The Reward of Mastery is Going to Cost You

May 22, 2020

Some of the best carpenters I’ve ever met are missing a finger or two. Some of the best mechanics have seriously calloused and scared knuckles from all the times that the wrench has slipped. Some of the best singers in the business have at one time or another entirely lost their voice. Any seriously dedicated and committed gymnast is impressively bruised.

To be a master at anything you must rub up against the edges of your profession or passion. And often daringly so. Edges are rough, they hurt, they’re abrasive. Edges define things, often with a sharpness that cuts to the bone.


I don’t know anyone who has dedicated themselves 100% to their craft who doesn’t bear the scars of their commitment.


“The more outrageous the dreams and hopes and actions of those who dare to let their deepest spark ignite into flame, the more outrage they will encounter from those who are threatened by the consuming fires of change.”


When you’re willing to push yourself right up to and beyond the edge of your comfort and skill and knowing, you’re going to get roughed up.

You don’t hire a carpenter with smooth hands. You don’t bet on a boxer whose nose isn’t a bit smashed and crooked.

The wastebaskets of all writers worth their salt are overflowing with defeat.

The bank accounts of every Rock Star who has ever lived were once a frightening pittance. And they were told all along the way to cut their hair, get a job and “Really, you’re going to wear THAT on stage?”

Swimmers and bikers and runners cramp in exhaustion and cry out in pain. Olympic divers land on their backs or bellies with a sickening smack during practice as they push the boundaries of their aerial mastery.

Musicians pushing the edge wince at missed notes that nobody else notices. And if they do, they don’t care. The rest of the bold artistry has already captivated the heart and soul.

When I was first learning to play blues harmonica one of my teachers shared the sage advice that when you’re on stage playing, more than wanting people to say, “Damn that guy’s good.” It’s more compelling when they say, “Damn that guy looks like he’s having a really good time.”

People are much more strongly attracted to your authenticity than to your perfection. What compels and inspires others most is your authentic love, joy, enthusiasm and passionate commitment to your work, cause or purpose. This is the law of attraction at work. Your authentic expression of life compels and draws out the same authentic expression and courage in others, which is yearning to be met and matched.  Since pure “perfection” doesn’t really exist, then our strident attempts to be perfect at the cost of our authenticity doesn’t have an equivalent reflection within others with which to resonate.  This is where there is a dissonance and true connection is lost.

Mastery is not a matter of perfected skills. Mastery is a result of persistent, focused and dedicated passion and a reflection of purely authentic expression.

It is our love and passion driven dedication that compels us to stretch beyond the limiting constraints of pure skills based perfection and into the realm of fearless presence where we meet ourselves anew at the rough and awakening edges of life.

Serious mountaineers often have less than 10 toes. And even if they do have all their wiggling digits, I guarantee that they have less living friends than they had when they first fell in love with mountains. This is true for all who have committed to becoming a master in any art from that defies gravity.  Sky diving, race car driving, surfing, space exploration and all other edge defying endeavors. The object of their commitment is known for taking lives.  But that to which they have dedicated their love is also known for giving life in ways that a rare few can truly know or imagine.

I used to be a raft guide and we had a saying. “There are those guides that have flipped a raft and those that will flip a raft.” You stay in the game long enough at anything that you’re willing to push to the edge and beyond, and you’re going to get bruised, battered, beat up and smacked about.  You’re going to lose some skin.

That’s the price you pay for mastery and excellence. You pay with your pride and your hide. But that’s nowhere near the price you’ll pay for not taking the risk and sitting this one out.

For that you pay with your soul.


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