Mastery or Misery: A Daily Choice

James Walpole/ April 7, 2020

I’m genuinely curious about hundreds of things. If I had the time, I would want to spend every day learning a new language, taking photos, playing music, building something, exercising, boating, riding, driving, hiking, reading, writing, and so forth. And with the time I have, I do a pretty good job of dipping my toe into many of my interests – outdoor and indoor – in the course of day.

But this dilettantism, however fun, can lose its own momentum. Curiosity is not enough. My childlike interest may be entertained, but my rational adult mind (insofar as it is active) will not relax and enjoy itself unless I know that I am attaining mastery: doing a useful skill in a better way – every day.

Every day I want and need to be growing toward a better and deeper (rather than just wider) understanding of my environment and how to behave in it. I’m at my happiest when I’m creating a mental (or subconscious) map of how and where and when to do what to make things work, whether I’m in a tech company’s office or a horse stable.

Technical understanding and technique are everything to mastery. It’s not enough to just repeat, or “try” (As Yoda says “do or do not – there is no ‘try.'”) I need to understand how to do something better and then practice doing it better. This takes a different kind of energy than the “chase” energy of curiosity. It takes patience and repetition and hard work. It takes “reading the instructions” and preparing. And as unpleasant as this can sometimes be, living a day without really going toward mastery (and with the sinking feeling that you never will) is much worse.

It’s nice to know what I need to do.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


P.S. If you enjoy my work, please consider helping out with the medical response to the coronavirus pandemic. You can help get masks and other protective gear to medical workers by giving to YC startup Flexport’s Frontline Responders Fund (recommended by Paul Graham, Tim Ferriss, and others).

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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