Day #239: Mastery (Inspired by Penelope Trunk)

I enjoy reading Penelope’s blog.  It’s effectively Penelope’s life story (as it unfolds) wrapped in a layer of career advice.  What I like most about the blog is that it always makes me think and consider my own position on various issues.  Recently, Penelope wrote about the topic of mastery.  The topic hit a nerve with me.  How many times have I said that I don’t want to do something if I can’t do it well or master it?  Similarly, how many times have I been given grief because I’m too much of a perfectionist?  Perhaps the answer is in ‘choosing your battles’.  Maybe I don’t need to master everything.  Maybe I should just pick a few things to master and learn to be satisifed with the rest.  So what are my mastery goals?  Penelope wants to master the hill that leads to her farm.  What about me?

Mastery at Home

Many times I’ve talked about how I want to be a better housekeeper.  Maybe I should just try to master 1-2 things and do my best on everything else.  There’s a woman dubbed the “Fly Lady” who tells her disciples to learn to shine their kitchen sink.  Once that sink is gleaming, then (and only then) can they move on to more complicated tasks.  At home, I’ve got three mastery goals:

  1. Master Sunday dinner.  I want Sunday dinner to be that big meal that everyone looks forward to all week.  It should be tasty and filling and one of the things my kids always remember fondly.  Maybe if I can master Sundays, the rest of the week won’t be so daunting.
  2. Master laundry.  I would like it if at any given time you could enter my laundry room and find only a few items waiting to be washed or ironed.  The floors should be sparkly and there should be no laundry waiting to be put away.

Mastery at Work

In my profession, professors are expected to teach, conduct research and provide service to the community.  The difficult part is balancing these responsibilities.  Some institutions require you to master at least one of these things and just not stink at the other two.  That’s a standard that I can live with.

  1. Become an expert.  I want to emerge as an expert in my research areas.  For example, if you want to know anything about initial public offerings, Jay Ritter is the man you want to follow.  I aspire to build that type of reputation.
  2. Become a master teacher.  I want to be that professor that everyone wants and recommends to their friends.  I want to be known as tough but fair and always compassionate.

So, I have four things that I want to master.  That still feels like a lot compared to Penelope’s hill.  I think I can handle Sunday dinner and laundry, but maybe I need to breakdown those work goals a little bit more.  As I think about my research, I ask myself what is standing in the way of me being an expert in my field.  It seems that I have a never-ending supply of interesting questions, but I’m not up-to-date on the best methods for answering those questions.  Fortunately, my research training program starts this week.  I am VERY excited.  I think I’m on the right track.  As far as the teaching goes, I think that gets a little better every semester.  I listen and learn from my students every term and look for ways to improve.  More often than not, I feel good about my performance when I leave my classroom and I’m even asked to share my teaching methods with others.  Again, I think I’m on the right track.

What do you want to master?  Is it a hill in your front yard?  Is it shining your sink?  More importantly, after you master that one thing, what will come next?  Imagine the possibilities!


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