Do you sometimes feel that you are a “jack of all trades, but a master of none”? Welcome to the club. Many of us could resonate with this in our careers and our lives. We are good at many different things, but we aren’t excellent, masterful, or exceptional at any one of them. Instead, we are overcommitted, overwhelmed, and overstressed, spending way too much time focused on trivial things rather than the work God created us to do.
Jordan Raynor has written an excellent book to help us find, focus on, and master the work that God has created us to do. Master of One: Find and Focus on the Work You Were Created to Do sets out to do just that – moving us from being a jack of all trades to becoming a Master of One.
Let’s hop right into the summary before I share my key takeaways from the book!
Raynor has helpfully provided a summary at the end of each chapter of his book. Here is a further condensed version to help you get a gist of it:
Part 1: The Purpose of Mastery
Why should we pursue excellence in all things?
As Christians, we are called to pursue excellence in all things because we want to reflect the character of our exceptional God.
This means that we “simply cannot pursue mastery at many things professionally at the same time”. We all have limited time and energy. There will be trade-offs. Because we are called to be excellent in all things, we can’t commit to being excellent at many things vocationally.
Raynor highlights the 3 common lies that permeate our thinking about work and calling:
- You can be anything you want to be.
- You can do everything you want to do.
- Your happiness is the primary purpose of work.
I’m glad the author pointed this out. Contrary to popular belief, ‘following your passion’ is bad career advice. As studies by Amy Wrzesniewski and Cal Newport have shown, passion follows mastery, not the other way around. In fact, subscribing to the passion hypothesis has dangerous consequences, which, ironically, makes us less happy in our work.
We want to proclaim the excellencies of God
As God’s children, we are called to be His image-bearers. We reflect His character of excellence in every aspect of life. When we pursue mastery in our work, we glorify Him and proclaim His excellencies when we do our work masterfully well.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)
Doing excellent work is an act of ministry to others
The second purpose of masterful work is to love our neighbors as ourselves. We pursue excellence in our work not as a means to an end, but in obedience to what Jesus identified as the Greatest Commandments.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Matthew 22:37-39
As Christians, we can’t settle for mediocre work. It is through the ministry of excellence that we love our neighbors through our work.
Part 2: The Path to Mastery
Start with ‘the One’ in mind
Raynor believed that there are likely many things that God has equipped us to do masterfully well in our work. A key to becoming a master of one is making the best possible choice of which one thing we will ‘sink our teeth into vocationally’.
There are three questions to ask while on the path to finding our one thing:
(1) What am I passionate about?
Passion: It is only when we find work that we can do exceptionally well in the service of others, that we will find deep happiness and passion that is sustainable over the course of our careers. Passion is not irrelevant in the pursuit of our calling. It serves as a ‘signpost’, pointing the way to the work we are uniquely gifted to do.
(2) What gifts has God given me?
Gifts: The path to finding work we love starts with seeking work through which we can love others well.
(3) Where do I have the best opportunity to glorify God and serve others?
Opportunities: Our one thing ought to be where our passions and gifts collide with the greatest opportunity to love and serve others through masterful work.
It is at the intersection of the answers to these three questions that you are most likely to find the work you were created to do. This is similar to a post I wrote earlier about finding our calling:
“Few things are needed—or indeed only one.”Luke 10:42
Raynor proposes 4 steps in the process of mastering our one thing:
Step 1: EXPLORE our options
Once we have formed some ideas about what our one thing might be, it is time to put those hypotheses to the test, and experiment with our options to find the work we can do most exceptionally well for God’s glory and the good of others.
“Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.”Proverbs 16:3 (ESV)
Step 2: CHOOSE our One Thing
In order to do our most exceptional work for God’s glory and the good of others, it is essential that we choose to “go big” on one vocational thing.
Choosing to commit to one thing is hard, given our tendency to want to “do it all.”
But if we think we’ve found our one thing, and we are looking for the courage to commit, we need to remember these truths:
- There is no right or wrong decision.
- There are few irreversible decisions.
- If we seek to do our best work for God’s glory and the good of others, we have to make a decision.
Step 3: ELIMINATE other nonessentials
Once we have chosen the one thing we will master vocationally, we should eliminate as much as we can from our professional plate. This is so as to focus on doing our very best work.
