The Art of Mastery
The Art of MasteryMastery resists definition, yet can instantly be recognized. It comes in many varieties, yet follows certain unchanging laws. Mastery is not really a goal or a destination but rather a process, a journey. Mastery is an attitude of confidence and perpetual learning. This would define the Doctors involved in the Las Vegas Institute. Our paradigm assumes this journey of Mastery requires a special ticket available only to those born with exceptional abilities.
But Mastery of Dentistry and the Business of Dentistry is not reserved for the super-talented or even for those who are fortunate enough to have gotten an early start. It is available to anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it—regardless of age, sex or experience.
The problem is that we have few maps to guide us on the journey or even to show us how to find the path. In fact, the modern world can be viewed as a conspiracy against Mastery. In the dental industry, mastery is not revered but rather mediocrity is the norm. Great pains have been taken to insure that all dentists are equal, all average. Evidence is insurance companies requiring the same fee, legislation to discourage demonstrating new levels of achievement and many more. The journey of Mastery is rising above mediocrity to a new level of greater understanding, giving and receiving. Mastery sets you apart.
To take the Master’s Journey, you have to practice diligently, striving to hone your skills, to attain new levels of competence. But while doing so---and this is the essence of Mastery—you also must be willing to commit your time and money to reach a new plateau. Mastery requires practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere.
To take the journey towards Mastery, it helps a great deal to know how it works. In essence, Mastery is that mysterious process during which what is a first difficult becomes progressively easier and more pleasurable through practice. We describe it informally by saying that we can practice a movement until that point when we “program it into the autopilot.”
What are the keys to Mastery? Most importantly, place value in a good coach. You want a coach you can emulate, who plays the game well. See to it your teacher is someone you can live with. If you feel a lift of the heart at the prospect of working together, the electricity that is like falling in love, there is a chance you have found the right person.
A good teacher may be hard on you, even brutal, in holding you to the expectations that the two of you share. You want your teacher to give you the gift of basic skills. A second key towards Mastery is to surrender—not giving up—but it is a matter of the most intense involvement and the most satisfying victory. Surrender to your teacher and the demands of a discipline. Do things your teacher’s way wholeheartedly.
The third key to Mastery is practice. Practice, the noun, is as a life’s path, what the Japanese call ‘do’ or ‘the way’—and this practice defines you. In dentistry, there can be a quest for learning and taking seminars. In fact, there is a group of Doctors we call “seminar junkies,” who take every seminar. In Mastery, the challenge is to actually apply the knowledge learned in the practice of dentistry. Mastery is not an academic pursuit but requires the application of learning. Practice becomes you. Mastery is applying the knowledge in your practice and on your patients. Excuses of “My patients would never accept this,” OR, “I live in a blue-collar insurance town” are just excuses. Applying and practicing with a vengence will allow you to reach that level of Mastery.
Effective practice means going over the details until they become part of your strength. Larry Bird is a gifted athlete yet, not one of the fastest or the greatest jumper. What brings his basketball to a level at which the games have never been played before is his discipline, his will and his work ethic. Altogether, this is called Integrity. Others in the NBA agree that Bird’s integrity is far beyond anyone else’s. He makes other play much better and do things they never did before.
The fourth key to Mastery is mental discipline or attitude. It takes character, discipline and mental toughness to keep working and learning.
“A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done. Once a man has made a commitment to a way of life, he puts the greatest strength in the world behind him. It’s something we call heart power. Once a man has made this commitment, nothing will stop him short of success,” said Vince Lombardi.
The fifth key to Mastery is playing on the edge. This involves a deliberate negotiation with your abilities. It is an exercise in controlled abandon. Pushing the edge of the envelope, as the Chuck Yeager test pilots say, is something you do only when experience has taught you all you can learn about the envelope.
William James said, “It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. Beyond the very extremity of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own, sources of strength never taxes at all because we never push through the obstruction.”
In order to Master any aspect of life, it takes constant coaching, a willingness, practice, a winning attitude and pushing yourself to the edge. Mastery is actually the progressive realization of becoming the person God created you to be. Mastery takes action. Once you start, you are on the journey. Start Your Engines!