The Mihir Chronicles

Masterpiece Seekers

December 01, 2018

People always ask, "What do you want to do with your life?" Then, there is a follow-up question, "What are you good at?" To be great, both questions need to be answered.

Let's briefly cover how to answer the first question. You are given a plain canvas in your life, and it is up to you to create your masterpiece. Before you know what this masterpiece is going to be, you have to explore what options are available to you.

We are novelty-seeking primates, in a permanent quest to find secrets and shortcuts to be absolutely and relatively better off. Exploring your masterpiece is not supposed to be easy. It can take several years, maybe a decade or two. If you want to be a doctor, go volunteer at a hospital. If you want to solve hunger, go visit a developing nation to experience what people go through living on a dollar a day. Go take odd jobs in industries you think you might like. Go seek great artists and work for them if you want to be an artist.

In the process, you will run into demoralizing events. You will experience less moral support from your friends and family asking you to stay put at one job. Income will not be sustainable during this exploratory period. You may think you wasted two years working at a job you didn't like. But fear not, these are all short-term hiccups and learnings. All these experimental experiences will help you narrow down your choices, avoid what you don't like, while you meet amazing people who are incredible at their own craft.

Parents and schools rely on "aptitude," which is an innate ability of a student. Relying on aptitude is a bit misleading because aptitude does not present all options available to you. Instead, present yourself with some hard questions like "How can you unite people around the world?" or "What are the consequences of climate change on nature?" Then seek answers to those questions. Meet people in the field who are working on answering those questions. Note, it will take years to articulate great questions. Craftspeople mold their aptitude with curiosity to answer the question, "What do you want to do with your life?"

Now the follow-up question, "What are you good at?" Einstein, Shakespeare, Adam Smith, Henry Ford, Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and so many others were all great craftsmen and craftswomen. Do you think Einstein was gritting his teeth and diligently trying to solve great mysteries of our universe? Of course not! He was having fun. That is why he was so good.

You can only have fun when you deeply care about something. Don't mix caring deeply with being passionate. Passion is a loosely used term these days that people mix with what they are capable of. If you are 5 feet tall and passionate about basketball, it does not mean your passion can lead you to be a pro basketball player. Know your competencies versus when you are being delusional. Craftspeople know their limitations.

Craftspeople play a long game, which is another key characteristic. The long game isn't particularly notable, and sometimes it is not even noticeable. It is boring and mundane. But when you choose to play the long game, the results can be extraordinary. The long game changes how you conduct your personal affairs. Doing what everyone else is doing pretty much ensures that you're going to be average. But the longer you play the long game, the easier it is to play later with greater rewards.

Words like being persistent, diligent, and rigorous are all synonymous with being a great crafts person because becoming great requires a lot of cognitive power. The incremental progress is viewed as a sign of doing great work. Every detail counts. No task is too small when done together. Collective effort is applauded over individualism. Be transparent. Show your efforts publicly and receive feedback in real-time. Craftspeople work hard. But remember to take breaks and indulge in other activities where they find their inspiration. In order to become good at your craft, you have to stay curious and know how to ask the right questions. These are all the characteristics of celebrated craftspeople.

But beyond characteristics, one has to go through several stages. Achieving mastery comes into 4 stages.

First, there is an understanding of a skill intellectually by careful reading and studying the material. Second, there is performing the skill set with guidance by imitating. Remember that you may be unable to achieve perfect results, but you should work to approximate it. Third, there is performing the skill set without guidance, the ability to step yourself into performing the skill set without referring to the lesson. You should be able to remember the steps approximately. Fourth, there is performing the movements without conscious awareness. The secret to achieving this stage depends on how much time you spend practicing on the first 3 stages. The ability to perform a skill set without using conscious thought to do so.

This is how you can seek a masterpiece from your craft.