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A Lesson in Mastery from a Maine Lobster Fisherman


A Lesson in Mastery from a Maine Lobster Fisherman

At dinner the other night they had lobster bisque on the menu. Delicious!

While I resisted the calories, I was immediately transported back in time, to our idyllic summer vacation on the coast of Maine. Some of our greatest lessons can be found in the most unexpected places, and mine was a lesson in mastery.

Having grown up on a cattle ranch in Montana, I have always viewed lobster as exotic fare. When I planned our trip, I dreamed of eating lobster day-and-night. Driving up to our cute little Maine cottage by the bay, my husband and I chatted happily about lobster dinner, when our then-eight-year-old vehemently declared that we were not allowed to kill lobsters.

My lobster-dreams shattered, I was committed to finding a solution to his sudden crustacean consciousness, which thankfully, I did. Apparently if someone else “did the deed” he had no problem with it. This is what brought me to the back of a salty old fisherman’s shack, where he cooked the lobsters he caught that morning on our behalf. The man was masterful.

I always find that one of the coolest things in the world is to meet someone who really knows their thing. This guy’s thing was lobster. As a Maine native and son of a lobster fisherman, his entire existence had been steeped in the sea.  I learned more about lobster during the 18 minutes it took to turn his catch into our dinner than I could imagine. When I sheepishly asked him about the proper way to get the lobster meat from the shell on to my plate, he showed me. It took him less than two minutes to deftly demonstrate proper lobster cleaning technique, giving me a lobster anatomy lesson in the process. I never thought watching someone do something like cleaning a lobster could be beautiful – but this man made it art.

What was neat to see, was how much joy this man exuded as he demonstrated what he loves. Sharing an expertise that has taken a lifetime to cultivate. Where there is mastery, there is joy.

Where there is mastery, there is joy.

Dan Pink, in one of my favorite books, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us talks about Mastery being one of the three core drivers for motivation. 

When we experience ourselves getting better and better at something, or our understanding getting richer and richer, because of effort we have invested, we are motivated to invest more. Invest more, because it brings us joy to do so. That seems to go against our natural instinct to take short-cuts and find the quickest path to a result, doesn’t it?

What could you do every day to experience yourself getting better and better? To cultivate your own sense of mastery? Not because your boss says you should. Not because you might get a raise. Not for the win at the end. But because of the person you will become along the way. If we put in our “10,000 hours” like a chore, instead of as a means to joy, what do we really have in the end? A lifetime of toil when we could be masters of our life. What were you born to master?

What could you do to cultivate your own sense of mastery? Not for the win at the end, but because of the person you will become along the way?

“Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought. But that was the thing that I was born for.” ― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

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