Why Mastery Matters To Your Career

If you want a long, fulfilling career, or a through-line of fulfilling careers, here's the best advice I have to offer:

Develop mastery in something.


Ancient history, photography, Italian cooking, fundraising, songwriting, CSS, fly fishing. The subject matter is not important. The mastery is.



When you commit to developing mastery in something, you commit to developing yourself.

Because of the energy and sheer time it takes to master something, if you stick with it that long, it will be something with which you deeply connect. So you'll be spending all that time in connection with something that's important to you. In this way, the pursuit of mastery changes who you are.



Mastery is challenging.

You have to rise above failure and mediocrity again and again. To do this, you'll not only develop skills, but also a method for handling failure.

Mastery is fun.

Being good at something feels good. Working in flow, making discoveries, rocking out at what you do. The co-existence of control and freedom that mastery gives you can't be found anywhere else.

Mastery is ongoing.

You're never done; there is always more to learn. What a relief! There are levels of excellence, but no definitive pinnacle. (Can you image if Meryl Streep had called it quits after her first Oscar win?)

Mastery is intimate.

It's about nuance, subtlety, and risk. It demands vulnerability. It breeds strength.



Mastery builds confidence. 

How would you roll out of bed and face the world if you knew, in your bones, that you were excellent at something? I'm not talking cocky and over sure, I'm talking a grounded confidence that would root you in many areas of your life.

People pay a premium for mastery.

There's nothing wrong with being a generalist, dabbler, or Renaissance soul. But it's true masters of their trade--the ones who elevate their craft so far beyond that which their peers are capable of--that make top dollar.

Plenty of people can do things well. It's the people who can do what no one else can do that soar.

Mastery is transferable.

Let's say you're the world's best concert pianist by age 15, and then your hands are crushed when an ACME anvil falls out the window on them. Your piano playing days are over.

But everything else you gained in all those years of practice? Still yours.

You still have your intimate knowledge of music, high standards, an off the charts work ethic, confidence from your past successes, a way of working, and (if you're weren't a jerk) the support and respect of your peers. You get to take all that with you moving forward as you find a new career.

Even if what you do changes, the gains you get from mastery transfer.



What do you think about mastery? Agree? Disagree?