On Pursuing Mastery, Part 2: Humanity

I’d think that as an organizer I’d be somewhat OK at listening, particularly when I’m in a car with a coworker who’s all hyped and excited and passionately telling me about his wild romantic pursuits — it’s not like he isn’t being interesting or engaging. But I can’t follow more than a sentence or two of anything he’s saying. Frankly (in retrospect), I’m probably not even paying attention to the road either. I’m hyper focused on strategizing how to steer the conversation towards asking him how much he weighs, what his body fat percentage is (if he knows), and whether he can see his own abs.

I know, strange questions. Intrusive, particularly coming from a coworker. But the reason I want to know is that he’s male, around my height, just a few years older than me — and has around the exact body size I’ve been dieting hard, exercising hard, and otherwise working very hard towards in the last four months. I have this irrational desperation to know his body metrics, even as I’m half-aware that he probably doesn’t know them and that it is inappropriate to ask. I should be listening to the stories he’s so excited to share. At the bare minimum I should be paying attention to the road. I feel a tad bit of shame. That shame fuels more of a desire to know. I tell myself I need to lose more weight. He has a nice body, though… and my thought spiral continues, and continues, and continues.

Especially in the last couple of weeks I’ve found that — more than ever in my life — I’ve become keenly, keenly aware and judgmental about other people’s bodies. It’s become a reflex, even: estimated body fat and the corresponding ratio of lean muscle mass have become the first two things I notice about people as I interact with them. It’s emotionally unhealthy.

And also I have a point of reference to know that this is how it is in the beginning of a journey towards mastery: I know that this emotional unhealthy stage of my fitness journey is not only totally natural but completely necessary in the beginning.

When I first started organizing professionally six years ago, I would always be watching other organizers, critiquing them (either in my head or gossiping negatively about them to mutual friends), and oddly feeling good about talking all that smack. Bringing other organizers down — way more than even watching amazingly skilled organizers — made my eyes glow.

As my organizing career went on (probably between years three to five of my career), what brought that sort of energetic brightness to my eyes was learning from other organizers the areas of organizing where I was lacking and sharing with organizers the parts of organizing I was good at. I resonated with the active process of my growth.

Nowadays what resonates with me most is simply being myself in the journey, effortlessly, and I enjoy simply being an organizer doing organizing. My emotional state — the energetic brightness I resonate with — doesn’t fluctuate much at all, regardless of whether I’m learning or sharing or whatever… it’s not even that I’m too aware if I’m learning or sharing or whatever. Mostly I’m just present to the moment and enjoying myself.

From my vantage point I see three stages in the pursuit of mastery (not that I’m a master at organizing by any means, just that I’ve achieved a level of competence and I’ve been organizing for a relatively significant period of time).

1. At first you’re very awful at the craft, and if you care passionately about the craft you will feel insecure and lowly. Maybe you’re so passionate about the craft in the first place because you feel that you need to be good at that craft to feel good about yourself, even. In the moment, it’s hard when you’re feeling insecure to feel that you can bring yourself up to the heights of others, and so instead the alternative to meet with others at eye level is to bring others down, even if this doesn’t manifest externally into action. Thus, you can take note in your head: if you are judging others, then you can interpret that as you don’t feel good about yourself yet. Indeed, this was my experience with organizing, and it is also my current experience with fitness: I didn’t/don’t feel good about my level of competence, and so I judge, judge, judge.

2. Later you identify your self-worth not with a bunch of negativity but with positivity: in the process of improving yourself at the craft. So you stop being so competitive with others and instead you start collaborating with everyone. As long as you are improving at the craft you are feeling good.

3. Eventually you realize a high level of competence at the craft. But it doesn’t matter. Your former self would have thought you’d be on the top of the world at this point, but the journey was what mattered: you realize that it’s not an excellence at the craft that’s amazing per se, but the true beauty is what most haven’t been able to witness. What’s beautiful is the decision you made years ago and the follow-through week after week to put in the work, consistently year after year. What’s beautiful is that some days you didn’t want to put in the work, but you willed yourself to be disciplined and do the work anyway; you 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 you, through a long process, to have competence at the craft in the first place. But like I said it’s not the competence, per se. The small consistent decisions every day and transformation over years into a true Being, the process: that’s what makes the master. That’s when the very question/discussion of mastery disappears and why it doesn’t matter consciously or even un-consciously: it is not doing, it just Is. You don’t care or even realize you are a master because you just Are a master. (This third point is expanded upon quite a lot in Part 1.)

