Becoming a Master

Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.  ~Albert Einstein 

 What exactly does it mean to be a “Master”?

When I was a newly-minted “Master Coach” friends and fellow coaches would ask me if I felt any different. The answer was simple: No, not really. The truth was I often found myself wondering instead, “How can I be a Master when I feel so much like a @*#$% Beginner all the time?”

I was afraid of being a Beginner — afraid of being left behind or deemed unworthy by my clearly more-evolved or deserving peers, mentors, friends, and family. After many conversations, much angst, and a few week-long stints under my desk, I  was only able to truly become a Master once I learned to embrace and appreciate my Beginner’s Mind.

I realized that becoming a Master really means nothing more than…

Accepting that things are always changing and being okay with that. I found that when I stopped changing, I stagnated.

Embracing constant growth. It is when I resist growing that I lose my way.

Appreciating my innate and playful curiosity. It is when I lose touch with the playful curiosity of the Beginner, that I also lose touch with the foundational wisdom of the Master.

Living from a place of pure, unfettered honesty. What is true for me is not always true for others, however when I deny my own truth, I am not being honest.  And when I am not honest, I compromise my spirit and diminish my gifts.

So what do I do when I compromise and diminish, and then feel really, really bad about it?

It’s simple. I go back to six basic lessons that I have learned on this journey from Beginner to Master and back to Beginner again. By fully embracing these lessons, I have finally allowed myself the honor of becoming a Master. So now, even as a Master — when I find myself laid low –   it is with this list where I always begin:

Lesson #1: Forgive myself for being human rather than living with the burden of shame.

I used to believe that not getting picked first for team sports or not getting invited to Molly Brown’s birthday party meant there was something wrong with me. I felt rejected and wholly inadequate. Unlovable. Ashamed. I was ashamed of being fat and for getting fired. I was ashamed of not being able to force myself to love the job I hated. Of being weak. I believed that all of these things meant I was fundamentally flawed. My shame meant no space for error and no place for forgiveness. Today I celebrate my imperfections. It means I am alive. I am human. I am still growing. I am forgivable. I am worthy of receiving.

Lesson #2: I know what I want. All I need to do is one simple thing: ask.

In order to receive from others, I had to let go of  a belief that somehow other’s know better than I do what’s possible or even right for me. I had to remember that people aren’t (generally) mind readers. And so I learned how to ask for what I wanted and be open to the response. The answer might be “no.” But more importantly, it might be “yes.” Either way, the answer was less important than the simple act of allowing myself to receive.

Lesson #3: Be willing to suck at it.

When failure is not an option, then what are we left with?

Does this sound familiar?

It has to be “right”. I have to be the best. I have to play it safe. Stay small. Never take risks. Never grow. Or expand. Or explore. Never allow possibility for fear of being perceived as a loser.

Our inner perfectionist loves to tell us that doing something badly is a fate worse than death. To shut up my own “inner perfect girl”, I have learned to adopt an attitude of playful curiosity and a true allowance that even if I sucked, it was totally okay that I did. I learned to recognize that there really is no failure; it’s all just feedback. Eventually, it became a game of warmer or colder. Failure is now always an option, because it means I showed up for myself. And the simple act of repeating my mantra: “playful curiosity, playful curiosity, playful curiosity” helped me remember that perfect is totally boring and totally unachievable.

Truth #4: True power comes when I let myself lead in spite of my flaws.

For so long I viewed being powerful as unattainable. I believed that “power” meant you must be impenetrable and varnished. Instead I learned that true power is admitting when I’m powerless; admitting when I’m wrong; admitting when I’ve screwed something up.  I thought being powerful meant that I had to be resolute and strong and in charge; that it was an authoritative power. Instead, power is imperfection. It is allow others to see me, flaws and all. Power is asking for help when I need it. It is saying, “I don’t know.” Power is loving myself enough to learn to say no and be okay with the consequences, whatever they may be.

Truth #5: It doesn’t have to be fun in order to be worth it. 

While in the thick of my Master Coach training, a friend asked me if the training program was fun. And I replied, “No. No, it isn’t fun.”  Sure. I had fun in the process, but the process itself? Not fun. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t completely worth every penny I paid for the training. It simply means that the real reward came when I stretched myself beyond my safe place of playing small and trying to live a risk-free life. Of waiting to be rescued or waiting to have things begin happening to my life. I stopped waiting for permission to live my life according to my own barometer of joy and fulfillment. I learned that being challenged the greatest reward of all. Even if it wasn’t fun.

Truth #6: There is no greater authority than my own inner wisdom. 

At some point after I stopped praying for boobs, braces, and glasses and before this moment now, I began believing I needed permission for everything, even if it meant that I would endeavor in something wholly unfit for me and my well-being. I would wring my hands in fear, terrified that if I did something that someone else didn’t like or didn’t do it exactly the way they wanted, I would be abandoned, deemed “unfit” and “unworthy”. Of what, I’m still not sure. But in the process, I gave all my power away. I began to disappear inside a cloud of “shoulds” and “musts” and “have to’s.” I hollowed myself out so I could shrink down and fit inside other peoples’ limiting expectations. I waited for permission and trembled at the fear of doing wrong – feeling as if a thousand crickets were unleashed in my belly –  until one day, I realized no one can know the inner workings of my soul but me. I am big. And I am bright. I shine when I want to shine. Go slow when I want to rest. Regroup when I am feeling off kilter. Push away when I’m feeling crowded. Invite in when I’m feeling lonely. I realized that no one can know what is right for me except me. I realized that beyond the rules of morality and ethics, nothing else can hold me back except me.

To be a Master, you must also be the Beginner.

I feel like now I truly understand it in a way I have never understood it before. I understand that Mastery means change and growth. It means being able to improvise and have the confidence that it will always turn out for the best, even if I have no idea what I’m doing. But more importantly, what I understand of Mastery is that it is something that you reveal, not something you become.

As the both the Master and the Beginner, I have learned to revel in my constant and sometimes uncomfortable growth, to allow myself to circle higher and higher in a dance of spiraling joy, learning and unlearning in perpetuity.

In this process of embracing both parts of myself – The Master and The Beginner –   I’ve realized that my need to use my voice to express myself, and the belief that I’ve got something worth saying, is greater than my fear of being judged and deemed unworthy.

I realized that every time I take a risk and put myself out there, I give other people permission to do the same.