The Calligrapher

Every one wants quick results. Yet sometimes when we don’t get the results we want, we grow disheartened and lose heart. Most of us simply pack our bags and look elsewhere. Yet is there another way? Maybe this story will help. Inspired by the book Mastery by George Leonard.

Russo has a talent. He could write beautifully with any instrument that you place in his hand, be it pen, pencils or even tree branches. The townsfolk would invite him to write words for them like invitation cards, labels and even name cards. He desired to scribe words like no other and leave his mark in the world.

Thus he sought for masters far and wide. Each time he found a new teacher, he would encounter a new form of writing. The great masters of course would grant him their knowledge only if he passed their test. He was made to draw circles and lines. He never enjoyed such menial tasks.

He always thought himself to be quick on the uptake and such basic skills shouldn’t be required of one as good as him. Day after day he would draw circles and lines. Frustration and resentment grew yet he pressed on. Eventually, the masters agreed to grant him their knowledge, but he was required to learn the script from the most simple of alphabets. Yet another menial task. He wanted to write! Not practice the alphabets like a preschooler!

He left teacher after teacher, feeling frustrated that they would never let him try his hand. After all, he always felt that he was the kind of person that learns faster by actually doing something meaningful.

Eventually he found a master who listened to his plight. The master smiled and passed him a quill. He wrote a beautiful line of words and told Russo to mimic his style and write likewise. Russo scoffed at this simple task and without hesitation, he mimicked the writing of the Master to near perfection. The master raised his eyebrows as he watched Russo complete his work.

As Russo smiled triumphantly, the master said, “I need this line on 500 cards to be distributed in two days time.” Excited with the opportunity to finally prove his worth, Russo set out to writing. The first 50 lines were easy and perfect, but as he wrote more and more, the strokes of his pen became more and more irregular. By the 80th time, the words have morphed into something grotesque. He could feel his frustration brewing. He took a break.

After an hour of rest, he came back to writing again but his words just didn’t seem to have recovered their finesse. By the 2nd day, he gave up and he went to his master. The master smiled knowingly when he saw Russo.

Russo vented his frustrations while the master simply smiled. The master then picked up his pen and gracefully guided his hand to Russo’s papers. He drew a circle with the pen but there was something odd about the way he did it. Russo sensed a sense of serenity, it was as if he could feel the pressure of the nib of the pen on the paper gliding evenly throughout the whole circle. The master then drew a single straight line. Russo saw the line growing under his eyes for the master drew a line from the top of the paper all the way down to the bottom. It was the straightest line he had ever seen in his life. The master calmly placed his pen down and looked into Russo’s eyes.

“It’s always easy to pick up something new. What’s hard is to truly master it. Writing isn’t just about beautiful lines and shapes. It’s about being in absolute control over the pressure of the nib, the movement of your hands, the touch of the paper. It’s about the mastery of the finest details, it’s about your consistency. Feeling frustrated with your abilities after a while is normal but persevere more, because through your practice, your whole being grows so accustomed to these movements that you become the movements. You no longer write; You breathe life instead. It may take months for some and even years for others before they find themselves moving to the next level; most importantly, without the dedication of time, the next level will never come.”

Russo kept quiet and stared blankly at the master. He picked up his pen and started drawing circles and lines again.

Mastery is not something one can accomplish easily. It’s never a smooth ride and be prepared for frustration, disappointment, resentment and humiliation. At the end of every level is when the real reward comes, a new beginning into a whole new ball game.


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