In my fitness journey, I’m still deep into that first stage.

I’ve got a long way to go.

***

Here are some other thoughts about the pursuit of mastery.

* Being able to contextualize judgement as insecurity helps you deal with others in the first stage of a pursuit of mastery. But not only that, being able to contextualize judgement as insecurity helps you help them, for you know you have to do the emotional labor of relieving their insecurity, and that’s amazingly useful in particular if you’re part of a community in a pursuit of mastery.

* I spent the first three years of my organizing career being really, really, really bad at organizing. I sometimes produced good organizing results, but not because I was any good at organizing… I just way way way over-worked, mad with passion and dedication. Three years in, though, I finally met mentors who taught me how to organize properly. This was so invaluable, and the shift in my organizing was night-and-day. Suddenly I didn’t necessarily have to work so ridiculously hard just to get mediocre results — but it took me three years of effort to find these mentors. Three years! I wish I had sought these mentors more vigorously and sooner. True expert advice is so invaluable. And it’s the reason I now pay for a personal trainer, *BECAUSE* I’m at the beginning of my pursuit of mastery in fitness. Having a personal trainer is rapidly, rapidly speeding up my learning curve and getting me started with the correct frameworks to think about fitness. Also, I have a built-in person to get answers to questions that otherwise might take me months to figure out on my own.

* Again, I’m not a master of organizing, but in the last six years of doing this more than full time I’ve certainly reached a high level of competence in organizing. And having one strong point of reference in the pursuit of mastery in organizing has been invaluably helpful in the beginning of the pursuit of mastery in fitness. In general, I believe having one point of reference for a path of mastery will greatly, greatly help the start of another path of mastery, and invaluably so. This post itself is evidence of that… I’m able to contextualize my judgement and move past it much quicker! But even beyond that, I know some things about the pursuit of mastery now. I’ve written literally the equivalent of multiple books about my lessons in the pursuit of mastery (i.e., this blog! and much more writing I haven’t published publicly). Lessons from the pursuit of mastery in organizing that I’m taking to the pursuit of mastery in fitness include: stuff like knowing how to balance action-taking with theory, stuff like starting with experience not ideology, stuff like an emotional faith that even if I have very little competence now I can still become really good if I just stick with it, stuff like how to emotionally approach obstacles, stuff like the value of authenticity and its relationship with relatability, etc., etc., etc. It is so much easier now having gone down the road of one path already. If you haven’t started down one path yet, do so as soon as possible — would be my recommendation. It’ll be the hardest path and the most necessary.

* I suspect that the more true pursuits of mastery one goes down, the more it can create a snowball effect to discover deeper truths about what it means to live life and be truly human — all the fundamental humanity to it all. What I mean by that is, as in the above point it seems clear to me that there are underlying human principles to both organizing and fitness, and that these underlying principles are the same in both organizing *AND* fitness, and maybe there are underlying principles shared in all pursuits of mastery. And really, the things I’m going to be happy about at my deathbed are all the deeper human lessons I’ve learned. You got to go after the stuff you love, and when you do you learn how to connect to others and the world and how to be human. Maybe then, organizing isn’t organizing. Fitness isn’t fitness. The pursuit of mastery is learning to be human.

* If you’re on the second stage of the pursuit of mastery, know that it is valuable to be on your process but ultimately you will realize through that process that you don’t need the process to feel full self-love and that one can approach that process not out of desperation but out of inspiration. Maybe even, then, the true Master can not only be contextualized in “Being,” as talked about in my description of the third stage, but also as a total fusion of “will” and “action.” One’s very Being, then, is of a total authentic Inspiration — totally not of effect, but of Cause. Truly: “One with the Universe.” Or at least, then, learning how to completely love oneself and be fully human. And again, maybe that’s what the pursuit of mastery really is.

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