For her first job, art historian and critic Sarah Lewis curated a retrospective of the late painter Elizabeth Murray at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
She was taken aback by how undeveloped Murray’s early work looked and asked the artist what she thought about it. Murray said many of the first works on display had “missed her mark,” and she had even thrown one of the pieces in the trash before a neighbour convinced her to keep it.
“In that moment, my view of success and creativity changed,” Lewis says in her TED Talk “Embrace the near win.” “I realised that success is a moment, but what we’re always celebrating is creativity and mastery.”
She began to understand this concept more when she sat in on the Columbia University women’s archery team’s practice. She observed how each of the archers spent hours repeatedly missing their targets, making subtle adjustments to their form after every “near win.”
Lewis realised that true fulfillment can only be achieved when we pursue mastery, embracing everything deemed a success and failure along the way, rather than dwelling on fleeting moments of victory.
“Mastery is not the same as excellence,” she says. “It’s not the same as success, which I see as an event, a moment in time, and a label that the world confers upon you. Mastery is not a commitment to a goal but to a constant pursuit. What gets us to do this, what gets us to forward thrust more is to value the near win.”
More valuable than first place is taking second place when gold was in your grasp, Lewis argues. The near win should be something to inspire and not crush us. “It gets us to focus on what, right now, we plan to do to address that mountain in our sights.
“We build out of the unfinished idea, even if that idea is our former self. This is the dynamic of mastery. Coming close to what you thought you wanted can help you attain more than you ever dreamed you could,” Lewis says.
You can watch her full presentation below:
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