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Editor’s Note: Today’s brilliant feature is a guest article by James Clear of Passive Panda.

“The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson

For creative pros, no matter how aligned our job is with our core passions, there are still times when we still struggle.

  • We need an added spark to finish our latest project. (Yes, we could “get it done” … but the client wants something that is “brilliant.”)
  • We yearn for a deeper fulfillment in our jobs. (Sure, we’re good at creating, but that doesn’t mean every moment is filled with passionate joy.)
  • We wish there were new opportunities to use our skills. (We love our craft, but everyone needs a change of scenery every now and then.)

Given the possibilities, I believe that what we often need is not a perfect idea, moment of passion or the “right” opportunity, but rather, we need to rekindle the quest to master our craft.

The Importance of Mastery

Mastery can only be attained through the development of a comprehensive knowledge or skill. It is the highest order of accomplishment in our craft. Mastery does not require you to be perfect, but it does require you to pursue perfection.

This distinction is important because it allows you to enjoy the results you produce while adopting a mindset that requires you to pour your heart and soul into your work.

In fact, if you adopt this mindset, I think you will find three key benefits of mastery in the creative process.

1. Discovery of Self

One of the side benefits of the creative process is discovering our core passions in the midst of it. Through the act of creating new experiences, ideas, and things, we discover what is important to us. It is only by channeling our energies into a creative task that we often discover what we are truly thinking and feeling. However, it’s only when we pursue mastery of our craft that we dedicate the necessary time and energy to discover ourselves.

Pursuing mastery requires a sacrifice – a path quite unlike average attempts at creating something, which can be done during regular working hours or on our free time. If you truly want to become the best you can be, then you must actively choose to spend your time there and avoid other pursuits. You must sacrifice for your craft.

This is an important characteristic of the pursuit of mastery. As humans it’s natural to seek an identity, a way to define ourselves in the larger context of the world. It is only through action and emptying ourselves that we often find our identity as individuals.

We are writers because we make sacrifices to write. The same is true for artists, musicians, architects, and thousands of other creatives. We choose to create when it is not easy or convenient. And that continual pursuit and sacrifice is what allows us to discover ourselves and mold our identity.

We are defined by what we make time to do, not by what we do when we have time.

2. Fulfillment

You might feel relieved to have a project done. You might be happy to put your name on your work. But feeling fulfilled by your craft is a special moment.

Now, there is simply no way to become perfect at what you do — but there are perfect moments. There are brilliant slivers of time when the creative process falls directly into place. Moments when you finish a piece of work — an essay, a photograph, a design — and step back for just a moment to admire the beauty of it.

These are the times when you take a deep breath and say to yourself, “This is what I was meant to do. I’m happy with this.”

Those moments are only found along the path to mastery. They are discovered somewhere between sacrifice and perfection, and they reassure you that you are walking the correct path and wandering in the right direction.

Fulfillment does not come from perfecting your craft, but from attempting to perfect it. It is the by-product of continually striving to achieve your personal best, and then taking pride in the result.

3. Opportunity for Growth

Finally, the pursuit of mastery provides us with an enhanced opportunity to grow.

The passionate pursuit of a specific project will always open up related doors because you will talk to others about your work and they, in turn, will talk to someone else. When people sense your enthusiasm and witness your dedication to the craft, it’s only natural for them to spread your message.

As your message spreads, new opportunities will arise. You’ll have the chance to meet new people, apply for new positions, go to new places, and build new things.

And this is one of the greatest benefits of mastering your craft.

When we set out on a difficult and important journey — like attempting to achieve mastery — we are presented with opportunities that we never could have imagined at the outset. In fact, it is often the opportunities that arise on the way to our original goals that end up making our story sing.

The unexpected chances for growth and change, those are the delightful surprises that unfold only along the path to mastery.

The Fruits of Mastery

Mastery is not easy. It is not simple or quick or painless.

Even so, if you pay your way with effort and sacrifice, mastery will more than pay you back in discovery, fulfillment, and growth.

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