When I think of anything, anything at all that comes easily to me now… there was a time when it didn’t. I’ve mastered writing, storytelling, public speaking, talking with people about death, clear, honest, and direct communication, a brutal level of self awareness and inner honesty, leading ritual worship with clarity, speaking truth to power, saying difficult things, empathically reading spaces and people when and only when appropriate, exorcising demons and other negative entities, and forgiveness.
It’s not a bad list, as I look back on it. There are other things I’m working on mastering and haven’t yet, and even those things I’ve mastered – it doesn’t mean there are never hiccups, it just means that on the whole the process is faster, easier, more successful, and less anxiety-ridden for me.
“The master has failed more than the beginner has tried.”-Chinese proverb provided by Sifu Anthony over at flowingzen.com
Oh, but there was a time, friends. There was a time when my writing was painfully clunky and trite. There was a time when I would nearly vomit out of nervousness when I had to step up and speak before two hundred people, or when I had to lead a song in front of them (and then my throat would literally close and I couldn’t force enough air out to sing). There was a time I would do anything to avoid having to talk with someone about their own death. A time when I had no idea how passive aggressive and codependent my communication patterns were. There was a time I had no idea what was even meant by self awareness, and I certainly didn’t embody it. The first several years of leading my faith’s highly ritualized worship I adopted the fake-it-till-you-make-it approach, certain only that God wouldn’t strike me with lightning for it. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine standing up for myself or anyone else when I thought the actions of someone in authority were suspect, or even clearly wrong. There was a time I would have rather made myself sick with stress than have a difficult conversation with a family member or a close friend. There was a time both when my empathic abilities were on lock-down for my own safety and sanity, and a time when they were run amok as I tried to learn to control them and not be controlled by them. There was a time when demons terrified me and being able to feel their presence was a profound, unspeakable horror like unto the writings of H. P. Lovecraft. And there was a time when I had no bloody clue what real forgiveness was, and I certainly wasn’t ready to give it a spin.
And that covers the first list.
And while, as I said, there are still things in my life I’d like to master, still things I want to be able to do that don’t come easily to me, and still things in which I fail, and fail, and fail, and fail… I’m still pretty impressed with the list of things I’ve mastered.
Each one of them was incredibly hard work. Each one of them had some sort of very strong fire of motivation behind it. And each one of them took so much longer than I would have liked as I struggled through doing it wrong, doing it badly, doing it half-assed, and doing it full-throttle and still failing over and over.
But for these, somehow, I just couldn’t quit. And because I didn’t, even through the failures, I mastered them.
And it makes me think of the Maya Angelou quote that I’ve been reflecting on today as I prepare my newsletter for next Monday, the one about butterflies – how beautiful they are, and how much hard work goes into that beauty. (Sign up for the newsletter to read what I’ve actually got to say about that.)
We are the butterflies, friends. And when we are beautiful in our poise, or our mastery, or our artistry, or our speech, it is because that is something we have mastered. And it took effort, and dedicated practice, because it’s not about genius. (Read Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers for more on that fascinating subject.) It’s about mastery. The former – you either have it or you don’t, so stop worrying and move on. The latter – you can have it and enjoy it if you want it badly enough.
And that, friends, gives me great hope for the other list of things I haven’t yet mastered. Because there’s time, and they’re worth it.
What have you mastered in your life thus far? How much work did it take to get you there? What’s still left on your list? Tell me in the comments below.