Finding mastery

I have been a master for a long time.

A master of duplicity, presenting one stylised version of me to the world and keeping the real one away from the light.

A master of pretense, pretending things are okay when things are not.

A master of avoidance, distracting myself from big important questions by getting busy with small urgent tasks.

I did not intend to become a master of these things — of duplicity, of pretense, of avoidance — but I achieved a mastery nonetheless, through the habits forged by daily repetition.

So I’m wondering.

If I can chisel out mastery at things that do not sustain me, can I repeat that process of daily repetition to find mastery in some other positive arenas?

Some productive things in which I’d like find mastery:

  • Being present
  • Writing
  • Interviewing
  • Creating video
  • Becoming the best husband and father I can be
  • A fast and reliable first serve

How will I know when I get there?

I’m not sure I will.

But I don’t think “there” is the point.

The journey is.



Silence in the aftermath of trauma: golden or grim?

Diarmuid Ferriter, the Irish historian who has become a campaigner for history itself as much as anything that history might tell us, was speaking to Ryan Tubridy on RTE Radio One on Tuesday morning.

Ferriter is unbelievably prolific.

As well as being a university professor, it seems that he has a book out every other year — and no slim books either. The Transformation of Ireland checked in at almost 900 pages (and it’s not exactly large print) while A Nation and Not a Rabble was comparatively slim at 528.

He was speaking to Tubridy about another project he has been involved in, a documentary called Keepers of the Flame about the generation who survived the most tumultuous period in Irish history, spanning the Rising of 1916 and in particular the War of Independence and Civil War from 1919 to 1923.

Keepers of the Flame explores the impact of these events on the collective and personal memories of the Irish state and its people, using as its source the vast archive of personal accounts, Irish Military Pensions files and rare and precious archive film footage.

It was a fascinating interview, and Ferriter’s thoughts on the stony silence that many people would have carried with them were interesting.

I firmly believe that honest two-way conversation is a powerful combatant against trauma, but the historian makes a valid point that silence in the aftermath of such trauma can also be noble.

There’s an awful lot of trauma that I think was internalised. One of the things we’re trying to do with this documentary is provide an antidote to the silences.

An awful lot of people did not talk about that period, and these letters [from the archives] are now speaking to us. They didn’t talk about it for reasons that were often noble. Silence is not always ignoble, or not always something that needs to be seen in a negative way.

There were good reasons why they would want to have remained quiet. There was a dignified silence, and they might not have wanted to pass on whatever prejudices they might be carrying to the next generation.

The full interview can be accessed here


The power of small: education, business and sport

I posted the second episode of my new podcast this week, with university professor Finbarr Bradley, and have lined up business for good entrepreneur Masami Sato for an interview in the New Year.

Finbarr Bradley is a finance and business lecturer who is unusual, I think, in the fact that he sees his primary role as educating people to make a life, not just to make a living.

His focus in recent years has been on sustainable ventures and purpose-driven business, including a co-authored book entitled Digging Deeper: How Purpose-Driven Enterprises Create Real Value. (You can listen to the podcast episode here, and read more about Finbarr Bradley here.)

Masami Sato is the founder of B1G1, an organisation on a mission to bring charitable giving to the core of businesses all over the world and help for-profit business, rather than non-profit charity, play its part in helping improve the world one project at a time, all in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. (Subscribe to my podcast in Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss my interview with Masami Sato in 2019, and you can read more about Masami and B1G1 here.)

In talking to Finbarr Bradley and posting that podcast interview earlier this week, and in listening to Masami Sato speak at an event in Manchester recently, I was struck by one common thread.

The power of small.

The power of small is that it’s easier to remain agile while bigger bodies become sluggish and lethargic.

The power of small is that it’s easier to retain a heart and soul to everything you do, as bigger bodies suffer a disconnect between what someone once set out to do and what a hundred or a thousand or a hundred thousand people are trying to do today.

The power of small is that it’s easier to have clarity of thought, clarity of communication and clarity of action.

Finbarr told me stories of purpose-driven businesses that have consciously decided not to aim for any more growth, because while growth might lead to more profits, growth might not serve the community that they’ve decided to serve.

Masami spoke about the ability of every person and every small business to make a lasting positive impact, through making a conscious decision to connect real humanity and genuine purpose to what we do every day as individuals and enterprises.

Ireland’s own sporting David and Goliath

Following the story of Mullinalaghta of County Longford over the past few days, I was reminded again of the power of small.

The All-Ireland GAA Club Championships are one of my favourite sporting competitions. It is the levellest of playing fields. There are 32 counties in Ireland, and the club champions of each county go forward to contest first their provincial championships and then onward, if successful, to the All-Ireland series.

The All-Ireland Club Championships are a mountain anyone can take on, but it takes all the preparation and togetherness of an Everest expedition, and it takes time. Years of time. Often intergenerational time. It takes a group of people to lay foundations for success, and then maybe a generation later another group of people to come together on the field and be fused by such togetherness and spirit and talent and dedication that they can scale the mountain together.

Winning a county championship is a fiendishly difficult feat in its own right. In the GAA every championship, at every grade, is fiercely contested because it’s about identity at least as much as it’s about a game on a field.

Mullinalaghta of County Longford scaled their own mountain on Sunday. Mullinalaghta has been described as a half-parish (the other half was moved into County Cavan in a boundary redrawing at some point). It has a population of around 440, give or take. There are 45 children in the school, give or take. It is a collection of country roads, a handful of houses, a handful of farms, a handful of families.

On Sunday they faced Kilmacud Crokes of Dublin in the Leinster club final. It was a novel pairing, Longford’s first ever representative in the provincial final against the 2009 All-Ireland champions.

Whereas Mullinalaghta has a population of around 440, the Kilmacud Crokes club has a membership of around ten times that, and is widely regarded as one of the biggest clubs in Dublin and Ireland.

One of the smallest, against one of the biggest, and the small guy came out on top in one of the GAA upsets of the century.

It was 15 players against 15 on the field for an hour, but in every other respect there was a chasm between these two.

That chasm was bridged by strength of mind and strength of body and strength of spirit.

Someone once said, the size of the dog in the fight is not nearly as important as the size of the fight in the dog.

Someone else once said, whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.