If we are unable to say no to the nonessential in order to focus on our one thing, we will be holding back the contribution God has called us to make in the world.
Step 4: MASTER our One Thing
There are 3 keys to mastering our one thing.
The first is a direct or indirect apprenticeship. This is where we learn from books, courses or podcasts of other masters in the craft (indirect), or we engage the person(s) directly to coach or mentor us. Direct apprenticeship is always a faster way to grow!
The second is what scientists call “purposeful practice,” which distinguishes itself from “naive practice” in that it requires specific goals, intense focus, rapid feedback, and frequent discomfort.
The third and final key to mastery is having the discipline to stick with our one thing over a long enough period of time to become truly masterful at it.
“The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.”Proverbs 12:24 (ESV)
Part 3: The Promise of Mastery
While the most fundamental purpose of mastery in our work is to glorify God and love our neighbors as ourselves, the Lord has graciously offered up a number of promises that provide us with extra motivation as we pursue mastery of our one thing.
The first promise is that when we do our work masterfully well—focusing first and foremost on serving others, rather than pushing a particular agenda—we win the respect of the world and become the salt of the earth, making the world thirst to learn more about the Light of the World.
The second promise of mastery is that when we do our work with excellence, we are often put in positions of power, which can be leveraged to accomplish the Lord’s will.
Power isn’t something we should shy away from; rather, we should lean fully and ambitiously into mastering the work the Lord has created us to do, accepting the power that comes along with it, not as a means of hoarding that influence for ourselves, but as a means of better loving and serving those around us.
“Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.”Proverbs 22:29 (ESV)
The third and final promise of mastery is that when we pursue excellence in our work as a means of glorifying God and serving others, we are invited to share in the True Master’s happiness.
While our happiness is not the primary purpose of work, our desire to find work that we love is a good, God-honoring thing.
The truest and deepest satisfaction of vocation follows mastery, not the other way around. It is only when we get insanely good at what we do that we not only fall in love with our work but stay in love with it over a long period of time.
My Key Takeaways from the Book
1. Be Masterful in Our One Vocation
I think Raynor is spot on in his central thesis: we need to be masterful in our one vocation, for the glory of God and the good of others. This is a recurring refrain throughout the book and serves as a rallying cry. I listened to the audiobook (read by the author) before reading the text from cover to cover. Each he says it, something profoundly inspiring warms my heart!
What is the ONE thing I want to focus on vocationally?
This call to “go big” and “all in” on the ONE thing, alas, is my biggest struggle. I don’t know about you, but even in my 40’s, I still have this “do-it-all” mentality. It’s not as if I want to quit my job, but I used to think I can do well in my job AND:
- Explore a side hustle (within guidelines, of course!)
- Become an active investor (used to be my dream)
- Help plant a church
- Increase my ministry
- Elevate my blogging hobby
- Create free online courses
- Write a book
- …and many more!
Zooming in on ONE thing vocationally would mean that I have to trust God that His call for me at this season is wise and good. If it’s to be a teacher in a secondary school, I am to stay faithful in my role and become masterful at it. I have to eliminate the distractions that come my way, including those that look like opportunities but will derail me from my course.
Mastering ONE thing instead of many means I have to acknowledge my limitations as a human being. It means asking the hard question of motivation: am I doing all these things for my own glory, or for the glory of God? Because if God does not expect me to do all of the above, why am I grasping for them as if my identity and self-worth depend on it?
(I thought back about the 22 Resolutions I made at the start of the year. I’m beginning to think that it’s not a good idea after all.)
Fortunately (or unfortunately), the process to finding your one thing isn’t straightforward. In the Explore stage (see above), we are encouraged to explore and experiment with our choices before settling down on the one thing.
Raynor also reminds us that choosing the one thing to master is for the season of life that we are in right now. This could change with the season of our life, as our interests or skills change overtime. In God’s sovereign plan, all is not lost or wasted. I find much comfort in that!
How about you? Do you have a ‘do-it-all’ mentality like me? What would be the ONE thing you want to focus on in this season of your life?
Pursuing excellence with a motivation of love
Another takeaway here is the exhortation to pursue excellence in all things. Raynor argues that to master a craft and be excellent in it, is the essence of loving God and others fully. This resonates with much of what I’ve been reading from other great writers (e.g. Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next).
