Shahriar Shahriari

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Message of the Month

August, 2004

Mastery vs. Success

A couple of days ago, I came across a Chinese proverb that went like this: "Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still."

This caught my attention and demanded some time to reflect. My reflections conjured up images of roses and lotus flowers growing and maturing slowly, gradually bringing out their beauty and quietly emanating their glory.

What is it about nature that creates such masterful beauty, so effortlessly and so imperceptibly? And what is it about us that we are always in a rush to get to wherever it is we think we are heading? And what is the difference?

And then it clicked. We have been indoctrinated to reach for success, as fast as we can, and at whatever cost that it demands. And in the process, we sacrifice so much, just to get there. Yet that is not enough. We demand acknowledgement of our achievement. We want our peers and others around us to notice that we got "there", and we want them to show their recognition and appreciation of our achievement.

Perhaps the key phrase is demanding acknowledgement. We demand to be noticed, because we have no way of being certain if we have succeeded in getting "there" – wherever that is – without having others notice it.

But what if nobody ever comes across the pond where the lotus flower grows? What if the rose never wins any prize at any show or competition? Does that diminish from nature’s mastery in creating such excellence?

And so it became apparent to me that mastery is a life-long process of internalization of whatever it is that we are mastering, while success is the collective perception and acknowledgment of one’s attainment of some measurable objective.

Furthermore, success by its very definition requires arriving at some point or place – thus concluding the process of achievement. In other words, at the end of success, there is standing still. And if we still have the energy and the passion, we may start looking for some other goal worthy of pursuit, followed by the subsequent rush towards getting there.

On the other hand, with mastery, there is no arrival. The joy is not in the attainment, but in the doing. The focus of mastery is the process, while the achievement is only a bi-product. And the recognition and acknowledgement is irrelevant to one’s level of satisfaction. Perhaps this explains why masters sometimes appear to be aloof.

Life is full of surprises. We may become successful early or late in life. We may have a bit of luck on our side and get there more easily. We may even be born into success, or conversely, through misfortune never make it. Perhaps we may be so persistent that no matter what, we will finally get there. And then stand still…

On the other hand, if we have our heart set on something, if we find the thing that brings joy into our lives, if we find the treasure that inspires our love as well as brings out the best in us, perhaps we will be wise enough to give it the dedication that it deserves. And perhaps through passage of time, and endless practice, we will find the focus that sets us on the path to grow ever so slowly, until at some point in time we will find that we have internalized that process to the level of mastery.

© Shahriar Shahriari
Los Angeles, CA
August 2004

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