A mastery path has its own inherent value. To speak only of the literal; it is the most straightforward way to be a leader in a field or to create something of superior quality. It will maximise the total time spent in flow state throughout your life. To speak more intuitively, however, we all sense that it involves a subtle deepening of one’s character, a shift in one’s core identity.
In the human experience, mastering a skillset offers unique challenges and benefits. I tend to see it like a game that all humans (and perhaps other animals too) can play. It has a private but also a public component. It’s an important thread in the art of living.
Part of the reason that it’s so valuable is that it exercises various character strengths as well as the skillset itself. It presents an opportunity for “self-mastery”, presenting a unique opportunity to become something bigger and stronger inside. Something more actualised and simultaneously more wise and grounded. Certainly more confident and apt to be a leader.
To my great anguish, I’ve always been a jack of all trades yet a master of none. Often telling people that I’m more of a “generalist”. Don’t misunderstand me: there is value in being a generalist, especially for a writer. There are serious drawbacks to only ever being a generalist in life though.
I’d like to share a little story about the career path I’m currently on since it pertains to the mastery path and I feel that it will be instructive.
I’ve been working with Salesforce for almost exactly 1 year. It pays the bills and I’m even self-employed which is cool. I’m just starting to get to a point of adeptness. Recently though, for a few weeks, I had this feeling in my gut. I just wanted to change to something else. I wanted to be a programmer instead for various reasons.
Salesforce seemed boring and trivial, made-up, arbitrary. Not worthy of my intellectual energy. I felt useless at work and unmotivated. Not built for it. I very nearly gave up, and probably would have if I didn’t need to pay the bills.
What I have since realised though is that this was a plateau (the longest plateau I’ve ever seen mind you). In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield defines something called “resistance”. Resistance is a self-defeating, emotional hindrance to stop you doing what will lift you higher. My depressed phase turned out to be resistance: because I’ve come bursting out the other side, leaving it all behind. Importantly, I am once again excited about working with Salesforce and continuing to improve. I feel more competent than ever (which is what makes it a plateau).
If I had followed those instincts to change because I was getting bored with something I was good at, then I would have lost out on a crucial opportunity. I’ve found the single most rewarding thing has been a sense of deepening of character and self-efficacy. There’s a deep and abiding sense of satisfaction that wasn’t there before, and it’s as if nothing could ever take it away. All this by simply continuing to work and riding out that plateau.
There may come a time where you feel like giving up on your path, for whatever reason. I don’t deny that sometimes changing course is the best course of action. I’m a huge advocate of, in the long run, spending your time doing what you enjoy most. As well as maximising happiness, this is in large part because you’re more likely to stay with it and ultimately reap the benefits of reaching a high level of proficiency. I just want you to understand from my story that there is inherent value in riding out a plateau, regardless of the skillset.