Mastery; a reflection on Master of One by Jordan Raynor

I was recently reading a book, “Master of One,” and was struck by a story. In this book, Jordan Raynor references a study that looked at assistants and how much ownership they took in their job. The job of an assistant is one of a helper. The assistant, in most cases, doesn’t own any decision or piece of the work. The assistant is just there as a helper of the one owning the decision and work. This job can be a thankless job, but there are certain types of people who seem to be made for that kind of work. In the referenced study, there was a subset of assistants who loved their work and saw it as a calling. Guess who those were? They were the ones that had been on the job the longest. Now, you could say they’d been on the job the longest because it was something they loved or were passionate about. But, the more likely scenario is that they grew to love their job and become passionate about it because of how long they’d done it. The longer they were on the job, the more they saw the purpose behind it and more of a master they became at achieving greatness at what they did.

Have we not all wondered what we’re called to do? Have we all not fretted about others who found their calling and wonder why we cannot find ours? In the first few years out of college, I found myself in a job where we happened to have a lot of new projects thrown at us. Me being pretty adaptable loved this atmosphere and opportunity for growth. During a period in this season, there was a lot of data crunching and entry that was needed while we waited on the company’s IT group to build some tools that would allow for automation of the process. Unfortunately, the IT group didn’t think the project was as big of a priority as we did, telling us it’d be a number of months before it was done. So here we were, entering data and doing what had to be done.

I decided we had to find a solution because entering all the data was onerous. To enter the data, we had to do a lot manipulating and combining the data from multiple places and I figured if I could find a way to make entering the data easier, it could mean we’d work fewer hours. So, I dug in. I had worked on other projects in the past where we manipulated the data using Microsoft Excel Macros (VBA) and wondered if we could do the same in this situation.

I googled and struggled and googled and struggled, but I started to learn a lot more about Excel. As I learned more and more, I started to realize how the things I was learning could be applied to other tasks currently being done by our group. As I applied my knowledge in more situations, I eventually became known as the Excel guru. Through this I became more passionate about Excel and all it could be used for, trying to evangelize the others. For some reason, they didn’t have the same level of excitement as I did. I don’t know if it was because my excitement was off-putting or maybe they were intimidated by learning something new, but I just knew I had to help them see the applications. Sadly, with most, I could never get there. They saw that I was passionate about Excel and thought that because of that passion I’d become a master.

Because of this thinking and the fact that they weren’t passionate, they couldn’t see the path to mastery. But I knew the truth: I didn’t have a passion for Excel at first. The passion was developed through learning the product and seeing the impact it could have. I knew that if they’d commit to learning it they could master it as well. It was a chicken and egg deal, but at the time I couldn’t put words to that. So, of course, all but a few left the company without the additional knowledge and the mastery they could have obtained. As I read this book I finally realized, passion comes after mastery.

Passion comes after mastery.

In today’s world, we’re all in search of our passions and callings. At the same time, we’re ping-ponging between many different jobs and hobbies, wondering why we cannot find what we were made to do. In reality, we have not stuck around long enough to become good at what we’re doing, thus being able to master it and thus become passionate about it.

The reality of the situation is, in our search we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. We’re sitting back waiting for our calling to find us, instead of seeking out something hard and finding our calling. We’re floating through life hoping something reaches out and grabs us, not understanding that this is totally backwards. We are called to passionately pursue the things in our life, and it is through that passionate pursuit that we’ll eventually settle into our passion or calling. But that settling in will only happen once we’ve reached mastery.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

CS Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

In “Master of One,” Jordan first shows that if you’re a Christian, mastery is something required of you, then gives some practical tips on how to become a master. I hope you’ll read this book and let it rock you as it did me.

My takeaway: it’s time to commit and quit fearing the pursuit of mastery. It’s time to chase after it with all we’ve got.