Mirrors of Mastery: Using Skill-Based Awe to Find the Career You Love

We have an innate responsibility to awe.

Awe is an emotion when we encounter something so vast, overwhelming, that we have to re-assemble everything we knew before.

Scott Barry Kaufman and his team have taken great pains to develop an Awe Experience Scale.

While there are different facts, themes, and triggers of awe, one in particular stands out to me in regards to finding the job and life you love and loves you back: ability/skill, or the witnessing thereof.

Certainly, there’s debate in asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, we should re-examine, in light of Kaufman’s research on awe, the way we phrase the question.

Instead of what do you want to do or be, what if it was who do you want to become?

When we see mastery at work, we don’t want to be what the person does, we want to be the person.

It comes down to the types of curiosity, perceptual and epistemic:

  • First — how did the person do that?
  • Second — what if I could do that?

The order is important. The first elicits awe, mixing us to pieces and changing everything we thought we knew. The second creates a gap in knowledge and skill between the performer and the audience.

When I a sophomore in college, changing majors like many of my peers and not sure what to do, I encountered awe.

Speech class required us to watch a TED Talk. Without hesitation, I choose the only sports-related topic at the time:

The difference between winning and succeeding by John Wooden

After seventeen minutes I was floored — how had I not heard of Coach Wooden as an athlete? How did he have such impact and success in his players’ lives and on the court?

Could I do that too?

I rushed home and asked my dad, a lifetime coach, all about him. The rest is history:

  • I became an English teacher and coach, just like Wooden.
  • I read every book he wrote.
  • I started applying the his seven-point creed and two sets of threes.
  • I developed a middle school lifestyle program based in his principles.
  • I become a peak performance and flow coach.

Nearly my entire career trajectory can be traced back to that single moment of awe.

When it comes to skill- and ability-based awe, forget how the sausage is made. Rather, it’s how mastery is made.

Besides, nature, we’re captivated by those who’ve become experts in something, giving us hope that we too could be able to do it too.

Encountering mirrors of mastery is one way to change the directory of a life, and it is the responsibility of schools, educators, families, and communities to put students in the path of possibility to see who they could be.

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