Are anti-work “masters” possible?
Rambling on whether mastery and work-humping can be disentangled
A large reason why I consider myself “anti-job” more than “anti-work per se is that I’m enamored by the idea of achieving mastery in a craft, something which takes “work,” in the sense of consistent focused activity.
I want to believe that you can deprogram yourself from the work-humper ethos of shame, status, etc. and strive toward mastery for more self-fulfilling (let’s call them “pure”) reasons. But I’m still so mired in my workaholic tendencies that it’s hard for me to imagine it.
The person who literally wrote the book on mastery , Robert Greene, doesn’t seem able to either. Though he does decry careerists and people who just want to climb the ladder, he also peppers the book with throwaway but sad statements like this one regarding barriers to learning:
“Children are free from these handicaps because they depend on others and feel inferior. That feeling gives them a hunger to learn.”
Basically, the same feelings of inferiority that drive my workaholism (not to mention prop up this entire shitty system) drive the “joy” of learning.
It does seem like Greene has a more nuanced view of things, and though he never says so explicitly, he implies that masters can learn to love learning without those feelings. Interestingly, he describes mastery as “the return of child-like spontaneity.” You get the playful mindset of a child, but (hopefully) in a situation where you’re not longer fearful or dependent or “inferior.” That’s my reading of it anyway.
The question that’s been driving me crazy remains: can one strive for mastery in an anti-work way—basically, for the sheer fun of it? Is anyone considered a “master” in their field not a work-humper in some capacity?
Basically, is wanting mastery at all a sure sign that one hasn’t escaped work-worship culture?
I really do think everyone has a calling for getting good at something, and that without all the job and work culture pressures, they’d be driven to do so anyway, “working hard,” but out of joy, as in a game.
I feel in my bones that mastery has simply been co-opted by work-humpers, that in essence it’s separate from their philosophy and can exist in an anti-work world.
But I’m finding the two so hard to disentangle!