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Agile Mastery, Beginner's Mind, and Doing the Work
The longest part of the journey is said to be the passing of the gate. - Marcus Terentius Varro
Varro's wisdom dovetails nicely with the proverb, "The best time to plant a tree was ten years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today."
I know this wisdom to be true from having mastered, according to others, a couple of skills in my life so far. After thousands of hours of practice across many years, I have worked my way to the rank of Sandan (3rd degree black belt) in Aikido. To many, this defines mastery. "Black belt!" OoooooOOOOooOOoooh! The term has been co-opted to impart prestige and status on countless skills that require comparatively little effort and virtually zero physical exertion. In a hilariously anthropomorphic gesture, the rank of "black belt" has even been stuck on software programs, like cheep chrome glued to a rusting Ford Pinto. Shiny!
But mastery isn't something you attain and then you're done. It can't be programmed in like some spellchecker for life. It has no place on a bucket list. It's something that must be reaffirmed and re-validated each day. And that reaffirmation and re-validation must not come from yourself. It must come from the people you work with, the results you get, and a demonstrated ability to continuously learn from the people around you.
The path toward mastering anything isn't linear. It isn't a march or a formula. It's a dance.
In traditional martial arts training, there are three belt colors to show rank: white, brown, and black. A new student wears a white belt and is told it is bad luck to wash their belt. The more they practice, the dirtier it gets until the belt is brown. As they continue to practice, their hard work is reflected in a belt that has become so weathered by practice it is black. Still, the student practices and their belt begins to fray at the edges, revealing the white threads of a beginner within. Even at the rank of black belt, the master knows there is much more to learn. There will be times when he or she is again a student standing before a master.
The path toward mastering anything isn't linear. It isn't a march or a formula. It's a dance. Along the way, expect to move forward. Expect to move backward. Expect to move left and right, to learn new things and unlearn old things.
The hardest step any martial artist takes - or for anyone seeking to master any skill - is the first one onto the dojo mat. It's the moment they move from being ignorant to being a beginner. It’s the moment they acknowledge, if only to themselves, “I have something to learn.” The second hardest step is the next step. It's hard because if you are to achieve mastery there will be thousands of next steps. The very good news is your perseverance will be richly rewarded. Mostly, the next steps get easier. Some next steps will be harder than the previous step. Even when they are hard, the growing strength within yourself will make them seem easier to solve. "What do I do!?" becomes "I've got this!"
Another skill I've mastered is bundled up in a rather large package called "Agile." I've been practicing Agile since before it had a name. And I was writing software before "scrum" became associated with the process of instructing electronic equipment what to do and how to do it. I'd like to pass forward what I've learned along the way. This post is the entry point, the gateway to a series of posts that will serve as stepping stones you can use to develop and deepen your Agile practice. The focus will be on developing an Agile mindset and include practical exercises and experiments designed to develop real-world experience with specific skills.
I have a thousand steps queued for you, beginning with this post. Here is where it all begins. And by the time all these steps are published, I will have a thousand more for you. In the beginning, it will be your task to walk a straight line - one step after another. If you can do this, if you can find the discipline within yourself to focus on the straight line, you will soon enough begin to feel the urge to step off the line. A pull and push that wants to combine the steps you've learned in a new combination.
Here, on The Stoic Agilist, you will begin learning what you need to succeed at practicing and leading Agile in any context that interests you.
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Image credit: DALL-E2