Should you pursue mastery?
I am fascinated with mastery. I will not embark on anything unless I know I can become a master at it. I did not start Ashtanga yoga until I knew I could do it every day for a year. I did not start swing dancing lessons until I had enough money to take three lessons a day, with three different teachers. (Actually, it’s debatable as to whether I had enough money, but that’s how I spent it.)
I am not interested in just trying something. I find just trying totally unrewarding.
The idea that mastery is a positive experience is well researched and not particularly controversial. The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is actually an ode to mastery, but very controversial. The mom who wrote it is a Yale law professor and her kids are musicians and there is no room in that family for dilettantes. The book says that parents should force feed the self-discipline that mastery requires. The issue, of course, is whether mastery can come from such external motivation. She says yes. I’m not sure. (Though just in case internal motivation is overrated, I’m forcing my own kids to practice their instruments twice a day.)
In my life there has been only a very fine line between obsessive interest and mastery. I think today about what I’m trying to master, and honestly, I feel like I’ve mastered the happiness stuff. I know what makes me happy.
I appear to be unable to maintain a close bond with someone I’m married to. Which is, by far, the most important thing we can do for our happiness. But I am able to derive happiness from intellectual and physical mastery.
I’m really drawn to this photo. Somehow, I immediately knew it was sexual. Maybe because power is sexual. Maybe because she’s so pretty. I don’t know. But it turns out, this is a photo of a blow up doll for having sex. The artist, Laurie Simmons ordered the doll in the mail and then took a series of photos. In this photo, the doll is dressed in the artist’s daughter’s clothing. Of course, the doll does not come with these clothes.
The photo reminds me of how transformative physical mastery is.
I want to feel strong.
Right now I am focusing on the hill that leads up to the farm. I want to get so good at running up it that I can sprint. Four times. That’s my goal, and then I’ll feel like I’ve mastered the hill. It will take me running all summer, I think. But I don’t want to do anything else. No gym, no pilates. I just want to do that hill. Every day.
I have been reading Tim Ferriss’ new book, The 4-Hour Body. I can’t stop myself from liking it because he’s so obsessive. I couldn’t put my finger on the draw until I saw an article by Ferriss in Men’s Journal. The title is “Rule the Pool.” I’m not swimming right now, but I read the article anyway. I read it because Tim is always a master of the topic he’s writing about. And mastery is interesting. And his book is interesting because it follows his journey to master his body.
(Forget the parts of that other post I wrote about how much I hate his book. I guess I am changing my mind. I still would never want to be friends with the guy. But part of my internal drive toward mastery is not caring at all if I’m wrong.)
Mastery is interesting. And now that I’ve decided to focus on having an interesting life rather than a happy life, I have, by default chosen to focus on mastery. Which, no surprise, is what I’ve been focusing on all along.
I think I am mastering sex. I’m not sure what part of it. Definitely not the doing part, because the farmer and I seem to be on sexual hiatus while he is refusing to talk with me. And my ex and I were able to get through the last six years of our marriage having sex only two times. So I’m not the type of girl who is gaining mastery through first-hand experience. But the research part of sex is endlessly interesting to me. How other people do it. How people think about it. How people ruin it and fix it and ruin it again.
Here’s some stuff I learned recently:
I am not good at knowing how people negotiate sex. Which is why you probably wouldn’t have the patience to have sex with me, but it’s also what drives me to understand the rules and underpinnings of sex.
My expertise includes incest. I love incest. I mean, I love reading books about it. (Here’s a classic.) I’m fascinated by what drives people to do it. I’m fascinated by the girls so often hating it and loving it simultaneously. It is complicated but I think I can master it—understanding it.
I read the review of the book Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso, who was sexually abused for fifteen years, starting at age 7. I’m fascinated by how she was seduced, and how she came to enjoy the sex in a way she says is like being a heroin addict. And I enjoy feeling nervous to read it but knowing I’ll push myself to read it anyway.
So I have been thinking about people who try a lot of stuff—those who arenotdriven to master what they do. Sometimes I think they are losers. I think of girls who do 1000 first dates but never have long-term relationships. At some point, all first dates become the same. The beginnings of relationships are all the same, but deeper connections require understanding more and more about yourself to keep going. That’s what I think of mastery.
I worry that I should not be writing this blog. It’s insane, really, that I spend hours and hours writing without really making any money from the work. I mean, I have basically the same traffic whether I post three times a week or once a week—no kidding. And I know I’m not alone. Leo Babauta has said the same thing about his blog.
Yet I’m driven to post. I’m obsessed with finding the right photo and the right topic and the right tone and putting it all together. I’m obsessed with having a spot for the research I love. The blog is the ultimate act of going deeper and deeper because on the blog, there is nowhere else to go.
It occurs to me that mastery is irrational. Pursuing it makes life more difficult and more interesting than people really need life to be. But people who are driven to mastery can’t stop. It’s either charming or boorish. I’m not sure which.
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