Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Path to Mastery

In his his book "Mastery: The keys to Success and Long Term Fullfilment" George Leonard makes a compelling argument for how we acquire and eventually master any given skill.

I have found his insight has a direct correlation to my own experience with photography. Take a look at the graph below:

Leonard argues that the path of mastery is not linear or as smooth a sloping process as one might think.

If you take a look at the above graph you'll notice that the path to mastery is full of exponential growth, slow downs and flat out plateaus. 

Its human nature to become addicted to the exponential growth part of the learning, we're just progress orientated creatures. I remember some of these phases of my life as rapid acceleration of skill where I was pumping out beautiful photo after beautiful photo, adapting new lighting techniques faster than my school could teach them. Later there were phases where the phone wouldn't stop ringing, client after client calling as if the universe had opened a wormhole of abundance into my career and life.

...and then there were the plateaus; boredom, doubt, getting tired of the same one light setups, thinking if I had to shoot one more headshot portfolio I would die. Seeing other successful photographers do work that I wanted to be doing but having no idea how to get there...and of course the droughts that had me wondering how I was going to pay next months rent.

What I didn't realize at the time was that the plateaus are actually a germination period for the next quantum leap. In every one of those 'boring' headshot shoots was a burgeoning seed of my next 'a-ha' moment. 

The plateaus are pure potentiality, the exciting growth we experience is the manifestation of that potential. 

To preserve your sanity, inspiration and faith during the 'plateau' times takes Herculean effort, simply because around this time everything will start to conspire to create doubt around your passion. This is simply the way the universe tests us and it is the reason why there are far few masters than there are hacks. The truth is simple: Most people will give up.

Take another look at the Mastery curve and know that you are on it somewhere; whether you're a photographer, parent, writer or astrophysicist. Some parts are fun, some are not but whatever your position, know that mastery of your craft is not a destination but a commitment to a life long learning process. 

Commit to Mastery.


VIneet Modi said...

Thanks for the great post Martin! Good to hear about the newborn and happy to know things are coming your way in India. I'm sure things haven't been always glossy and it must have been a bumpy ride and everyday still continues to be a challenge to create something new and extraordinary. But if you have good Karma and are dedicated to achieve your bigger goals in life, the small bumps don't really matter. You have somewhat proved it in practice.

I had a great time meeting you in Mumbai, been working hard to build my portfolio ever since. Things are not as easy like you said, but this is the time to get it all together, work hard and push the boundaries. As Churchill once said "Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm." True for anyone in any industry.

James Wm. Dawson said...

"This is simply the way the universe tests us and it is the reason why there are far few masters than there are hacks. The truth is simple: Most people will give up."

No truer words have been spoken... or written. I enjoyed reading your blog entry tremendously Martin.


J said...

excellent post. as someone to whom many things come easily, it can get frustrating when i find increases in success leveling off. it's easy to give up and find a new hobby where the learning proceeds exponentially. it's harder to find the motivation to push through.