Defining Mastery

These words belong to Turgut Uyar, one of the prominent Turkish poets of the 20th century. 

For many years, I interpreted this aphorism as to learn new things, to be always a beginner on something or to assume that you know nothing and not to define yourself as a master. Just like the ‘’Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’’ mindset in the famous 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech delivered by Steve Jobs. Until last week. 

Last Sunday, I was invited to give a speech in the Boğaziçi University Marketing Summit. In my speech, I touched upon the importance of staying new and current. I told them that they will need to reinvent themselves continuously in their careers. I shared with them my reinvention stories. I underlined the importance of curiousity in this respect. Finally, I finished my speech with Turgut Uyar’s words: 

‘’Staying always as an apprentice, maybe it is the real mastery.’’ 

The moment I got back to my seat, I said to myself ‘’Wait a minute! What really is the definition of mastery? How can we create master pieces if we stay as an apprentice all the time? If we define mastery with the output we create, how can apprenticeship become mastery?’’ After all, maybe what he ment by staying as an apprentice was not only about learning new things or acting like a beginner. Then I remembered the following Japanese proverb: 

‘’ To call yourself an artist (master), you must be better than your master and you must train a student (apprentice) that will be better than you.’’ 

That means you need to also define mastery by the apprentices you develop and not only by the work you put forward. That is how the importance of staying as an apprentice becomes apparent. A master should stay an apprentice so as to understand the feelings of her or his student and the difficulties this apprentice might face. 

In short, the learning I noted down in my 19th year as a corporate citizen was: 

‘’ When you are asked about your biggest achievements in life, if you start giving people’s names rather than project names as answers, you are already halfway in becoming a master’’ 

Next Article: Learning number 17: ‘’Nothing Fails Like Success’’