Do you strive to get better at what you do? Whether it’s fixing cars, selling shoes or programming computers? Or are you already at your best? Getting better at something you care deeply about is called personal mastery. Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline says,” Personal mastery goes beyond competence and skills, though it is grounded in competence and skills…It means approaching one’s life as a creative work, living life from a creative as opposed to reactive viewpoint.” Mastery is a lifelong practice.
“The ability to focus on ultimate intrinsic desires, not only on secondary goals, is a cornerstone of personal mastery,” says Peter Senge. The key to mastery is following your passion and your creativity, not going to meetings and putting out fires. When you’re able to do what you want to do, when you want to do it with who you want to work with, you’re much more likely to achieve mastery. This is at the heart of intrinsic motivation, or motivation that comes spontaneously from within us - doing things for the joy of doing them.
Very few of us are fully engaged at work, largely because workplaces use top down management and carrots and sticks to motivate people. You can’t sell, enforce or cajole mastery - it has to be something we choose to do.
It’s the reason I’ve been successful as an IT manager. I’ve typically been able to define my job and that of my department. I’ve had the trust of upper management to do things the way I think they should be done, to hire the right people and make what I think are the best purchases for my workplace. For the last 20 years I’ve had a large amount of autonomy, which led to developing personal mastery. As Somerset Maugham said, “Only mediocre people are always at their best.”