Mastery is Progress

A couple of my employees were invited to speak at the local university recently to discuss their jobs and their career choices with students. They asked me if I had any advice for them that they could share; they may have regretted that question after 45 minutes of my response.

You see, there seems to be a generation entering the workforce currently that is super smart and super ambitious but is missing a very important basic principle – that careers are built on mastery.

Level 50

Perhaps it is the gamification of a generation or simple impatience, but achievement seems to be getting measured in job titles and paycheques.

I used to look for job commitment in a cv when hiring. If someone changed jobs too much, then it would raise a red-flag and perhaps be pushed into the “no thank you” stack. Recently, it is rare to have a cv/resume land in my inbox where someone has remained at a company for more than a couple of years.

I’ve also had employees who asked for a new role six months into their employment and long before they had really conquered the current one; they’re ambitious and naturally wanted to see forward “progress” and achievement.

I believe that this is all evidence of how progress seems to be measured now – a new job title equals achievement; a new job with a new job title, even more so. After all, there’s no rating for mastery on LinkedIn and other social networks and so a competitive comparison with peers is difficult in any other way (don’t get me started on the ludicrous endorsement system on LinkedIn).

Talking Heads.

Some of these guys are “subject matter experts” too. They are smart and they’ve learned a lot. But knowledge is not know-how.

Often, there is a distinct gap between understanding and delivery. I believe that they’ve often not taken or had the time to hone their skills. They have not spent enough time doing the work to fully put their theories into practice.

The books, blogs and lectures don’t provide experience. They can provide useful insight, but until it is experienced it cannot be internalised.

Here’s the Big Secret

The secret is that getting better at something is progress. It is an achievement to master your craft, to be the best [whatever] you can be. At each level of mastery you are creating a foundation for your future career on which your entire professional life will be based. If you are simply craving a new role every N months or to change employer every N years without actually getting better at what you do – your craft, then you are creating an empty shell. It will result in a vacuous career that will hit a wall at some point, and then you are left with either very few or poorly developed skills on which to fall back.

It doesn’t matter what you do or what you hope to do in the future – get better at it every day. This is called Deliberate Practice and is a fundamental activity employed by all high achievers in every discipline. It is a belief that expertise can only be achieved with expert practice. It is about always getting better (AGB) and is a mindset that should be developed into a life-long habit.

Life’s Apprentice

Some trades still have apprentices that require them to put in a minimum amount of time working beside a Master Craftsman in order to achieve a fundamental and minimum foundation of knowledge and experience.

So this was my advice – that they should think about the benefits of mastery. That they should consider their mastery in any chosen profession as real progress and as an achievement in its own right. That they should place value on it far more than a new job title or a change in employer. That after all those new roles have come and gone, their expertise (measured as ability, not just knowledge) will be their foundation and will be something they can always rely on.

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