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The Importance of Mastery

This topic came to mind after several discussions with business associates and Zurina’s description of the inspiration for chitchatonline.

She had told me about how she wanted young adults seeking direction on what professions they should enter to have access to professionals who had built a career in that particular field.

It resonated with me as it brought me back to my university days where when asked what I would like to be and I had responded, “I want to be CFO”. This being Silicon Valley, the career services staff member assigned to me promptly scheduled an interview for me with the CFO of a tech company. The interview probably lasted 2 hours but I will always remember it as the longest, toughest interview of my life. It was also one of the most important learning experiences that I have had. The gentleman in question went through my then skimpy CV and dissected it along with my motives for choosing a career in finance, my life goals and my personal vision. He then coached me on how to bring all of these pieces together congruently and to present them in a way that would help me to achieve my goals in an effective and meaningful way. I remember that though, I knew that I had received an important experience at the time, I only realized the full impact of that interview 15 years later when I was interviewing a CFO to see if that person was fit for the role.

I wish to share with you why mastery of a particular skill whether it is financial management (as was the case with me), photography, baking, painting, writing, whether it is your profession, a hobby that you’re passionate about or both is critical.


The first is that it validates a person and provides a foundation for their self-esteem.

Mastery helps them acknowledge that they are good at something. It could be a skill that they enjoy or one that they are quite blasé about simply because it is second nature to them. However, it is a “sphere of competence” or a safe space where they feel that they have control over the results of their efforts in an increasingly uncertain world. This safe space provides a person with a place from which they can better manage the other aspects of their lives such as jobs, relationships and major decisions by helping them realize that if they are good at one thing, they could be good or reasonably good at others. Therefore, they should and could take the time to think about what to focus on and what being good at that means.

The stability and reinforcement of self-esteem that mastery provides enables one to better cope with life’s challenges and be more receptive to a growth mindset.

It is also a requirement for mental and emotional maturity. People who don’t feel that they have achieved mastery over their lives or certain aspects of their lives often feel like impostors. They are commonly dissatisfied overall, regardless of how much success they have achieved outwardly.

The second reason is that mastery of a skill shows that one is able to create or provide tangible value to society.

Such a person cannot be considered “useless” unless they choose to be by not sharing the results of their mastery or by not helping others achieve mastery in the same area. Occasionally, such individuals just need guidance in translating their mastery in a certain area into commercial or business success such as when artists work with agents or gallery owners to promote and sell their work.


The third reason is that achieving mastery in a particular field is now perhaps more critical than ever as a path to self-discovery.

Our lives today are a kaleidoscope of distractions vying for our attention as we juggle emails, video calls, webinars, social media posts and texts on multiple platforms across time zones. Setting aside time for oneself doesn’t mean that you are able to focus on yourself and screen out the daily distractions. Having a skill or hobby to master can help a person build up the ability to focus completely on a single task and doing it well. This filters out the static and can provide surprising clarity in other areas. You may have experienced this by coming up with an elegant and effective idea while in the shower. For me, it happens when I’m on long uninterrupted drives on a freeway or while jogging on a treadmill. It could perhaps even be compared with a meditative state.


The fourth reason is that it creates resilience which further bolsters self-esteem.

Achieving mastery in a certain area even when one has natural talent for it usually still requires sustained effort, practice and sacrifice. Time and perseverance is needed to hone one’s craft by trying different approaches and techniques to push the limits of what has already been achieved to break new ground and raise existing standards. In other words one learns to “give a sh*t” and that if feels rewarding.


Conclusion

Collectively, taking all the reasons mentioned and there are more, achieving mastery can lead to a benevolent cycle where with some guidance one can build and grow self-esteem by creating value for others. This creates a safe-space from which to manage and think through the daily challenges of life while enabling one to process all of this on the ongoing path of self-discovery.


Kannan Ramakrishnan

Business Consultant


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