“Let no one or anything stand between you and the difficult task; let nothing deny you this rich chance to gain strength by adversity, confidence by mastery, success by deserving it. Do it better each time. Do it better than anyone else can do it. I know this sounds old-fashioned. It is, but it has built the world” (Harold H. Curtice).
MASTERY GIVES US A SATISFACTION THAT MEDIOCRITY CAN NEVER PROVIDE. Yet too few of us have tasted the joy of mastery. We’ve dreamed about hundreds of things. We’ve dabbled in many things. And maybe we’ve even progressed to the intermediate level in several things. But few of us have paid the price to gain the level of mastery in any single realm of endeavor. We’ve not invested the years of patient sweat and sacrifice that it takes to reach the state of consummate skill and genuine expertise. But those who have done so enjoy a gratification that is truly one of life’s special treats.
Mastery doesn’t mean pride. When Curtice suggests that we do something “better than anyone else can do it,” what he’s talking about has nothing to do with arrogance, competition, or prideful self-sufficiency. He’s just urging us never to be content with anything less than improvement. In any activity, mastery means the constant desire to increase the excellence of the art, craft, science, or whatever it may be. If how we do a particular thing is no better than it has already been done (including by ourselves), then we’ve probably not done it as excellently as it might be done. Mastery is always pushing the limits.
Mastery doesn’t mean perfection. In the world as we know it, it’s not possible to achieve absolute perfection in any endeavor. But that doesn’t mean mastery is not possible. Flawlessly perfect houses can’t be built by anybody, but that doesn’t keep us from distinguishing people who’ve become master carpenters from those who haven’t.
The most important kind of mastery, however, is self-mastery. We needn’t think that, just because we’ve mastered our job, our work, or our craft, there is no need to master ourselves, for therein lies the real mastery, and without it, no other mastery will be found praiseworthy.
“We should every night call ourselves to an account: What infirmity have I mastered today? What passions opposed? What temptation resisted? What virtue acquired? Our vices will abate of themselves if they be brought every day to the judgment” (Seneca).