Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Skills and Mastery

We craft our lives each day as we choose how to spend our time. I've mentioned that it is easy to fall into routines, where we are not very conscious of what we are doing. Where things come almost automatically. Sometimes, this can be a bad thing. But it can also have its benefits.

When something is automatic, it is generally because we are very, very good at it. We can literally do it without thinking because we have done it so many times. Not many of us spend much time considering how we brush our teeth, for example. Or how we drive the car, or walk down the street. These skills are automatic and we are well served by them. And for most of us, a basic level of competence in these skills is just fine. I'm not aware of any tooth brushing championships, and if there are any, I'm not planning on entering.

But there are other areas where it is very important to consciously practice something. Where the skill is so nuanced that it rewards continued, focused effort. Writing is one of these things. The performing arts. Sports. It is not that difficult to get to a level of basic competence, but continued improvement seems to require a kind of intentional practice that is difficult, yet rewarding in and of itself. And that focused practiced must happen day after day after day.

The practice of presence, of simply being in the moment, is also one of these skills.

The returns from years of practice become more and more nuanced. And yet just as there are differences between actors who have worked their entire lives and those who are just starting, we can see differences between those who are here and those who are not. Even if we can't describe what we are seeing, we know the master from the novice. And we can see the results of what will be a lifetime of effort.

Every skill has a learning curve. Our choices of which skills to master will govern the quality of our lives, even though that may not be apparent for many years.

The satisfaction comes from the process itself; with mastery, there is no destination. And it is never to late to start.


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