Slow Reader Friday: Mastery

Stack of books

Click here to see the July 2017 MIP Book Club Selection!

What? You don’t remember me announcing that my MIP Book Club choice was Mastery by George Leonard? Good. It means you have a life.

I chose it last summer…July to be precise. And then life happened to me and I had to let go of the blog this past year. So, better late than never, right? (Just nod your head and agree.)

Once again, Mastery is a book that I studied the first year I was in the HeartPaths Spiritual Direction training program. When I began reading it, I was little astonished that it was on the reading list. It’s not an overtly Christian book. 

And yet, there are a number of little jewels lurking in Mr. Leonard’s pages that one can apply to all of life. The book centers around the process of mastering anything we feel is important. It may not feel important to the next person, but it’s important to us.

For George Leonard that pursuit was aikido, a Japanese martial art. So much so that this book was preceded by The Way of Aikido. In the pursuit of mastering aikido, Leonard realized the principles and “learning curve” for it could be implied to anything one wanted to master in life.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway is Leonard’s description of the three ways we avoid mastery, which Leonard describes in person types:

  • The first is the Dabbler, which I am afraid to say, is me! The Dabbler is really enthusiastic about new things, hops from job to job, and then when forced with the long mastery process, tells everyone that “Maybe this isn’t for me.”


  • The second type is the Obsessive. Honestly? We worship the Obsessive in our culture, because they are focused on quick results…the bottom line. They buy books and tapes on how best to approach that chosen object of mastery and stay late to talk to the instructor. When faced, once again, with the long process of mastery, the Obsessive pushes even harder and tirelessly, even to the point of exhaustion, despite warning from those around them to do this in moderation. I’m pretty sure I live with several of these characters.


  • The last type is the Hacker. The Hacker is willing to live with “just good enough.” They’ll stay with something, but only if it doesn’t require too much change. Know a teacher who doesn’t actively attend meetings and professional development activities? A doctor who thinks they know every patient’s medical issues by just looking at them? A manager who really isn’t into conflict resolution or being at the top of the heap in production or sales? If so, you’ve probably met the Hacker!


To be completely honest, I have been all three. Most of us are probably a mix of these, depending on the situation. Why do we do this?

That nasty learning plateau.  Say what?

In just about everything we attempt to master, we make some initial progress pretty quickly, but to master something, we actually have to slog through practice after practice after practice for a long period of time before we get even the slightest bit better at mastering it.

If you think about the things you have mastered, you know there were a lot of practices where it felt like you were going backward instead of forward in terms of progress. No one likes that nasty plateau. But if we hang in there long enough, eventually we make another breakthrough and really begin to gain ground.

We should remember this for not only work and hobbies, but relationships, physical fitness, health, and finances. And when I talk about relationships, I include the one I have with the good Lord above. There have been many times when my prayers were not all that great, but by hanging in there and documenting “my God plateaus,” I can now look back and realize that I have gained ground–I am slowly venturing upward towards a better relationship with God.

As we master things, there are often several plateaus, major growth periods, a little regression, and another plateau. Why is this so significant for me?

Because I am, at heart, a Dabbler. I like new things and hate just doing the same thing over and over again with few results visible. This would be why I avoid housework like the Plague.

By remembering Leonard’s mastery plateau concept, I can now remind myself that I’m not going to master anything worthwhile in my life if I don’t stay with it and keep practicing until I actually get good enough at something. When do we know when we get there?

Usually when someone else notices that we do something well and should teach it…which probably means a whole new journey towards mastery and that infernal plateau. But I sure like the view from that higher plateau than being in the valley of mediocrity and amateur status.

So…bring on the plateaus.

You might also like: Slow Reader Friday: Be Still; Slow Reader Friday: SoulTypes; and Slow Reader Friday: Christian Meditation

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This entry was posted on Friday, June 23rd, 2017 at 5:01 pm and is filed under Slow Reader Friday. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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