On Pursuing Mastery, Part 1: Being

I’d be emotionally dishonest with myself if I didn’t acknowledge that, over the last couple of months in my health and fitness journey, I’ve often felt deep embarrassment. Even accounting for that I’m relatively short for a male, my ability to lift weights is far below average, especially for a 25 year old in his hypothetical physical prime. When it comes to cardio, I do have surprisingly good will-power, but I’m huffing and puffing within minutes, while others around me seem to be fine for much, much longer periods of time. The most shameful thing, I think, is that the beginning of this new year, I’ve been eating far above my caloric intake goals.

To be honest, the situation reminds me a lot of the beginning of my organizing journey, which I’ve been on in a professional capacity for almost six years now. At the beginning, though, I was pretty god-awful. My organizing numbers were consistently low, and it took me a good (I’d say) four years to completely get rid of my “conversational nervous energy.” So objectively, the beginning of my organizing journey was harder. But not my experience of it; my experience of the beginning of my organizing journey was easier. Say what you will about having “desperate” motives, but I *had* to believe that I could eventually become a good organizer. There was literally no other choice for me. Those who know my story know that I needed to become an organizer to feel OK about myself… Nowadays I feel OK about myself independent of any external successes, and so paradoxically my health and fitness journey has been a grind.

Anyway, here’s the key, and the main point I want to make in this post: I need to realize that it’s not the flashy, intense stuff that makes mastery. Rather, it’s the commitment to the everyday basic stuff.

In other words, if I see someone who’s been on a fitness journey for many years, I need to realize that it’s *NOT* that they can lift 300 pounds that is amazing. I mean, it is. But the true beauty is what I wasn’t able to witness. What’s beautiful is the decision they made years ago and the follow-through week after week to go to the gym and lift weights, each month lifting more and more and more. What’s beautiful is that some days, the lifter felt like crap, they didn’t want to go to the gym, but they willed themselves and made the decision to be disciplined and go to the gym anyway; the lifter made small decisions every single week until it became unconscious, a unified “being” between will and action, the little things all the time that made them, through a long process, to be able to lift 300 pounds in the first place.

Lifting 300 pounds doesn’t make you a master. The small, consistent decisions every day and transformation over years into a true being, the process: that’s what makes the master. That’s where the beauty is.

I’m by no means a master organizer. But I’m pretty damn good at it at this point.

A few weeks ago, an Organizer-in-Training was shadowing me for a day and watched as I had organizing conversations. After one particular conversation, she told me, “Wow! You did a really good job! In particular, I love how you did 8 AARs, and it was so strong and not weird at all.” (“AAR” is a technique in union organizing standing for “affirm, answer, redirect.”)

Her comment really hit me hard. I hadn’t even *REALIZED* that I had done any AARs whatsoever in the conversation; redirecting the conversation in a productive way is something that comes so natural to me that it is a literal unconscious being. At this point in my organizing journey, I don’t spend virtually any mental energy thinking about what words to say, or my technique, or how I want to direct the conversation on too meta a level. I have full confidence in myself that, even without spending too much mental energy, I will be able to know what to say, what techniques to use, and that the conversation will ultimately end up well. What I did spend all my mental energy doing was paying attention to the subtle emotional cues that the person I was organizing was displaying, trying to piece together a good narrative for the nuanced emotional places that their words were coming from. I was able to realize that the oppression they felt at work was agitating an insecure place in their heart that had lots of friction with their self-identity as masculine. And so I subtly, in my conversation, framed the suggestion of them taking action via union organizing, thus.

Again, though, getting good at organizing is not the flashy stuff: being able to read them on a deep emotional level. Rather, getting good at organizing is getting to the point that the basics — technique, conversation, etc. — are literally an unconscious being. And that takes massive practice. And the only way to get to that level of massive practice is to make small, consistent decisions every day to improve your organizing skills. The small consistent organizing decisions every day will lead to the flashy stuff, so don’t worry about the flashy stuff. Worrying about the flashy stuff is ego in the worst way. Focus on the basics.

Coming full circle, I should feel my feelings, but I also need to stop getting so embarrassed that right now, I suck at health and fitness. Even if I were able to lift 300 pounds right now, that’s not where the mastery lies. The mastery lies in the decision that I’m going to be consistent with my small decisions on health and fitness, and that I’m going to continue to do so for years and years and years. And in years, it will become a being. A being that takes no mental energy. I will have “become” the basics.

That’s where mastery lies.

In reality — other than maybe a drive of “desperation” that will eat your self-esteem — focusing on the small everyday things within the context of the long-term transformation, *not* the egoic flash, is how to make the process permanent. That’s when the question of mastery and the answer of mastery fuse into one, and they disappear: it is not doing, it just is.

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