Happiness and Mastery

Think of a baby just learning to walk. He takes a couple of tottering steps and then he’s back on his bottom. Before you know it he’s up again and makes it a few more steps before he falls. He’s not put off for long – this baby’s on a mission and falling is just part of the process. In the end he not only learns how to walk but also how to fall and get back up without missing a beat.

Fast forward a few years. The boy is learning to tie his shoes. Every time he hits that loop part he gets frustrated. He tries over and over, and this time there are tears. Now sometimes he needs encouragement to try again. Then one day, suddenly, he gets it. I mean, he gets it. Have you ever been lucky enough to witness an “a-ha” moment on a kid? The sheer joy that lights up his face is there because he didn’t succeed right away.

We are hard-wired for mastery but we must nurture that drive as we get older. Somehow we learn (some more than others) that if we don’t succeed at something early on, we shouldn’t pursue it.

Fast forward a decade or two. He’s got his first mountain bike and wipes out on his first log jump. If he’s learned that hard-won success is extra sweet, he will try that log again. And again and again and again. Until finally he gets it, and he is no less thrilled than when he was a six-year-old tying his shoes.