The chapter on ‘Master‘ is my favorite chapter of the book. Once we’ve identified the one thing we ‘sink our teeth into vocationally’ (a metaphor he uses in the book), Raynor lists out the steps to master the craft. I like the part about direct and indirect apprenticeship. As an avid reader, I learn many things and side hobbies through books and online resources, but these are indirect forms of apprenticeship. This has led to me being a ‘jack of all trades’ but hardly a master of one.
It is in my main job as a teacher that I receive direct apprenticeship, whether through bosses that coached me or through formal mentors and teachers in my training programmes. Interestingly, that positions me to grow and become a master in my one thing – teaching!
If I’m serious about mastering the craft of teaching, that means I need to work on purposeful practice – working with specific goals, intense focus, rapid feedback, and frequent discomfort.
What this looks like for me is that I will need to be very intentional about where my gaps are, focus on them, get honest feedback from my supervisors and students, and constantly seek to improve the areas I am weak at.
All this, at the end of the day, is to present my work unto God as a labor of love, by loving the students He places under my care.
What will pursuing excellence in your work look like for you?
2. Stories of Christians who are ‘Masters of One’ in their Vocations
This wasn’t included in the summary above, but the meat of the book was actually the collection of real-life stories of Christians who are masterful in their callings. Examples include C. S. Lewis (Christian writer), Emily Ley (founder of Simplified), Fred Rogers (American TV host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood), Cynthia Marshall (CEO, Dallas Mavericks), and Chip & Joanna Gaines (founders of Magnolia Network).
These stories fleshed out the key points of the book very well.
By using real-world examples of ordinary people who wield extraordinary skills and efforts to improve their industry and serve their community, Raynor illustrates that our talents are not static but must be developed over time through purposeful practice.
The real-world examples also help me to see what it means to be excellent and how I can position myself to be masterful in my work as a teacher.
I was especially moved by the story of David Boudia, an American diver and gold medalist in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Before he became a Christian, his overarching goal in life was to ‘please [himself]’. A gold medal would mean fame, adoration, and success. But, after finishing 10th in his event during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Boudia was crushed and disillusioned. At one point, he was even contemplating suicide.
After hitting rock bottom, Boudia sought help… and found it in the God who sought for him through his godly coach, Adam Soldati. Boudia responded to the gospel message with faith and found a new purpose for living – and diving.
No longer would he zealously chase a gold medal and worldly success to satisfy his selfish desire for glory.
“This time, I would be solely concerned with bringing glory to God… This time, I would do my best and be content with whatever the results were, as long as I was doing everything to please the Lord by being a witness for him.”– David Boudia (quoted from Master of One)
Commenting on this, Raynor wrote, “Because the gospel frees us from the requirement to win, we gain a deep desire to master our work and proclaim the excellencies of God in the process.”
What if we apply this to our work? What if I apply this to my teaching?
Can I also say, “Because the gospel frees me from the requirement to ensure straight A’s in my classes? Clinch awards for my CCAs? Finish all my marking and admin tasks? Land a promotion etc.? That I gain a deep desire to master my work as a teacher and proclaim the excellencies of God in the process”?
Won’t that be liberating?
In writing this review, I have read and listened to the book through at least 3 times. There is so much good content in it that each time I come back to it, I would learn some new insights or gain new inspiration.
Reading about the settings, circumstances, and tenacity of those who strove for excellence, used the tools and gifts God gave them, and aimed to glorify God and thus benefit others, has truly been an inspiring experience for me. I wish the same for you.
I give this book a 4.5 out of 5 star rating. My only qualm is that, I wish he could provide more examples of how we can achieve excellence in doing the more ordinary, day-to-day stuff. Not everyone is called to be a writer, a CEO, an entrepreneur, etc. Yet sometimes God calls some of us to do very ordinary things. How we do that with extraordinary mastery will, perhaps, take a chapter all by itself.
This book deserves a place on your bookshelf. If you purchase one through my affiliate link here, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Alternatively, if you are a Singaporean you can borrow it through National Library Board’s e-resources.
Like my review? Do leave a comment below! If you have read this book, do share your thoughts with me too! Let’s have a book club discussion!
This post is part of my column on Book Reviews, where I share some of the insights gleaned from my reading. Feel free to check out the other blog posts on books that have influenced me significantly.
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