Michelangelo on mastery, perception, and daily practice
In our culture, we love to idolize “The Greats”. We put them on a pedestal and think of them as somehow non-human.
But no one was born knowing how to tie their shoes, much less how to paint or play guitar. Any master of anything got that way through hard work and hours logged.
Study after study now shows that the main determinant of mastery is not “talent” or any special cosmic endowment – it’s time.
The best in any field have simply put in more hours of deliberate practice than anyone else. This is true for Michelangelo and it’s true for Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan.
“Talent” may be a word invented by people looking to discount hard work.
But there is something that sets some apart from others. And this is interest. Interest, fascination, curiosity – these are the motivating factors that help us show up and practice.
Of course, Michael Jordan had height, and Michelangelo had eyes and hands. We’re limited by our physical bodies.
But mastery is a time-game. In anything we do regularly with focus and attention, we will improve to the extent we’re physically able.
No magic, no genetic inheritance, just hours.
All we can do is sit down and pick up our instrument. Then do it again tomorrow. This is our side of the deal: challenge ourselves, listen like crazy, return to things often enough to make a difference. Time does the rest.
Even with the worse technique and no teacher, we get better. We go further faster with great technique and great teachers. And we go even further still with one-pointed attention while engaged. But hours alone are a big part of it.
This can be of some comfort on the inevitable days when our flow doesn’t feel so “flowy”.
“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”