Why I Aim For Personal Mastery

One of my vivid memories (and thankfully it was this memory) was on a teacher correcting my pronunciation – in History class. At first, all she did was to make random students stand up to read paragraphs from the History textbook. This was just to make sure students were primed to watch out, in case she caught us drifting away. But with such a class structure, who wouldn’t drift away? As I stood up to read a paragraph, I said “clerk” with an American pronunciation. She literally glared at me, and with her sarcasm-laden voice, articulated “CLAAARK”, rolled her eyes, and muttered my mispronunciation with absolute disdain as she sideways-glared at me. She was one who made her contempt obvious when she happily announced fail grades for any student, presuming lack of diligence, intelligence or both.

I know how it feels like to fail. But more importantly, I knew what it felt like feeling like a failure. There is a vast difference between the two, and you, a seeker of personal mastery, must understand this: you cannot allow someone’s expectations of you to become a reality.

If you have heard about the Pygmallion Effect, the 1968 research study done by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobsen showed how teachers expectations changed the outcome of the student’s test results. Those who had favorable opinions of students ended up creating favorable results through favorable behaviors. Those who had been seeded with ideas and expectations that the students would not be able to succeed ended up having more students who would receive unfavorable results.

I’m not suggesting that teachers are the root cause of all issues in schools. The truth is, students should be taught to hold their own expectations of themselves in high esteem in order to combat negative expectations. Even beyond the school environment, the scathing opinion of some can cause damage to others who might then seek treatment for mental illness. Unless they learn alternative ways to create a better self-concept.

As a consequence of seeing all these patterns play out in the teaching and coaching relationship, I sometimes find myself drowning in the pool of empathy, especially when my own clients express emotions that are difficult. I’ve come to realize that in order to manage this, I have to become a stronger swimmer. It’s a fine balance being a person who can move you forward versus someone who listens to you with trust. Because by its very nature, I need to be a little disageeable in order to get you toward your goals. If a client with a challenge approaches me, and I believe everything he or she believes, we’re simply going to stay the same.

“Personal mastery is about the ability to hold higher standards of growth for oneself than one holds for others.”

To me, personal mastery is about the ability to hold higher standards of growth for oneself than one holds for others. You see, as a therapist, teacher and coach, I end up often finding myself teaching something I’ve never experienced before. For example, leadership. I’ve never really experienced it the way corporate leaders do. So I have to find a way to practice and demonstrate my leadership. Fortunately for me, I was able to demonstrate some value in being in the National Service system to a point where I was allowed to continue my voluntary journey into NS, and had a great environment to groom and develop my leadership resources.

Every once in a while, a client tells me about something that I have to deliberately stop to think about. After all, it is easy to tell a client what to do. But I have also found this process to be delightfully enriching from me because I might stumble upon something that I myself am inadequate in. Then, the journey is really about becoming better together. There have been many times where I come to discover that a client needs something to keep motivated and driven to do what he or she needs to do, and the only way is to demonstrate success by progression, no matter how gradual.

The consequence of not doing that would be to feel like a failure. And in my opinion, the world is not short of critics, so if you start there, you’re going to end up in a really bad place. Here are some quick ideas to help you stay on your path to mastery.

  1. Get good at one thing by investing more in your learning. Especially if you are demonstrating some kind of result in it, invest more into it to get better results.
  2. Learn to fail small. If you still think failure is not part of the journey, then you haven’t much reverence for it the same way I do. Design your journey foward, and fail small by design, so you don’t fail big from lack of planning.
  3. Don’t take massive action. Take action “massively”. Instead of thinking about that one big thing to do, focus on the doing in greater quantity and quality.
  4. Get curious about improvement, rather than the criticism. Curiosity allows you to uncover value from even the most embarrassing or critical of events, especially if you have tools such as NLP under your belt.
  5. Learn to be a person of value to others. This way, whenever you feel down or let down, you will know that you’ve made a difference and find your way back.

Let me know how else this blog can serve you!

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