Learning to master your craft
Updated: Jan 28
They say it takes 10,000 hours of practise to become a master of something, but what does dedicating yourself to a craft actually look like in the day-to-day?
There’s a saying that goes you are what you repeatedly do, and excellence is not a singular act but a habit. It may be wisdom from long ago, but it still has so much relevance in the 21st century.
These days we’re obsessed with perfection, working ridiculously long hours often without purpose. We’re crippled by daily judgement and yet the simplicity of being good at what we do and becoming our best self, comes from habitually doing things well.
Mastering your craft or being excellent at something – whether that be sport, a career or a hobby – is one of the most rewarding journeys a person can take.
It’s not about winning, losing or being perfect, it’s simply investing in something important to you every day and improving at ¬it bit by bit. Mastering your craft is an opportunity to drop the short-term pressure and simply enjoy the long-term dedication to personal or professional growth.
Replacing ‘perfection’ with excellence
While it’s important to keep striving for better and to have high standards, the fact is perfection does not exist. It’s just as important to balance our standards with the reality of time, energy and appropriate expectations.
Personally, I’ve always struggled with perfectionism, so working towards excellence instead, has become a powerful tool for me. Excellence is generally defined as both "the quality of being outstanding or extremely good” and of “taking the approach of being extremely good in your work, skills and behaviours." It’s less about being flawless, and more about working hard at being better. In contrast, perfection can stifle our confidence, block our ability to make decisions and cause us to project unfair expectations onto others.
We often sit in awe of masters in piano, yoga or chess, and appreciate that they have put in years of dedicated practise to slowly, steadily and consistently develop their skills. We respect that their excellence has developed over time, so we should extend ourselves that same level of patience and understanding. Rather than rushing to be masters now we need to slow down and give ourselves scope and permission to nourish our efforts with time.
Changing my focus to excellence has given me freedom to be a better me. I’m strengthening my skills and not burning myself out. I’m in a state of continual learning not self-criticising and I’m more open minded as opposed to frustrated.
Learning from mistakes
Mistakes give us the chance to stop, evaluate and review the approach or path we’ve been taking.
When I look back on my life, the most valuable lessons I’ve learned – those ‘aha’ moments – came from mistakes. Sure, some parts were a little confronting at the time and took some genuine self-kindness to absorb, but I’m exceptionally grateful now.
As adults, we can be afraid of fully committing to something, in case we end up ‘failing’ or embarrassing ourselves. As children, we were quite happy to just try, and then try again until we finally worked things out. If we can practise tapping into our inner child and work from a point of curiosity, then potential mistakes become a lot less daunting. This type of mindset enables you to take more calculated risk and to bounce forward from setbacks more quickly.
Owning your work
Taking personal responsibility for your work is key to craft mastery. It’s also a great way to build your sense of pride and self-efficacy as you work towards excellence.
For me, this all comes down to ‘how’ you pursue your craft, just as much as ‘what’ you are able to achieve. How prepared was I? How does the quality of this work reflect my values and standards? How could I tweak one thing to get a better outcome?
If we are what we repeatedly do then we need to be honest about our commitment and standards of work on a day to day basis. Our habits are often created subconsciously, so being more mindful of our behaviours and their impact is vital to achieving craft mastery.
To do this, pick one thing you can control that you want to improve, and keep working on it for a month. It might be a practical skill or perhaps a character attribute such as patience. Don’t over complicate it. Don’t even worry about consequences, just embrace your focused effort and cheer yourself on as you dedicate yourself to making the change.
Share the journey by teaching what you learn
Even the most engaged and experienced practitioners lose perspective from time to time, so it’s invaluable to have a strong support structure around you. Share your journey with people you trust and let them add to your passion and momentum.
One of the best ways to deepen your own capabilities is to teach. In teaching or mentoring, you learn to simplify your thoughts and actions because you break things down. By communicating what you know, you reaffirm the process of learning and further embed key concepts - all while helping someone else.
Finally, consider finding a mentor or using a coach for yourself. Someone who can bring practical wisdom and external accountability to the process. All great masters have learned from others. Feedback is the gift that helps us become better at what we do.
Dedicating ourselves to the things we are passionate about, is what gets us out of bed each day. Taking the pressure of perfection away and enjoying the process of being really good at what we do, not only helps us achieve our ultimate potential but to sing and dance along the way. Becoming our best self should not only positively challenge us but fill us with joy too.
Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on July 16, 2018.
Alisa Camplin is an Olympic Gold Medalist, in-demand Keynote Speaker, Corporate Ambassador, and Human Performance Consultant who delivers results-driven Resilience and Human Performance Training and Development Programs. Connect with Alisa.