Picasso is sitting in the park, sketching. A woman walks by, recognizes him, runs up to him and pleads with him to draw her portrait. He’s in a good mood, so he agrees and starts sketching. A few minutes later, he hands her the portrait. The lady is ecstatic, she gushes about how wonderfully it captures the very essence of her character, what beautiful, beautiful work it is, and asks how much she owes him.
“$5,000, madam,” says Picasso. The lady is taken aback, outraged, and asks how that’s even possible given it only took him 5 minutes. Picasso looks up and, without missing a beat, says: “No, madam, it took me my whole life.”
love this story for so many reasons. It touches on ideas of genius, time, perception, but most importantly on mastery. Picasso was a master at his craft, which meant it took him 5 minutes to create a work of art. The problem is, our perception of mastery has become distorted over the years. We’re constantly in search of hacks and shortcuts to get their faster. To skip the hard work and practice needed to be great. We tend to overlook the struggles associated with achieving it.
Unfortunately, achieving mastery is anything but easy and these are the hard truths for anyone striving to become exceptional at any skill.
1. Mastering a skill is frustrating
First and foremost, striving for mastery is down right frustrating. You know what you want to achieve, you can visualize it in your mind, but you have no clue how to make it manifest. You fail and you fail and you fail. Ira Glass probably put it best:
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
There will be times when you have a moment of genius and do something perfectly, only to completely fail on your next attempt. I’ve realized that’s just how the cookie crumbles. There will be ups and downs. Most importantly, we need to realize that mastery grows from a love/hate relationship.
2. Mastering a skill isn’t something you can hack
We’re obsessed with hacks and shortcuts and finding ways to cut corners nowadays. We try to apply the Pareto Principle (aka 80/20 rule) to everything and think that will save us time and get us there faster. The truth is, such tricks only get you so far.
Mastery follows a linear path. There are no shortcuts to greatness.
Don’t get me wrong. I love applying the 80/20 rule and it absolutely allows you to learn quickly and be more prudent with your time, but it’s not going to lead you to mastery. Learning and mastering are very different things. I can quickly learn how to play some chords on a guitar, but to compose a song off the top of my head is another story. It takes a deeper understanding to create at that level, which is exactly why mastery is sought after.
3. Mastering a skill takes time
You’re going to suck in the beginning. Actually in the middle too. And a little bit at the end. But if you keep at it, you’ll get there. Struggle, hard work, sweat, and tears are the only paths to mastery.
If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.Michelangelo
It’s not easy. We all wish we could master something or think we could easily, but the fact is, it takes time and its really damn hard. I hope that doesn’t discourage you, because if you can achieve it, everything changes.
Achieving mastery is like a light finally turning on and suddenly you can see or like when Neo finally becomes The One in the Matrix.
All of sudden, you’ll be able to look at any problem in your realm and understand how to solve it. Those things you imagined in your mind, you will actually be able to create. All the pieces suddenly fit together.
And this is why we should strive for mastery. Picking up bits of pieces of a skill is a great practice and I love doing it, but master is something else all together. It is the ultimate form of expression.
In the end, understand that mastery is no easy thing. Those that achieve it should be appreciated and those that strive for it should know it’s a long and arduous journey, but the end game is well worth it.
Image via flickr