Personal mastery, as defined by Peter Senge in the classic book The Fifth Discipline, “means approaching one’s life as a creative work, living life from a creative as opposed to reactive viewpoint.” It begins with clarifying what truly matters to us and living in pursuit of our highest aspirations.
Whew. Not small stuff.
Approaching our lives this way, as a lifelong creative process where we evolve and co-create with the people and experiences in our lives, allows us the gift of both clarity and growth. So why is it so hard?
Because when we are clear and focused on what we want, we also see in sharp relief the difference between what we want and where we are now.
Senge calls this “creative tension”. Human nature means that we try to reduce that tension by bringing the two – our vision and our current reality – closer together. There are only two ways to bridge the gap: take action to move ourselves closer to our vision, or move the vision closer to reality by making it smaller. Often the latter feels easier, but we end up with a continually lowered vision for ourselves and “the only price we pay is abandoning what we truly want” (p. 141).
So how can we manage this painful gap without lowering our vision? The secret is in understanding that in that gap, in that creative tension, there is a source of energy. Without the gap, we would have no drive to move toward the vision. We can assume that tension is always negative, but that doesn’t have to be the case. The tension is no different from that of a stretched rubber band. It has no particular quality of feeling, other than what we give it. This is the emotional tension we create when we feel the gap, the stretch.
Rather than eroding our goals to relieve the emotional tension, instead we can realize that is a part of the growth process, and we can choose to focus on moving our current reality forward rather than making our vision smaller. Any step, no matter how small, we take to move towards our goal: defining it more clearly, identifying one of the obstacles in our way and game plan to move past it, rallying allies to help us brainstorm ways to move forward; will help alleviate the emotional tension we feel and turn the creative tension into exactly that – a creative force in our life that moves us closer to where we want to be.