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"I didn't know how to tell him that my paint choice had almost nothing to do with the end result."

I suspect that every social scientist suffers from Maslow Envy. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which presumed to delineate a set of sequential stages necessary to achieve self actualization, reverberates as perhaps the foundational presumption of most every social science. The nagging fact that it's probably wrong notwithstanding, it provides a clean and convenient framework within which to consider otherwise terribly fuzzy concepts. The fact that it's irreducible, remarkably impervious to scientific proof, only makes it more powerful. If only I could concoct such a foundational model rather than run down one that just seems so right to so very many. I'm not even a social scientist, yet I admit to carrying my fair share of Maslow Envy, too.

Back when I was still an active consultant, I employed models to impart concepts I thought my clients might find useful. Some actually proved useful
, though the best models tended toward the tenaciously metaphorical, one's I'd more or less invented in the moment when they seemed to be needed. I was never aiming at the sort of fame and notoriety Maslow enjoyed, but just to help some suffering client get over some hump. Most of my models emerged as one sort of reframe or another, useful for peering into great mystery from only a slightly different perspective. I strongly supported the idea of 1% resolutions, poo-pooing the more common notion that achieving radical change necessarily required making radical changes. I usually avoided clients insistent upon blowing up their place to save it.

I operated beneath the presumptuous flag of mastery, and not only because mastery must be the single most undefinable concept. Not even the acknowledged master seems to have a clue how to explain what it is that they do, though self-described novices flock to identified masters seeking their direction and advice. Mastery seems to be one of those know-it-when-I-see-it sorts of states which relies upon hefty amounts of projection to identify, let alone appreciate. All masters have clay feet, a fact which eventually comes to light, leaving a stark charlatan behind. Mastery seems personal as well as situational, and remains essentially non-communicable, which perhaps serves as the concept's greatest strength. No matter how strenuously pursued, mastery capriciously remains tantalizingly out of reach. To cease seeking it says something only about the pursuer, never the recognized master.

I've been pursuing a niche bit of mastery over the last ten days. My objective seemed simple enough. In two scant weeks, I proposed scraping the front of our old house to bare wood to correct mistakes I'd made a decade ago, when my results strongly suggest that I had not then achieved anything like true master status. As always, I presumed much more than I knew for sure, engaging 'as if', perhaps the essential element of any pursuit, masterful or otherwise. I began with three left feet, struggling to sort out which was which, but through both careful and haphazard practice, I eventually came to sort of feel as if I really knew what I was doing, a preliminary presumption disproved immediately thereafter. I started figuring out essential differences between how I'd convinced myself this work should proceed and how it seemed most insistent upon actually getting done, then began to rely upon these emerging recognitions. As I near the end of this grand presumption, I have started feeling as though I might know how I should have started. By the time I finish, I figure I might have grown to manifest the mastery I presumed before I'd begun.

I see that this seems to be how mastery always emerges. Only at conclusion can the sum total of all the learning coalesce into any broader understandings mastery might embody. Of course such skills serve no useful purpose then. One masters more in memory than in physical practice, only retrospectively recognizing what one's done. Rembrandt, upon completing his latest masterpiece, only faced future potential masterpieces which might most certainly present different challenges than all the masterworks he'd previously produced. He'd have to reinvent himself all over again and again to maintain any sort of standing. There ought to be a model every bit as universally embraced as Maslow's to acknowledge this apparent fact.

Schmaltz' Model looks less hierarchical than Maslow's. In it, one does not so much grow as circulate. One begins with notions of a personal mastery not yet achieved, and leaves each cycle a master of no more than the recent past. Self Actualization is not a goal in my model, but an ephemeral aspiration, destined to never become realized. One comes to understand that not even the finest work of a widely-acknowledged master was accomplished as a master, but by a tenacious novice perhaps seeking an unachievable mastery, a child wearing big people clothes, faking it on the speculation that he might one day be recognized as having once made it. Ten thousand small compromises and belated learnings somehow conspired to produce what, from the street, looks like an absolutely flawless repainting of the front of our old house. A guy stopped his car in the street yesterday morning to appreciate my work, asking what paint I was using. I didn't know how to tell him that my paint choice had almost nothing to do with the end result.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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