More about mastery
Deb Bennett, PhD, provides an apposite analysis on human performance with “The Quest for Mastery” (Conformation Insights, EQUUS 479). Bennett suggests that true mastery---as applied to any profession, pursuit or vocation---is not easy to define or identify. She writes that Webster’s offers the word “command” as synonymous to “mastery,” yet I have seen dictionaries also state that “proficient” and “proficiency” are suitable synonyms. For me, it is difficult to equate these terms with mastery. To master or command something seems to connote a much more wise, practiced and nuanced grasp and application of a skill.
To respond to George Leonard’s question, as posed by Bennett, “Why is it that so few people who take up a sport, a profession, an art or indeed any endeavor ever master it?” Is it possible that most of us are compelled by life’s realities to settle for mere proficiency? Is it likely that true mastery of anything is exceedingly more difficult and elusive than we suspect?
Bennett’s article reminded me of an interview with Al Oerter, one of history’s greatest track and field athletes who won four consecutive Olympic gold medals in discus between 1956 and 1968. He said, “I’ve thrown for 45 years, probably on an average of 10,000 throws a year; that’s 450,000 throws, and probably a lot more than that. Not one of those throws has ever been perfect---not a single throw. There was always something else after every throw, after every one of those 450,000 throws, there was always something else I could have corrected to make that prior throw just a little better.”
I thought this was an interesting observation by someone who was inarguably a master at his craft. As the title of Bennett’s article suggests, it may be that true mastery is not an end product, but rather a “quest.” Monte Muldoon Larkspur, Colorado