The Price of Mastery27 Jan 2015
After finally watching the supremely fascinating documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi I have become absorbed with the questions surrounding the mastering one’s skills. The documentary details the life of one of the most legendary sushi chefs of all time who is still going strong 90 years on. Jiro’s dedication to his craft is shocking. He has devoted every fiber of his being to the pursuit of mastering a single skill. He is not in it for the money or the prestige; he wakes up every morning mesmerized with the idea of improving over the previous day. It is hinted that the cost has been high. His role as a father and husband suffered greatly and he has forgone a great many nights and weekends. However, his sacrifices have molded him into a legend. A person of incredible stature both among his peers and worldwide audience.
Which brings me to my central question. Is the pursuit of mastery worth it? For any skill each of us, whether conscious or not, choose the level of proficiency we are content with. Is it worth giving up nights, weekends, money, time with family or friends? There is no right answer, of course, it is an individual choice. It is also a choice we may regret either way. Will we regret taking time away from our children or perhaps wish we had skipped the weekend parties to focus?
For myself it is a vexing question. What level of skill am I satisfied with? How far am I willing to go for success? What is my definition of success? In the fast paced world of software development the constant push to acquire new skills and hone existing is less of a choice then a requirement. I believe that facing this question head-on and weighing the pros and cons on the scale of life is the best way to be at peace with either choice.
Perhaps most surprising is that even 90 year old Jiro, a legend that has spent decades learning, working, and experimenting, believes that he has not yet reached the apex. That he can still do better. That there is still more to learn. Is mastery itself a mirage on the horizon that can never be reached? Why bother, after all, won’t there always be someone younger, better, faster, stronger, smarter? I believe the only sane way to come to terms with this is to let all other competition melt away leaving only yourself. Specifically yourself from yesterday. Am I better, faster, stronger, or smarter than I was yesterday?
Leaving me with the same question, what level of mastery am I content with? I suspect this will require more thought… :)