Is mastery ever a thing for most of us?

Abhishek Lahoti
2 min readJan 21, 2023

It’s 4am again, seems like the best time for me to be writing these days. My little one just finished the first of her late night feed routines and I can’t find it in me to move into her crib, so here we are.

I’ve gotten good at this late-night two-step. My daughter has served me some slices, but I’m mastering the half-sleepy diaper changes, bottle preparations, bib-fixings, and soothing-cuddles that inevitably knock her out till the next round. To stay with the analogy, thus far it’s just a bunch of practise serves.

It had me thinking, though. Am I mastering anything, really? This doesn’t feel like mastery, but instead like repetition. Perhaps I am well on my way; like Malcom Gladwell says, the key to achieving true expertise is simply a matter of practicing for at least 10,000 hours. Or maybe I just honing a stroke that can’t deal with anything with some extra spin on it?

If you’re wondering where this analogy came from, I realised it when I saw the trailer for the Netflix show called Break Point. I used to play tennis, and I used to run a lot of drills. I wonder, if I ran 10,000 hours of those drills, would I really be a master at competitive, gut-wrenching, combative tennis? Or would I just be really good at knocking a ball cross-court on command?

This whole thought process naturally lead me towards our work lives, the place where the most of us have any shot at 10,000 hours at a something. As you read this, stop and think, am I mastering what I do? Or am I simply getting really efficient at my to-do list?

Sometimes, in the midst of our pursuits, a twist can help us realise we were sleep-walking through our routine. Perhaps, what we’re missing is really challenges. Perhaps the real game of mastery is littered with challenging shots that force us to dive, whiff, change out rackets, then swing some more. Maybe this tumult we face is exactly the challenge we need to become our best at our pursuits.

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As a perfect bookend to this story, it’s the day after I wrote this. My daughter woke up from a short nap in the middle of the afternoon. So I instinctively went about my late night routine with her, only to have her vomit all over me (and her) because, plainly, she decided she wanted to play ball. Mastery, it seems, is a long and sticky road.

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Abhishek Lahoti

Head of Platform @ Highland Europe, advisor of startups, new father, and perpetual confused person trying to make sense of life