Personal Mastery

During my tenure as a management consultant, I was influenced heavily by Dr. Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. It argues that the only sustainable advantage any organization possesses is its ability to learn faster than its competition and sustain constant adaptation and improvement. Such organizations are fully grounded in reality yet have the capacity to ignite new and expansive patterns of thinking that galvanize collective aspirations and efforts.

Personal mastery represents a key cornerstone in a learning organization. As its tenets bear fruits on an individual as well as a corporate setting, I thought it merited consideration for healthy living.

Senge defines personal mastery as “the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.” The practice of personal mastery enables us to live in service of our highest aspirations.

Exemplars of personal mastery share the following characteristics:

  • They are clear about what deeply matters to them. They sustain their focus on intrinsic desires, not the goals and actions to support them. This focus provides the agility to change strategies and tactics when higher order objectives drift from line of sight.
  • They are imbued with a higher purpose to which their vision and goals are aligned. Each feels connected to a broad and benevolent human endeavor that extends beyond the individual.
  • They see the truth of things as they are. They recognize that “an accurate, insightful view of current reality is as important as a clear vision.” It demands a commitment to uncovering ways in which we deceive or limit ourselves and challenging the mental models we’ve used to describe the world… even when those insights create discomfort or conflict.
  • They have a keen awareness of the structures within which they operate and use that knowledge to work within them and change them. They challenge assumptions that keep us stuck in dysfunctional patterns of thinking or behaving; they open up a range of possibilities for consideration.
  • continuous learningThey are deeply inquisitive and engage in the practice of lifelong learning. They are acutely aware of their growth areas, yet pursue self-improvement with no loss in self-confidence. Learning confers newfound expertise, skills, and insights, and expands their capacity to create and contribute. Individuals who develop personal mastery do not expect to “arrive”; they enjoy the journey.
  • They enroll their self-conscious in pursuit of their aspirations and values. This engagement enables them to take forwarding actions without having to give them much thought. It also provides the means to access intuition and integrate it with reason.
  • They connect deeply with others and revel in being part of a larger creative process. At the same time, they do not lose sight of their distinctiveness, personal goals, or desires.

Each of us has the capacity to practice the discipline of personal mastery. The promise of living fully and generatively holds great appeal. I suspect that the absence of clear and compelling higher order vision serves as a stumbling block to engaging wholeheartedly in this process. I feel that pain. As a person entering a new phase of life post-retirement, I don’t have a clear definition of how to write my next chapter. Yet as a practitioner of lifelong learning, I have faith that a new vision will emerge.

What captures your imagination? How might you make room to explore that interest and see where it leads? With whom could you engage in dialog to explore the insights that might emerge?