Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mastery Validates Itself

Mastery is this wonderful, exciting feeling: I'm better at it today than I was last week. It doesn't mean I'm the best in the world; it doesn't mean I won the Nobel Prize; it means simply: I'm getting better. I can do it better now than I could before--that is the root of motivation and self-esteem, and it's really magical.

~ Edward Hallowell, M.D., psychiatrist and author

The part I love about my field is reading stuff like this, stuff that captures an essential particle of the inner life, holds it up to a bright light, and makes three dimensional for me what happens inside people every day (or what can, if things are going right).

The experience Hallowell is describing here applies 100% to the oneI had on the bike Sunday. (Well, one of the experiences-- there were others, like, "WOW, what a beautiful day," or "CRAP, this hill is harder after 40 miles than it is after 20.")

I rode a pretty long ways on Sunday. It wasn't an epic by many people's standards. It certainly wasn't epic by the standards of my accomplishments last season, or by the standards of where I had originally intended to be at this time of year, a plan I hatched before months of pneumonia and injury befell me. But that's not the point. Hallowell's point is that knowing that I rode further and faster than I have so far this year, further and faster than I did last week and the week before that, was a wonderful tonic for my confidence, my sense of adventure, and my need to get out of the daily rut of overwhelm and drudgery.

One more lesson well-learned in the school of self-referential assessment. I might not get to race this season; I might not reach the peak I would have reached had I remained healthy all the way through. But the fun and upliftment of a long, hard solo ride on a beautiful day stand alone. They don't need to trump anyone else's experience in order to sparkle in my memory. In order to make me smile when recalled as I'm falling asleep after a bruising day.

Don't worry. I still hope to rip some legs off at some point this season, just for the sake of trying. But if it never happens, perhaps I can continue to make the best of what I do have -- sunny days, long hours in the saddle, and a gorgeous region to explore. And the opportunity -- the certainty, really -- of growing in mastery. May you see the same bright prospect before you.