mas·tery – noun \ˈmas-t(ə-)rē\
: knowledge and skill that allows you to do, use, or understand something very well
: complete control of something
I rearrange the items on my magnetic memo board to make room for three new pieces of paper, each a calendar with the next 12 months printed on it, along with my handwritten script: cleaning, exercise, reading the Bible. My life needs more structure and discipline, especially when I start working entirely for myself at home in a few weeks. So, I’m trying the Seinfeld method. One meaningful task, cross it off the calendar every day, forever.
I have seven tasks I want to make habits, but I’m starting with these three. Three tasks every day that will help me do better, and be better for doing them. That’s my plan. My goal? Mastery. Not that I expect to master seven different things. These seven different tasks are all connected in one way or another, each habits that will help me master the writing life.
I’ve been thinking about becoming a master writer for a while now. All the way back in 2011, I read a post by Russ Ramsey called, “A World Short on Masters.” His premise then, the one that continues to propel me toward mastery, is that pursuing excellence in what God has given us to do provides a level of joy that money or fame or power could never provide. Since that time, I’ve been exploring what it means to focus, dig in, and get better at my craft. I’ve narrowed down my interests (well, that is if you don’t count getting married and becoming a step-mom); I’ve committed an increasing amount of time to writing; and I’ve submitted my work to the scrutiny of editors and the whims of readers. Do I think of myself as a master? Not yet. Am I getting better? Maybe. But am I putting in the time and effort? You bet. And from everything I’ve read and heard, not everyone who works hard becomes a master, but masters only emerge from hard work. Period.
This week at The High Calling, we have been talking about moving beyond mediocrity. As I contacted writers and edited their essays and wrote my editorial summary in preparation for this theme, I was amazed at all the ways we deceive ourselves about what it means to pursue excellence or become masterful. The three articles in this theme each demonstrate a way we fear, shun, or try to short circuit greatness. In “Playing It Safe Will Never Change the World,” David Rupert discusses the paralysis that comes when we shoot for excellence but instead land on perfectionism. “While excellence is God-ordained, perfectionism is worldly and frustrating,” he writes. “In the confusion of the two, sometimes we settle for mediocrity.” Kathy Khang confesses her struggle to believe she is even worth excellence in her post, “You Are Worth It.” “Somehow I had twisted pursuing excellence, even receiving excellence, into arrogance,” she writes. Finally, in “Asking Yourself the Tough Questions,” Ed Cysewski writes about the short cuts or the fast track to excellence we try to ride without putting in the time or effort. The bottom line? Less is more. “I like to believe I can do anything,” he writes. “But that’s just a recipe for mediocrity.”
That’s the biggest lesson I am learning, too, about being a master “anything.” I can’t do it all. At least not well.
In the Fast Company article, “The Four Weapons of Exceptional Creative Leaders,” Charles Day, an advisor and coach to some of the world’s most innovative and creative businesses, says context is one of the most undervalued leadership assets. Context sets boundaries, accepts limits, understands the vision. “Context gives us the ability to say no with confidence,” Day writes. “Many leaders fear saying no and see it as limiting. But more often than not, it’s the right answer when you’re clear about where you’re headed and are in a hurry to get there.”
As I transition from mostly full-time employment to a freelance life that will be made up with bits and pieces of work, it’s tempting to say “yes” to anybody who will pay. But that’s the work life I am trying to move away from. On the other hand, it’s just as tempting to want to invest every waking hour into building a successful and satisfying freelance writing and editing business at the risk of being a bad wife, step-mother, daughter, or sister. I fear I may have gone a little too far down that path already.
So it’s not just the writing I want to work harder at. And it’s not just life that needs a little attention. It’s the writing life. It’s the vacuuming and the blogging and the exercising and the book contract and the being done by 5 so I can make dinner for my guys. It’s my seven new habits hanging on the magnetic message board.
I’ve been mediocre, now I want to be masterful.
WORD COUNT: 821
And, announcing the winner of last week’s drawing for a copy of Jennifer Dukes Lee’s new book, Love Idol. Let’s hear it for Jennifer (another Jennifer, that is!) I have contacted her by email to arrange to have the book shipped. I’m sorry I couldn’t provide a copy to every reader or even every commenter. I will be having another book giveaway the week of April 15: Michelle DeRusha’s new memoir, Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith.
Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.