Mastery requires time. Where are you spending yours? And what are you mastering?


“Mastery is not something that strikes in an instant, like a thunderbolt, but a gathering power that moves steadily through time, like weather.”
― John GardnerThe Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers

I recently found this quote in a  book I’ve had on my bookshelf since the 5th grade. I underlined it sometime in the past ten or fifteen years, but it resonated in a new way.

We gather mastery over time, sometimes intentionally, sometimes by default.

We gather habits, reactions to conflict, ways of thinking, and behaviors along our way. In certain moments, we feel the satisfaction of getting good at something. Maybe it’s the thing people seek you out for, a talent you share, a way of listening. In other situations we wonder “why do I find myself here again?”

Either way, the gathering power is strong.

Gardner’s quote made me think differently this week. Where do I spend my time? What kind of mastery am I developing with my time?

It’s a great question when thinking about conflict. After all, conflict can be random, but there’s usually a storm behind the thunderbolt. It’s often brewing and gathering on the horizon and we can feel it coming. What are we doing along the way to manage it? Resorting to our usual, well-practiced reactions? Or can we try something different?

It helps to break the storm down and see if we can identify a point or two where we can practice a new technique.

  • If your style is to avoid conflict, it could be intentionally asking the person you’re avoiding a question.
  • If you hate answering phone calls and the weight of the “to-do” is robbing you of your peace of mind during the day, maybe you can answer them first thing in the morning.
  • If you’re hiding from a particular trouble, maybe you can find someone to air your anxieties with and brainstorm next steps.
  • Maybe it’s as simple as making a few minutes a day for an overwhelming and unmanageable (seeming) project?

It can be small because that’s the way mastery begins, as Gardner emphasizes.

I’m curious what kind of changes you’ve made in your approach in dealing with conflict. Were they small or storm-sized?


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