Today, I want to bust a myth that has been sold to us; that we have swallowed without much thought.
Gurus, experts and thought leaders will tell you that the sure road to failure is to try to become all things. Because there is only so much to which you can pay your focus and energy. And there are only a few things in which you can really attain mastery and find meaning.
In other words, you can either be a jack of all trades, or master of a few. Right?
I generally agree with that assessment. It is practical and wise to find your portfolio of passions and then devote your life to it. You will find more joy and live a purposeful life that way.
But then this universe offers exceptions to every rule, doesn’t it? Just when we believe there are only 2 choices – either be a master of few, or mediocre at many – along comes a genius (an individual or iconic company) that tends to do it all with panache.
These geniuses display a rare air of mastery in several aspects. They somehow place themselves in the top tier of many things simultaneously. Think of people like Richard Branson. Legends of history like Leonardo Da Vinci. Think of companies such as Tata.
These people show amazing talent in a wide variety of independent skills. These organizations are market leaders in several unrelated lines of business. How is that possible?
Before we get to what makes such masters of all trades, let’s look at how we tend to react to such a story. We discount them by saying one or all of the following:
They are rare/ gifted.
They are born that way/ one of a kind.
They are exceptions to the rule.
They cannot sustain this for very long. Sooner or later, they will have to narrow down.
I am not interested in being like them. It’s just not me.
Notice what we are doing through these discounting statements. We tend to cover up our own insecurities and find excuses for our own perceived inability to be like them. It’s easier for us to call them ‘exceptions’ than to figure out how to become one.
So, why would you want to be a master of all trades, to begin with? The reason I believe, lies in the true goal of life. Your purpose in life is not really to find a great label to stick on yourself, but to see if you can develop all you have got, all you have been given.
The purpose is to find yourself, and that happens when you pursue true mastery of life…not just one aspect of it.
When you box yourself into one label, you are constricting all other possibilities that life would like you to explore. In the end, the joy of life is in the exploration and revelation, not in winning some reward and award for being a genius at one thing. And hey, people who live with this mindset tend to be recognized as legends anyway.
Let me share three common traits I have noticed in Masters of All Trades. Here goes:
A curious mind: wanting to know everything:
They are obsessed with the question ‘why’. They are curious about everything they come across. They keep digging. And because they keep going deeper, they kill monotony and discover joy. Haven’t you felt elated when you are immersed in something? That’s the flow state at work.
Masters question everything…they ask why and perhaps more importantly…why not? They come up with myriad possibilities. And then go out and relentlessly search for answers.
Keen senses: powerful observation:
They keep their five senses open and ready to receive when they engage with the world…lest they miss something important. They see things others have overlooked; they hear things others don’t capture. They find new angles and perspectives to everyday stuff. They notice subtleties and nuances deep within the thing they observe. This keen sense of observation directly injects a rare sense of knowing deep into their being. And it comes out occasionally in a stunning display of skills (what others tend to mistakenly label as ‘hidden talent’).
Learner’s heart: deep thirst for knowledge and wisdom:
Masters have a devotion..no…deep reverence almost, to learning. They are unstoppable in their pursuit of knowledge. They keep chiseling their mind and their potential by feeding on knowledge. They never fall prey to the Arrival syndrome (that killer of human potential wherein you suddenly start thinking you have arrived; become satisfied with your ‘expert status’, become snobbish and believe they have nothing more to learn and grow).
Masters are happy to stay in an apprentice mentality – where each new thing learned opens an ocean of new learning possibilities.
That’s it. It’s that simple. 3 traits. Don’t let the simplicity fool you. The secret lies in the possibilities you will discover thru the deep thinking and consistent application of these 3 traits.
So how do you begin your journey to mastery of life? Do this:
- Beginning today, promise yourself that you will deeply question at least one thing you took for granted. Dive deep into understanding it, questioning it by repeatedly and sequentially asking ‘why’ and ‘why not’.
- Go out, pick something completely ordinary and mundane and see if you can notice at least 3 new refreshing insights and observations about it. Let your imagination run wild. Look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. If you had to come back and narrate a fantasy tale about it to your child, how would you view it?
- Pick something that you have wanted to learn. Or something you think would be good to learn. Make that your theme for the next quarter. Go out and buy one good book related to that topic. Go online and find some good resources that you can use to learn more. See if you can find a good audio program related to that topic; or an online/ offline course. Begin today. And stay at it with a learner’s heart.
Remember, we are limited in life mostly by our imagination. And we are mostly freed by our imagination. The true goal of life is to become all you can with all you have got.