It surprises me how many people I talk to are unhappy with their careers.

They’re disengaged. They don’t enjoy what they do. They’ve found themselves in a situation where their whole day is being spent on something that doesn’t intrinsically motivate them, or that they’re not excited or enthusiastic about.

There’s no passion, and sometimes they’re actively disengaged.

If that’s you, stop. Go pursue your passion. Life is too short not to.

Now, I understand that the reality of charting a trajectory towards a more fulfilling career can take time, and in the meantime, you have financial obligations. But there is a way to find fulfillment right now.

Henery Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem “A psalm of life” wrote:

“Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
is our destined end or way,
but to act that each tomorrow
find us farther than today”

He’s talking about the pursuit of mastery.

This is the foundation of personal progress. It’s the secret sauce for happiness and success.

There are 5 things you should know about Mastery.

1. Mastery provides purpose

The pursuit of mastery provides purpose to your endeavors. It provides meaning to what you do.

In all of our careers, and life in general, there are simply mundane things that are required to get us from point A to point B. They’re not exciting, they’re the minutia. But people can get lost in the minutia, lose momentum, and lose sight of their destination.

They flounder and invariably they get stuck there.

But when mastery is your goal then the little things that you do have meaning, even when they’re not very exciting.

And that meaning can fortify you against the momentum draining, vision blurring, motivation killing nature of the menial tasks you’ll inevitably encounter.

2. Mastery provides a filter.

Mastery can be a powerful filter for the things you choose to spend your time on.

When life becomes too full of those things that don’t lead to some sort of meaningful mastery, you find yourself without a sense of drive, motivation, or passion. You become disengaged, discouraged, and often even depressed.

If you find yourself experiencing this you should pause, back up, and ask yourself two questions. First, “what mastery am I currently pursuing?”

If you can’t answer that, then pick something and pursue it. Don’t stress too much about it, it’s not concrete, you can always change it, but pick something that matters to you, that you care about, that you really want to master, and pursue that.

Second, ask yourself “how are my daily tasks leading toward that mastery?”

And if you can’t answer that, then you should reevaluate the activities that consume your time.

3. Mastery focuses you on the journey, not the destination

When you’re actively pursuing mastery and measuring your progress, you naturally experience added vigor in life. It gives you direction, things are clearer, decisions are easier, all because you have a template that’s guiding you. You have a higher cause. You have a clear destination.

It’s like suddenly you find yourself intrinsically motivated to keep moving. It’s actually a self-fulfilling mechanism built into the neurological workings of your mind, which I’ll explain more later.

To understand how mastery works, you first have to understand something about the nature of mastery. It’s what I call the paradox of mastery.

You have to accept from the very beginning that you’ll never, ever get there.

In the marvelously revealing book Drive, which addresses what really motivates people today, the author Daniel H. Pink describes what he calls the mastery asymptote.

Personal Progress and the pursuit of master is key to finding purpose in life

An asymptote is a mathematical or algebraic description of a curve that approaches a line, but never actually reaches it.

He says “Mastery is an asymptote. You can approach it, you can hone in on it, you can get really, really close to it, but you can never reach it. Mastery is impossible to realize fully. The joy is in the pursuit, more than in the realization. And in the end, mastery attracts, precisely because it eludes.”

In other words, the joy is in the pursuit, more than in the realization, because you will never realize mastery. It will always elude you. And when you accept this inescapable nature of mastery, you’ll realize that joy is not in the destination, it’s in the journey.

The joy is in all the little wins, the little discoveries, and the gains you experience along the way.

Curiously, it’s precisely the way our brains are designed.

Whenever we experience success, our brains release dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurochemicals that cause us to crave more success. It creates drive, it creates motivation, it creates the feeling of happiness.

So it’s the incremental rewards, the small wins along the way that cause this biochemical reinforcement that gives us the drive, the motivation to keep moving.

Imagine, for instance, if someone were to take you and sit you down on the summit of mount everest… Of course you would enjoy the marvelous vista and the beautiful scenery and the novelty of being there.

But in reality it wouldn’t hold even an iota of the meaning it would if you had gotten there on your very own. If you had trained, sweat, toiled, planned and prepared… It wouldn’t even come close.

Having neglected to invest the effort, you would have forfeited the resulting strength of body and mind and spirit, you’d have cheated the challenge of the journey, and in so doing, robbed yourself of its inherent joys, and pleasures, and lessons.

So what matters as you pursue mastery, is not to put so much stock in the destination that you fail to appreciate the value and joy of the journey.

4. Mastery gives perspective to failure.

This mental paradigm of the mastery asymptote, understanding that it’s something that you’ll work towards, but never quite acquire, prepares you for the failures that will inevitably accompany your pursuits.

Because when you realize that you’re never going to get there, that it’s truly about the journey and not the destination, then you begin to be less negatively impacted during those times when you fall noticeably and perceptibly short.

In fact, you’ll expect it. You’ll realize that it’s just part of the process. You’ll realize that your failures do not define you. The effort and the direction you sustain does.


Back to those people who are unhappy in their careers. If you pick something to master, and identify it clearly, suddenly you’ll find little instances, even in your current position, that enable you to work on whatever it is that you’ve identified.

