Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

He picks up on three themes: first, that mastery is the “slow carpentering of fragments into a harmonious whole”. The expert creates the illusion of something unified by learning each tiny step – whether those steps are the small melodic ideas of a jazz pianist or the rhythmic pattern of a boxer’s jabs.

Second, mastery is about humanity, not perfection. “We never really love an artist’s virtuosity, or if we do, it feels empty,” Gopnik writes. “We love their vibrato, their … way of entangling their learned virtuosity within their unique vulnerability.”

Third, it’s not about “life rules, but real lives”. Gopnik thinks mastery can be found everywhere, from his mother’s kitchen to his driving teacher’s car. “We always overestimate the space between very good and uniquely good,” Gopnik says: we know the names of the Michael Jordans and the Leonardos, but there are countless people who are nearly, if not quite equally, brilliant. And even if most of us won’t become household names, “we are all more varied and capable than we are often allowed to seem”.

— Matthew Cantor, from “The Real Work: On The Mystery of Mastery” by Adam Gopnik book review – the art of expertise” (The Guardian, March 4, 2023)



  1. I love this perspective on what mastery is, especially that it is imperfect because we are human and that it can be found anywhere

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “…we are all more varied and capable than we are often allowed to seem.” Believe this so deeply. We all have something special to offer.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Now that’s refreshing! I’m with Lori 💐

    Liked by 2 people

  4. So true and so strange and heartening!


  5.  “We always overestimate the space between very good and uniquely good,”

    I keep coming back to this. How he said uniquely good and didn’t say excellent.

    Thank you for sharing, David. Happy Monday.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Appreciate what provokes our usual thinking…how unfortunate when we allow our evaluations get in the way of simply enjoying.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent post David. Really hits home. I chased “perfection“ for decades before I realized that I was beating myself up if my “high quality work” did not achieve my own definition of “perfect“. This concept should be taught at a young age… if I had understood this early I would not have abandoned some projects that did not meet my own personal definition of “perfect“, but I could still do reasonably well. In addition, my self-esteem would have been much better, which is something I struggle with to this day.

    Have a great day, everyone!


  8. Far too late out of the gate to offer anything particularly worthwhile – my curiosity about people, what makes them tick – to me most people are extraordinary. It occasionally disappoints, but more often than not, I am awed by some quality or qualities each person has. It’s not as Pollyanna-ish as it sounds, though admittedly I’m easily wowed.


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