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By Mel Levine, M.D.
The chapter on instrumentation described the skills that enable a person to get off to a good start in a career. Adolescents should be aware of abilities they are lacking so they can decide whether to work on their deficiencies or start to think about roads to take that work around their shortcomings. Equally important, kids need to know what kinds of things they are mastering well and how they want to keep building on those assets.
I believe strongly that success is like a vitamin; no one can grow up well without it. Every teenager must find what she's good at and do it well, enjoying the satisfaction and the recognition that it brings.
Athletes and artists attain motor mastery. There are kids who savor mastery in one or more academic subjects they really enjoy (as opposed to just getting good grades to break into a college). Some very popular students achieve a kind of social mastery, although popularity alone tends to wear thin when your friends disperse and go their ways in life. If you have no other kind of mastery to feel good about, that can be a terrible let down during the startup years.
There are different kinds of creative mastery, such as designing dresses, making ceramics, or writing songs. There is also the mastery of a subject or topic. For example, a kid may know a lot about trucks or computers or audiovisual equipment or archeology. Expertise is like a dietary supplement; it helps a mind grow and thrive. A person feels validated and important when she knows more about something than anyone else around her.
Every kid should be on a diligent mastery quest. Each individual must find the realm of accomplishment that feels right and fits right. And it's best to have more than one kind of mastery, without having so many that none of them ever fully ripens. Eventually areas of mastery can guide a person toward a career that's just right for her kind of mind.
A kid and his parents should realize that no one should have to master everything he comes up against. Sometimes an adolescent is expected to be elegantly well rounded, impressive at each and everything he tries to do. Being too unflawed might even pose lethal dangers; if you're good at everything, how do you find the right good thing to do with your life? That's why some very well rounded kids may come to a crash landing during their startup years; it's as if they can't figure out what they do best.
Not being able to master certain things teaches you how to deal with failure and a sense of inadequacy. That's something everyone has to experience sooner or later-the sooner the better. Dealing with weaknesses can make someone a stronger and tougher person. Maybe that's why so many people who barely remained afloat in school come into their own as notably masterful and powerful adults.
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