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Mastery is Continuous Learning

I am a firm believer that practice makes possible. My perspective is that you must prepare for the activities you want to pursue by learning, or at least understanding, the skills required. This way you are ready to open the door when opportunity knocks.

One of my favorite hobbies is reading. Sometimes I read with purpose and other times I like to see what the universe has in store for me. This weekend chance led me to "Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment” by George Leonard.

Leonard offers five keys to success, that revolve around learning and practice, and insights into the pitfalls that may cause you to hit the snooze button rather than answer the door.

The five keys to success and long-term fulfillment Leonard advocated are:

  1. Instruction – Find a method of instruction that works for you. Books and webinars are helpful, but they cannot offer feedback. If you can integrate the lessons on your own these methods may work. If not, a teacher, mentor, or coach can provide feedback tailored to your circumstances and abilities. They are sounding boards for your ideas, and providers of new perspective and insight.

  2. Practice – Mastery requires continuous practice. Leonard states that “practice for the sake of practice” moves you to a new plateau of possibility. The more you practice the better you become and the more enjoyment you find in the activity.

  3. Surrender – When you surrender to the learning process, you set aside your current proficiency level to learn a step that will enhance your skills. Embracing new possibilities requires you to step back from what you know, or think you know, to contemplate diverse views and methods.

  4. Intentionality – Exercising intentionality when you practice involves visualization or mental preparation. Whether visualizing yourself executing a physical action or enunciating the phrases of a stressful conversation, intentionality coaches the brain on the skill you want to perform.

  5. The Edge – Along your journey to mastery you need not stay on the beaten or logical path. You may stray to explore the possibilities. In doing so you must acknowledge that your actions include some degree of risk. Accept and plan for these contingencies and remember you don’t know what you don’t know. When exploring the edge, you will learn.

Pitfalls on the path to mastery include laziness, competition (too much or not enough), inconsistency, injuries, poor instruction, or an obsession with achieving goals. Being mindful of these considerations, and counterbalancing them, will keep you on target. Masters are not perfect … they are aware and willing to learn.

Leonard also warns that we must keep our resistance to change in check. Your masters journey may reach a plateau (of indeterminate length) but it does not end. Integrating new skills, processes, and tools requires a change in the status quo. You must also recognize that there may be more than one way to achieve a specific result. Establishing a personal support network will help you assess your resistance to change and offer access to different perspectives for consideration.

If the journey never ends, then the label of expert is fleeting. In software development, change occurs quickly. Those who are unwilling/unable to learn may quickly find themselves obsolete. Be open to the possibilities offered by new tools, goals, and abilities. Integrating these options successfully into your repertoire, especially when it means forgoing previously successful techniques, is a sign that you understand and embrace the value of continuous learning.

I urge you to practice. Try new techniques. Integrate what works. Catalog the disasters (for future reference). Share your stories with others. Seek guidance from trusted advisors. Remember that possibilities are not always random acts of chance. Sometimes, when there's a knock at the door, you're the one that sent the invitation.

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