It will provide purpose and motivation to continue, even in the most unexciting jobs and endeavors.

It’ll give you something to pursue, something to motivate you and keep you moving forward while you pursue a more lastingly fulfilling career.

So in short, to experience the greatest joy, purpose, and fulfillment from life, from your career, or whatever it is, pick something to master, pursue it with vigor, and remember that even though you’ll never get there, the more you try, the more you’ll enjoy it.

Good luck.

(note: click here to see the video of this post, created originally back in 2010).

Related Posts:

Lock-in, why so often we fail to progress in life
The pursuit of mastery and the mastery asymptote
Virtue Mastery: 13 secrets to success and fulfillment

Vince Lambardi teaches that loyalty is highest form of love, embues change efforts with uncompromising purpose

There are lots of reasons why you might seek change.  Often those reasons are centered around yourself.  Your personal betterment.

These are noble causes.  You are infinitely capable, after all, and you deserve the very best, those rewards earned through the persistent pursuit of positive change.

But there is yet a higher cause.  Something even nobler.


Vince Lombardi was the famous coach of the Green Bay Packers, who led them to capture their first-ever Super Bowl.  In the wake of his incredible success and obvious leadership, Lombardi was highly sought after for corporate events.

He translated the principles of leadership and motivation he used on the football field into 7 principles for work and life.  Chief among these 7 principles was one that was surprising for the rough and tough football coach… love.  Love, he says, is more powerful than hate.

“The love I’m speaking of is loyalty, which is the greatest of loves.  Teamwork, the love that one man has for another and that he respects the dignity of another…I am not speaking of detraction. You show me a man who belittles another and I will show you a man who is not a leader…Heart power is the strength of your company.  Heart power is the strength of the Green Bay Packers. Heart power is the strength of America and hate power is the weakness of the world.”

Lombardi taught that when your efforts are fueled by love, you work harder, persevere longer, invest more, take greater care, and are less apt to give up.

Some years ago the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, renowned for providing some of the greatest care in the world for children battling cancer, was building a new facility on campus.

Something remarkable happened, a love-born relationship between the ironworkers and the children.  As the Boston globe reported:

“It has become a beloved ritual at Dana-Farber.  Every day, children who come to the clinic write their names on sheets of paper and tape them to the windows of the walkway for ironworkers to see. And, every day, the ironworkers paint the names onto I-beams and hoist them into place as they add floors to the new 14-story Yawkey Center for Cancer Care.

“The building’s steel skeleton is now a brightly colored, seven-story monument to scores of children receiving treatment at the clinic-Lia, Alex, and Sam; Taylor, Izzy, and Danny. For the young cancer patients, who press their noses to the glass to watch new names added every day, the steel and spray-paint tribute has given them a few moments of joy and a towering symbol of hope. ‘It’s fabulous,’ said [18-month-old] Kristen [Hoenshell]’s mother, Elizabeth, as she held her daughter and marveled at the rainbow of names. It’s just a simple little act that means so much.’”

The children and their parents were certainly touched, but think of the ironworkers, each morning in the bitter cold and biting wind.  Their project had become more than just another building.  Their work now had meaning.  They had purpose.

This kind of purpose, when your efforts are somehow tied to something more than yourself, creates powerful, self-sustaining drive that you simply don’t otherwise get.

This year I helped coach my 14 year old son’s football team.  The prior season was a tough one, with zero wins.  Coming into the new season with that record created a powerful barrier to success – self doubt.  What the boys needed was something to believe in.  Something to rally around.

That something showed up on the first day of practice.  His name was Austin.  Austin was autistic.  But he had a huge heart and an infectious sense of humor (which was often manifested by his sneaking up on a coach and inflicting physical pain, which delighted the other boys.)

His parents didn’t have much by way of expectations, but were excited he wanted to play.  Austin didn’t have many friends.  Until now.

The team embraced him.  At first he would only practice a few plays at a time before losing interest, when he would go sit on the side and watch (or sneak up on coaches).  Over time he would stay in nearly the whole practice, with help and guidance and patience of his teammates, showing him where to stand and what to do.

We decided we wanted Austin to have a lot of play time.  He started, every game, as defensive nose guard, and cycled in and out every couple of plays.  His parents were ecstatic at the experience.


Austin was the rallying point, giving the team purpose born of love and loyalty

Austin lines up on defense… ready to take on the world.


We ended the season with 7 wins and 1 loss, and went to the championship game, where again, Austin started.

This was the same team that a year prior had not won a game.

While there were several things we worked on to overcome mental barriers, and be better prepared, in my mind nothing played a larger role, at least in gaining our initial inertia, than the fact that we had something to rally around.  We had a cause greater than ourselves.  We were motivated by love, by loyalty.

Love imbues your change efforts with unparalleled, uncompromising purpose.

Whatever your change efforts are, find a way to let them be led, or inspired by a cause greater than yourself, and you’ll find your rate of success increasing dramatically.

Let yourself be led by love.



Austin, the team's rallying point, imbued our efforts with purpose born of love and loyalty.

Austin comes out after a play, ecstatic at playing the game.




Vince Lombardi Biography - when pride still mattered(You can read all of Lambardi’s principles in his biography by Pulitzer Prize winning author David Maraniss: “When Pride Still Mattered“.)