How to Make it Through the Five Stages of Mastery
If we all could only work on our strengths, life would be grand, wouldn’t it? I could avoid doing any kind of administrative paperwork, taxes; I could avoid bettering my sales skills and stop learning anything more about marketing.
That sounds delicious.
But it’s not realistic, especially for someone starting in business. Making a broader impact, bringing more value to people, requires that I get good at things I don’t want to do.
If these were things I loved doing, I would have no problem spending the time mastering those skills, just like I didn’t have any problem spending years learning, performing, teaching, and coaching improv comedy. I loved it…I was all in!
The same for storytelling, facilitating, and coaching, I couldn’t get enough of these things.
But when we need to get good at something that we don’t naturally gravitate towards, it’s essential to know the Five Stages of Mastery. Anyone of the first three can trip us up and have us tap out before we reach our full potential.
If I’d only known earlier in life about the Five Stages of Mastery, there would be so many more things that I could say I’ve mastered.
But hey, I’m only 54; there’s still time.
Here are the five stages of Mastery:
STAGE 1 – FEAR
Fear shows up for the things we think we’ll struggle to master; excitement shows up for those things we believe we will love mastering.
This first stage is where a lot of people stop before they even get started. The gremlins in our minds start yammering away about not being able to do this thing, that we’re not good enough, who will believe us, and that it’s just too hard.
Action defuses fear because while we’re stagnant in a fear state, all we have is the story in our head, and let’s be honest, most of us aren’t great storytellers. We have no actual data to tell us that we can or can’t do anything.
What’s the solution? Of course, it’s to start.
Do one small thing, and do another small thing the next day; action breeds confidence.
If we make it out of the fear stage, we land right into the next stage that can often trip us up.
STAGE 2 – ANGER
So, we’ve moved on, but surprisingly we land at a stage that can be even more frustrating – anger.
Anger at how difficult things are, anger at ourselves for not doing things as quickly as others, anger because there’s still so much we don’t know, anger because your mind or body aren’t working the way you think they should.
If you’re a high achiever in other areas of your life or believe that things should come easily for you, anger is a natural outcome of the struggle.
The anger stage is when you want to get better, but everything is still so hard!. Patience for yourself and what you’re learning can run thin. It’s easy to throw in the towel because anger isn’t a pleasant emotion.
Giving up here is a way to avoid the pain.
So how do we get through this stage?
One way is to understand that this stage is normal. Most everyone goes through it when trying to learn something that feels difficult.
Self-Compassion goes a long way in this stage; meeting those angry voices in your head with a soft, soothing rebuttal. Something that sounds like, “It’s okay to be angry, I’m doing something I’ve never done before, and it’s hard. I’m angry because I want to do this well, and I’m not able to yet.”
Also, keep going.
STAGE 3 – INDIFFERENCE
If we make it out of the anger stage, we reach indifference. The stage where you feel neutral about the thing you’re trying to master. It no longer makes you angry, but you don’t love it either.
The indifference stage where you might hear yourself say, “Oh, yeah, I tried that…it just wasn’t for me.”
I have tapped out in this stage so many times! It’s hard to stay motivated in indifference because we may see other people surpassing our skills. It feels like nothing is pulling us forward.
We start thinking we’ll never be any better than where we are right now. And where we are right now isn’t good enough to pursue it further.
I bet, like me, there are a lot of things you’ve tried over the years, and you reached this point and tapped out. This stage can FEEL like it lasts forever.
Or maybe you reach this point, and you realize you don’t want to put the extra time and effort into getting to the next stage. That’s okay too…but make that a conscious decision, not one you make, because it’s the easiest thing to do.
If you’re in it for the mastery, you’ve got to keep going because it’s the next stage where things start to turn the corner.
STAGE 4 – EXPLORATION
If we make it through the stage of indifference, we eventually get to a welcome stage of exploration. Dare I say we begin liking this thing we’ve been working on for a while?
We finally see our skills improve enough to break the rules of how we do things. We find new patterns and new ways to use this new skill.
Exploration is the pay off for making it through the earlier three stages. We flip the switch on our curiosity and playfulness becomes an option.
We begin sharing what we know and expanding our confidence in this area. Mastery begins to feel like a real possibility, and it is! Because once you start to like doing something, you’re more likely to continue doing that thing.
This leads us to the final stage of mastery…
STAGE 5 – LOVE
Once you love something, you make time for it. Love makes things a priority in our lives. We want to do it, and we often want to show others how well we do this thing.
There is no single timeline for mastery.
And here’s where I may break your heart a little bit. There’s no guarantee you’ll become a master of something simply because you love it and you put in the hours.
You may have heard the myth of becoming a master of something after putting in 10,000. But that’s a myth…it’s not HOW MANY hours you’ve in; it’s the QUALITY of the hours you’ve put in. If you practice horrible form in tennis for 10,000 hours, you’ll still never make it to Wimbledon.
There are also the factors of genetics and age. Being that I’m 5’2” and 54 years old, mastering ballet or slam-dunking a basketball may not be in the cards for me.
But that’s not to say that I couldn’t make it to the stage of love for those activities if I kept going through the other four stages.
So, those are the Five Stages of Mastery. Learning about those first three stages was critical for me. Knowing I just had to keep going to make it to exploration and maybe even love was key.
I hope this little knowledge bomb is helpful for you too.