Written for Operation Werewolf by Matthias Waggener/All photography by Colton D'Agostino
With all the crazies in the streets heralding the end of the world, and what seems like everyone on the “news” talking about the end of this or the fall of that, some doomsday scenario or another, I find myself looking forward to the beginning of something new.
And I’m glad it is just the beginning, because I am just a beginner.
I’ve done many things in my life and have had a very broad range of experiences- I’ve even been referred to as a "Jack of all Trades.” I believe it is good to have a wide understanding of the world around you, to be able to look at it from the broadest scope. I’ve definitely had things that I’ve stuck with for longer than others, jobs that I held for over 10 years, my relationship being longer than 10 years, etc. But the follow up to the moniker of the "Jack of all Trades," is "Master of None.”
I look at myself now and see that in all the endeavors that I am currently pursuing- I’m just a beginner.
I believe in the value of mastery, and so I can’t aggrandize any of my actions, understanding, or application in these areas as being anything other than at this beginner level. At a very conservative estimation, in most fields, it is generally assumed that mastery can be achieved at 10 years of experience. That is at a very “bare minimum” usually reserved for prodigies and “phenoms.” If we look at mastery like a spectrum, you have to be able to gauge where you are on that spectrum, and to exaggerate or let the ego place that point somewhere further along dishonors the true masters and leads to, or is a product of, self delusion.
Even with the few things in my life that I have been doing for 10 years or more, I still feel proficient at best.
Recently I had to change my routine and start working out in the early mornings at about 4:30. I remember thinking to myself how this was going to be “hardcore,” because it was going to require the type of discipline that in my mind few possessed. As I walked through the doors the first morning I was shocked to see the gym packed with middle aged soccer moms there for their workouts and morning Zumba classes or whatever it is they do. I immediately came to the absolutely humbling realization that I was only displaying the same dedication to fitness found in your average soccer mom.
At a Jiu Jitsu tournament the other day, Iam a warrior in my own mind, there to forge myself iron hard in glorious combat…and I find myself again surrounded by regular, everyday people, computer programmers, construction workers, (more soccer moms!)- some at the highest level of competition- who had dedicated a decade or more to the same endeavor that I put so much stock in.
In the gym I’m constantly pushing myself and growing stronger, but the hard fact is: I still can’t even lift half the weight the masters in the sport are capable of.
Now, it’s not that I am not proud of my accomplishments, and the sacrifices I have made to get where I am now- I am even satisfied with my rate of progression. It’s just that in order to get where you want to be you have to know where you are going, and an honest understanding of where you are now. I see a lot of people these days becoming experts on a subject after putting in a few hours on Youtube, or listening to the helper constantly complain about the journeyman, always assuming that somehow with only a fraction of the experience, he somehow knows “a better way.” The white belt, who has to add some tidbit of knowledge to everything the professor says.
These types of peopleare the greatest insult to the idea of mastery, by undermining the importance of in-depth study, consistency, dedication and discipline. It desecrates the idea of the teacher/student relationship, and ultimately seeks to remove the need for humility in a human being- replacing it with the rampant expression of inflated ego, leading to a false sense of pride and self delusion. These, in turn, leave the individual in a state of inability to learn at all, and create a generally disrespectful position towards true knowledge of any kind.
For me, it is important that I recognize myself as a simple traveller on the road to mastery, because I don’t want something that is fake, that would break under any true test. If or when I reach a level of mastery, I want it to mean something. I will want the respect that only true mastery can garner. Most importantly, I will want to have the memory of every moment along that path that contributed to producing a master- a full and complete knowledge of what it actually takes to get there. Even after this, I imagine that if I make it there I will still feel like a beginner, and I hope to always maintain that mindset.
I do not consider it to be self-deprecating to minimize my accomplishments in order for them to appropriately fit the scale they should be weighed on. It is not a staggering blow to my ego to admit that somewhere a soccer mom is probably out working me. It is a bar that is set, that in order for me to know I am truly going above and beyond, I must exceed yesterday’s effort in all areas. Many days I fail, because I am just a beginner- but that might just be the most important step towards mastery.