have no concept of the new technologies or needs of the future children. And that masterful mother of yesterday isn’t raising children in today’s crazy world.
It is the nature of life that things grow and change and evolve.
I have come to see mastery as a journey, not a destination. I see it as a process or unfolding or becoming. We are not here to be masters. We are here to enter into mastery. Our souls long to evolve. We are here to grow and learn, and experience life. How can we do that if we keep thinking we know? Moreover, how can we grow and evolve if we ever come to believe we are a master?
Mastery does have a very special purpose. With the longing for mastery comes striving. With striving, we continue to grow and evolve. In this sense, the longing for mastery supports us. However, mastery has its shadow side, of which I would like to share four specific aspects.
The most obvious shadow is when we believe we are a master, and close the door to knowing differently. This is epidemic in our culture, with school curriculums teaching only parts of history as “the truth,” or religious gurus believing they have “the truth,” or political figures promoting “the answer.” The moment we perceive or understand something as truth or fact is the moment we close the door to possibility.
Another shadow of mastery is the idea that we need to “trust the masters.” We give up our own intuitive power, believing that we must follow the master because they “know.” We lose connection to our own inner wisdom, sacrificing our own inner guidance to the guidance of various authors, teachers or so called experts.
A third shadow around mastery is the perfectionism that is often associated with its striving. We spend too much time trying to master something, never believing we have enough understanding to move forward or share our gifts. We try so hard to “do it right” that we forget to enjoy the process. Or, we find ourselves so confined to the “rules” that we lose site of the creative possibilities outside of those rules.
A final shadow I would like to share around mastery is that we aren’t always paying attention to the consequences of our striving in the interest of being masterful. We might strive to be the perfect mother, only to find that we have striven right into a life of inauthenticity and despair. We might strive to find the perfect career to allow us to live a certain lifestyle, only to find ourselves unfulfilled and lacking in joy. We might strive to master energy, splitting atoms to discover the power behind them, only to find that we can annihilate entire populations. We might even strive to control Nature and become masters over Her, only to find that we have lost connection to life.
The magic is in the striving. The journey itself is where the beauty lies, and in our willingness to walk it, experience it, accept it, embrace it, forgive it, enjoy it, love it, and, most of all, bring wisdom to it.
What if today, you are enough? What if today, your wise striving is perfect? What if today, the process of becoming is enough? What if the only mastery you really keep seeking is that of your self, and let that be enough?
We might never reach so called mastery, and “completely know” anything, but may we all enjoy the journey of becoming!