I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s OK to just be good at something. Mastery shouldn’t be your overarching goal for everything.
But there’s more to mastery, or just tackling something new and difficult, than jumping in and sweating. The key to mastery, or just continuing with something that you’re trying (even if mastery isn’t your aim), is to have fun.
Far too often, I’ve seen people get passionate about something — learning a new language, practicing a martial art, or picking up a new technical skill. But I’ve also seen their passion dim when they stopped enjoying what they were doing.
From experience, I can tell you that if you’re not having fun, it’s not worth doing. Sit back, relax, and let me share a story.
A Boy and Some Golf Clubs
When I was 10 or 11, my father was an avid golfer. He constantly played and practiced, then played and practiced some more. In some ways, golf consumed my father’s life outside of work during those years.
Around that time, my father decided that I needed to hit the links — whether I wanted to or not. And I really didn’t. But what I wanted didn’t matter. So I was put on his program of practice: learning to correctly hold a club, to putt, to hit balls, all of that. The problem is that I wasn’t having any fun. Worse, I wasn’t allowed to have any fun. The moment I deviated from the script, I was pulled back into its confines.
The truth is that my father wasn’t much of a teacher. I had to endure his constant taunts and barbs and insults and general nitpicking. It made me dislike playing or watching golf intensely, a dislike that continues to this day.
In spite of all that, I made some sound progress. I wound up being able to consistently hit a ball well over 200 yards and had a decent short game. I was becoming an OK golfer for someone my age who had no passion for the game.
But, as I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, I wasn’t enjoying golf. Not just the practice, but heading to driving range on Sunday afternoons or the infrequent occasions we hit a public course to play nine or 18 holes.
One of the happiest days of my life was when my father was diagnosed with tennis elbow. I know … that sounds callous. It’s not meant that way — I’ve never wished any ill or harm towards my father. But because of that diagnosis, my father had to give up golf. Which meant that I didn’t have to pick up a damned golf club ever again. And I haven’t in the decades since.
Mastery is Fine …
But you really need to have fun. Mastery should come a distant second to your enjoyment. Don’t worry about mastery. It may come. If it does, then great. If not, at least you’re enjoying what you’re doing. That makes all the struggles you face, all the obstacles you face, all the frustration that you face tolerable.