“True nobility is not being superior to another being. True nobility is being superior to your previous self.” ~ Ernest HemingwayOne of my passions is music. By day, I’m an entrepreneur, consultant, executive coach, but in my heart of hearts, I am and will always be – an artist. I’m a classically-trained flutist and first fell in love with the instrument at 9 years old, when I happened to hear Jean-Pierre Rampal playing on the radio.
My journey with the flute began innocently enough – just another kid pursuing whatever was fancied at the time, and despite the challenges of playing such a difficult instrument – I embraced the challenge.
I’m no virtuoso; I was talented enough, but I wasn’t a genius – and whatever I lacked in the genius department I more than made up for it with sheer will and tenacity. What started off as an interest, over the years turned into a serious endeavor, and my interest (and talents) grew. And with this growth can opportunities: running into my first good private teacher, competitions, opportunities to play in front of audiences large and small. I was driven, but not obsessed. The instrument remained hard, remained a challenge – partly because I was playing on badly crafted instruments – and my abilities plateaued.
I hit the wall. Hard. Sometime during my senior year at high school – and no amount of effort or lessons would break me free from this plateau. And in all honesty, I carried this state with me through college.
But then something changed. Eleven years in, and a year after I left college, I was finally able to afford a professional instrument: in this case, an instrument made by the famed Louis Lot flute company made in 1882, Paris, and then another Louis Lot from 1875.
It was as if I never learned how to play the flute. Eleven years and it’s like it never happened. This new flute, made for the virtuosos of the 19th century, was impossible to play at first. It forced me to rethink everything I learned, everything I thought I understood about playing the flute. Friends of mine who excelled at playing these vintage instruments helped me through it; all telling me that it may take one to two years to really unlock all that these instruments have to offer: “It’s very hard, but it’s worth it. Don’t give up. There’s a lot waiting for you if you put the effort.”
These were the instruments that my heroes played on – all the flutists that I admired and looked up to play on these instruments, and I wanted to be in the club. It was difficult, frustrating, maddening, heartbreaking, discouraging – all of these things. But I marched on, putting in hours upon hours of practice, struggling with being patient, with living in a plateaued state.
It took a year. After a year, I would begin to produce, begin to hear some of the magic and majesty of these flutes, and I clung on to these small glimmers and plodded on. And then one day, it all just kind of “clicked.” I remember beginning my warm-up ritual and with this first note, hearing this gorgeous, lush, rich tone just kind of “pop” out. Then another note, and another. Somehow, the flute in my hands just felt like it was a part of me – that day, the flute just felt like this bar of sound, the tube and keys vibrating with this enveloping, rich tone. It felt like I was wrapped up in a cloak of sound – pure sound and timbre and tone. I quickly launched into a lyrical piece of classical music that Rampal played – the same music that first set me on this journey some 12 years ago, and I cried.
It was breathtaking, and the next day, the same thing happened, and in the days after, I found myself growing in ability, growing in leaps at a time. And for the next few months, this would continue. I became better, faster, deepening in talent, and skill.
And then it stopped.
“Life” intruded. Circumstances would require me to have little to no time to spend on the thing I loved, and economic circumstances caused me to have to sell that flute that was the key to all of these breakthroughs I experienced. In fact: it would take another 12 years before I could afford to acquire another Louis Lot and take up the flute again. And I wondered if I’d find that magic again. I wondered if I could fall in love all over again. So much time had passed, and whatever gains I had made in skill and progress would be lost to time, but I set off on the journey again, and things were much more difficult because I’m remembering what I’ve “lost.”
At some point, I gave up trying to regain what ground I lost, and instead surrendered myself to the present – and the joy and privilege to be playing on yet another old masterpiece. And it’s at this point, this state of surrender and acceptance – that the real breakthroughs began to unfold.
Within six months, I connected with the instrument (what took a year before), and armed with a heightened level of focus, appreciation, and gratitude, I gained new skills, new levels of ability. My circle of friends remained a supporting and encouraging resource – and there were new resources: better teachers, new music to learn, to create, and a new me.
Everything was different, while some things were familiar and the same. This second journey was still hard, still very challenging, but this time, I could draw from my past experiences and instead of hitting the wall, plateauing and being frustrated (and scared) about hitting a limit – I got excited, because I knew what was waiting for me on the other side of this plateau…
For me, the road to Mastery isn’t a true destination: it’s a state of being, a mindset. It feels like a ritual: a ritual of a perpetual state of practice, observation, awareness, thoughtful reflection. To me, mastery is the highest form of enlightenment, an active meditative state of knowing, being, reflection and discovery. It’s fluid, and a living, constantly evolving state of mind, body and spirt. And as I embrace this mastery state – and notice it in others – it feels like learning, with no clear end in mind or sight.
Mastery is a perpetual journey that every living soul is capable of experiencing. Mastery can occur in any area of your life – it can be born from natural ability, from the beginning of something you find curious or fascinating. It can show up in the smallest ways. What have you become a master of, yet have failed to recognize this mastery? What are things you are talented in and/or very good at that with a bit more time, focus and intent you could learn to master? I encourage you to take the journey. Taking it will bring you rewards that at times would seem unimaginable. Take the journey and start today…