Mastery is a complicated and fascinating thing. When you first start out to master something (such as learning to snowboard or becoming an old-west style trick-shooter, or even achieving the ability to speak in a dialect other than your own while hitting your mark, finding your light and acting at the same time) — when you first start out — as you put in effort, you experience results.
You work and light bulbs go off!
You practice and you exceed your expectations!
You work and you reap rewards.
It’s a giddy and joyful experience.
Somewhere down the line however, (and you never can tell exactly when this will occur) you realize that you’re still putting in plenty of work, but your skills don’t seem to be improving much further. You’ve hit a learning plateau and it feels like the party is over. Practicing isn’t fun anymore and the work you’re doing really does feel like work. Soon you may feel like you want to (or should) give up.
And if you were to give up, you wouldn’t be alone.
Far from it.
It’s during this plateau phase that most people give up their quest for mastery.
Most people give up.
Most people give up during the plateau phase of mastering a new skill.
Most people give up.
On one hand that’s kind of a sobering thought. On the other hand it’s also a pretty spectacular opportunity for anyone who is willing to continue to work for an unknown length of time without constantly reaping rewards. Why? Because those who continue practicing a skill solely for the sake of practicing eventually find themselves ahead of their competition. It just happens that way.
As an actor that might mean that when a role comes down to you and two other people, you end up getting cast because you actually do know how to brandish a firearm, or yodel, or handle technical lingo while your competition — doesn’t.
You can have an edge over your direct competition (those actors you keep running into time and again at auditions) you just have to learn to expect the plateau, to accept it, to manage it and perhaps even to grow to love it. Here are a few books on this subject that I have found to be immensely valuable:
‘Mastery’ by George Leonard — This is one of my all-time favorites. I hope that all of you will find a way to give yourself the gift of reading this insightful book.
‘The Dip’ by Seth Godin — This book actually does not discuss the topic of mastery directly, but rather focuses on recognizing and managing the plateau (which Mr. Godin refers to as ‘The Dip’).
Enjoy! (If you have other books or resources on this topic to recommend, it would be lovely of you to add them to the comments section.)