A few weeks ago I stopped into a new place to get my hair cut. I'd walked by this place numerous times, but never actually realized that it was a school. I'd only recognized this when there were signs placed in the grass out front stating hair cuts were performed by students for the price of $3.99.
So, I decided to try this place, having had good experiences at these kinds of schools in the past. After confirming that they could work me in, I took in my surroundings. It was painted with warm colors with bold accents. With minimal furnishings at a work station, a young woman set up the tools of her trade. She slowly and quietly parted my hair and clipped back pieces that weren't needed. Tentatively she cut pieces in a methodical fashion. Slowly she picked up pieces and measured a few times against the comb to be sure she had the hair where she wanted it.
Right from the beginning, her teacher sat next to us to observe. She asked if the student needed help. She spoke in soft tones with her, discussing how to part the hair, check the length, and to snip it in just the right way. As the student watched the teacher, I became aware of the differences in the two womens' movements.
As the student cut my hair, her movements were slow, calculated, and some what hesitant, wanting to make sure she was doing things well. It reminded me of when someone is starting out at something brand new, a new habit or skill, and the movements are unfamiliar and a little halting. When the teacher was instructing, I noticed that her movements were crisp. She was able to explain and perform the haircut without thinking or second guessing herself. The differences became more apparent when the student took over again, having had the guidance she needed.
My haircut took longer than normal, but I had an enjoyable experience taking in the beauty of learning. I was reminded of a book I highly recommend by George Leonard titled “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment”. It describes three ways of being that prevent us from becoming masters: the Dabbler, the Obsessive, and the Hacker. To learn more about the path of mastery and what it takes to stay on that path, borrow this book from a library or get it from a bookstore.
This haircut experience demonstrated to me the opportunity of learning and the process that it is. For the teacher to become a master, she has had to practice countless hours to become proficient in her art. This student now has the same opportunity: to become a master of this skill. With practice, patience, guidance, mistakes, and learning from mistakes, she is well on her way to acquire the skills necessary to move beyond this initial student phase.
A humbling part of learning is when we try to learn or add on a new skill. Leonard reminds us that we are afforded the chance to begin at a spot where we sometimes dread being: feeling foolish as we try something new. But, if we are willing to accept feeling a bit foolish and to learn from a master, we can grow into that new skill. As you live and work throughout this week, I invite you to reflect upon the acquisition of skills you currently have and remember the journey you've taken to be right where you are.
*These questions can be thought of in terms of your work, a hobby, or any kind of skill set you may have.
1. Where are you in your journey to becoming a master?
2. Who can help assist you in becoming more proficient?
3. What prevents you from becoming a master?
4. What has helped you become highly skilled?
5. What are you willing to commit to in order to develop your skills?