You must have heard about Marvan Atapattu. The former captain of the Sri Lankan team is a superb example for staying the course despite overwhelming odds. It is an incredible tale.
Atapattu had the following scores in his first three matches.
1st test match
1st innings – 0
2nd innings – 0
2nd test match
1st innings – 0
2nd innings – 1
3rd Test match
1st innings – 0
2nd innings – 0
Those are low scores for sure. But the crux of what fascinates me is not the story about the low scores and a meteoric rise later on. What occupies my mind is the time interval between each of these scores you read above. He was dropped from the team after every single test match. After the 1st test match and it took him almost two years of hard work in the domestic arena to be given the second chance.
It took him another three years to get another chance when he miffed his second chance! Every time he failed at the big stage, he went back to the drawing board and practiced like hell. In his case, for years! Despite public failures in the big stage.
Staying the course when the headwind wrecks your sail is quite something.
Staying the course is tough. Especially so in the modern times where there are many novel courses that open very at the drop of a hat. The novelty seeker is perpetually enthralled. The need to keep knocking on a door that seems to close often or to climb a stiff stairway to success requires effort. For there are spiffy doors and mountains that make an appearance in a jiffy!
Careers. Partners. Ways of working. Routes. Employees. Organisations. Homes. Devices. Food. And everything else under the Sun has inviting options. If you don’t like this, try something else! Novelty rules. Of course, there is a stiff price to pay in many forms.
In jobs and careers, the big cost is mastery in chosen domains.
Staying the course of mastery
In an era where amateurs can make as much of a splash (if not more) as experts and professionals, mastery in a chosen domain is relegated to idealism.
The number one reason why mastery is in short supply, in my opinion, is this: mastery requires staying the course for a while.
Mastery necessitates a commitment to the process of just getting better at what one does. It needs you to treat results on the scoreboard as an unnecessary distraction. It requires an unequivocal acceptance of failure or defeat while staying rooted to examining and growing. The outcomes are not to interfere with the craft. Masters have abundant patience with themselves while they have a steely eyed focus on getting better.
Mastery comes with sacrifice. Amongst the biggest sacrifices is turning off the inviting lights of novelty! It requires pushing and challenging oneself continuously. It may seem boring, but the depth in each domain make their presence felt when novelty is silenced. Angela Duckworth laid it bare in a pithy statement. “Substituting nuance for novelty is what experts do, and that is why they are never bored”. Building expertise is a boring task to the ones on the outside. But to those that are at it, it is far more nuanced.
“It’s not for me“
“That’s not what I want to go through. It’s not for me.” I am sure you have heard of that. That’s a choice we all have and exercise as well. Whatever our chosen domains are, we can choose to be masters in it. We can also choose to scratch the surface by staying attracted the glimmer that the ‘new’ brings. It’s a choice we all have. The masters choose well. That’s why there are so few of them.
In the last few weeks, as COVID held its savage sway over my attention span, I tried focusing on masters and their focus. I have a few realisations and many stories to share. Let me reserve some of them for the day when the masks come off and we sit down for a coffee.
For now, may I just request you to go back and look at Marvan Atapattu’s exploits after those tepid beginnings? Well, over 5000 runs in test cricket. Amongst the few players who have a century against every test playing country with six double hundreds. He not only went on to captain the Sri Lankan national team, he had a stint as a coach with them as well!
What the numbers don’t speak of is how well he is regarded for his technical soundness. Amongst the best in class in his era. To me, that is the essence of mastery. A result of a resolute staying the course.
The OWL Despatch
This is edition 83 of The OWL Despatch. Typically, I put one out every fortnight with five interesting reads I picked up during this time. This edition has a bias towards staying focused. It’s been a struggle with the mayhem around me.
1. The disciplined pursuit of less
2. Abhinav Bindra: the evolution of an athlete
3. The beginners guide to deliberate practice
4. Your next job move could be easier…
5. Daniel Pink on how regret can help you find your purpose