mastery is not about perfection

Media and society want us to believe in the myth of ‘overnight success’. We start thinking of success as an event, but in reality, it is a long and arduous process. The truth, as shown by numerous examples, is that ‘overnight success’ takes an average time of 10 years. 

We are all driven by rewards and external validation. That’s the reason many people start their journey, attain success for a few years, and then when they experience a plateau or plummet, they give up. But the exceptionalists and the uber-successful amongst us who stay on the path know that pleasure lies in the process, not the end goal. 

We need to condition ourselves to seek joy in the journey that we’re taking, and not be driven by the pleasure from the momentary spike that we would get when we arrive at our chosen destination. As humans, it’s our nature to seek pleasure, to not do things that are hard and choose the easy path. But we have to rise above it. As Darren Hardy points out, “You want to orient yourself to a different kind of pleasure and that is enjoying the growth, the process, the improvement, the game of it, the never-ending journey to conquering the tempestuous enemies within and learning to master your discipline.”

We need to get over the illusion of ‘shortcut’. That there is one thing — a quick fix, a magic spell or an elixir —  that lies between us and our success. Don’t get entangled yourself in that; it’ll simply make you more susceptible to the clever marketing and advertising schemes that would convince you that you can climb the mountain of success in just a few days. Don’t fall in their tempting traps, choose the long-game and perennial success over quick victories and instant rewards. As George Leonard put it, “We fail to realize that mastery is not about perfection. It’s about a process, a journey. The master is the one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is the one who is willing to try, and fail, and try again, for as long as he or she lives.”

Contrary to what media reports us, success is not just some revealing event or an accomplishment of a milestone, it’s also about the consistent efforts and all the hard work that went into it behind the scenes.

Pablo Picasso, one of the most revered painters in the world, created around 50,000 artworks in his lifetime, out of which only 100 turned out to be masterpieces. George R. R. Martin had been writing for decades before he wrote the worldwide hit show Game of Thrones. James Dyson created 5,126 failed prototypes over the span of 5 years, to develop the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner. iPod, which revolutionized the world of portable music, was Apple’s 309th product. 

Actor and comedian Steve Martin summarized his career trajectory in this way, “I did stand-up comedy for 18 years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four years were spent in wild success.”

So, the key question is not about will you begin, but it is about how long will you last? Are you willing to take the seemingly endless, arduous journey until one day the spotlight falls on you and you become ‘overnight success’? And then, not settle or rest easy, but keep doing it over and over?