Mastery, Part 2

2009 October 26
by Evan Lenz

Part 1 concluded with a question:

When do you ever see kids fully engaged, playful, free, and having endless reserves of energy?

When I read that question again, it sounds almost silly. When do you not see kids fully engaged, playful, free, and having endless reserves of energy? Left to their own devices, they seem to find that state automatically! I’m sometimes astonished when I watch kids play, at how deeply a given “game” goes. The imagination seems to never run out. “I’ll be the pirate, and you be the dragon!” “How about…we do this…and then you do that…and then I do this…” ad infinitum. The kids energize each other with their ideas. They’re naturals at what adults often forget and have to re-learn in improv class. And they’ll do this all day if you let them. And the play gets more and more sophisticated and complex, and can span multiple days even.

So maybe I’ve got things backwards. Instead of starting with adults who are masters at what they do and then trying to find ways to introduce such experiences to children, maybe it should be the other way around. Maybe the adults are the ones who need to learn from the children!

I suddenly get the sense that the greatest masters of art, the greatest business people, the greatest athletes—they’re the ones who have somehow maintained a connection with their childhood. They managed to not lose that youthful energy that’s so characteristic of children. They’re children-at-heart; only the scenery and the materials have changed. They’ve moved on from the playground to the business world, for example, but the structure is the same. They’re still playing and having fun and doing what engages them and what they’re good at.

So now here’s my answer to the first question: The structure of mastery is no better exemplified than in a child at play. The problem isn’t one of finding out how to help kids be masters. The question instead should be: How do we ensure that kids don’t lose touch with such natural states of being?

That sounds like a good question to address in Part 3. :-)

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