Is that it’s unattainable. Our craft — if we choose to do it for as long as we live — stays with us and dies with us.
I used to believe that mastery was a finish line. It’s not. One may know that they’re a pro at something based off the feedback from the world, but one will never truly know if they reached their pinnacle. And that’s because I don’t think there is one.
Mastery is a devotion to what ignites our heart and soul, a ruthless pursuit of giving our life the meaning we desire. “This is the real secret: the brain we possess is the work of six million years of development, and more than anything else, this evolution of the brain was designed to lead us to mastery, the latent power within us all.” — Robert Greene, Mastery.
Proof? Watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
Jiro is an 85-year-old master sushi chef, owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, famed for having three Michelin Stars — meaning that if you flew to Japan and only ate at his restaurant, it would be worth the trip. His sanctuary is in a Tokyo subway station. The appearance is so simple and descrete that one would never imagine the kind master that resides in there, the kind of work he is capable of doing.
I don’t believe that he is consider a master because he charges $300 a plate or because the meal takes 20 minutes to finish or the fact that you need many months in advance to reserve a seat.
It is his technique, his outlook on his craft, and his ability to see what other sushi chefs cannot. For example, he notices if his hosts are right- or left-handed, and when serving the sushi he places it closest to their dominant hand, making the experience as effortless and joyous as possible. He even crafts the sushi a certain size so that both the male and female finish around the same time.
But more important, it’s what he said in the interview that made me realize even a master of a craft never settles and never chooses to be comfortable:
Even at my age, in my line work of… I haven’t reached perfect.
I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top… but no one knows where the top is!
You have to love your job. You must fall in love with your work. — Jiro
It’s not just sushi that is impossible to perfect. The choices that we make daily are skills too — muscles that grow or wither depending on how often we exercise it. Being kind to yourself and others is a skill. So is being brave or honest or humble.
What this means for us
For as much as I know, Jiro is a mortal, like you and I.
What separates masters of a craft from others is relentless determination, a lifelong commitment, countless failures, and the ability to criticize their own work. It’s not that they’re unsatisfied (I’m sure they are), but they always strive for better. Why? Because it is a possibility. I love that mindset.
Can we really stick to one thing and do it for the rest of our lives? I believe so.
I believe that mastery—over ourselves and our craft—fulfills our innate desire to matter, to be appreciated, and to be missed.
Art isn’t a result; it’s a journey. The challenge of our time is to find a journey worthy of your heart and your soul. — Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception