Mastery Or Mystery – You Choose

A little over five years ago I first heard this Brenda Chaddock interview with Dawna Markova and Charles Holmes about their views on inspirational leadership.

Throughout the hour Inner Me grew increasingly excited and exclaimed “Yes! Exactly!” over and over.

Here I’d found others who shared the same perspective about questions, mastery and mystery, and expressed their ideas with powerful simplicity.


Markova starts with the path to mastery.

Provocative questions are those with a known answer. The unspoken assumption is an answer can be right or wrong.

Correctly answer enough questions and mastery is reached, or at least an agreed upon level of competence.

The underlying motivation is being right enough times, according to what’s known, to be deemed good or complete.


Young boy stretches to peer through fence


The second path to mystery begins with a different type of question.

In asking open-ended evocative questions, an invitation is extended to step into the unknown or go beyond appearances.

Without right or wrong to gauge against, the element of the not knowing is introduced. If an answer isn’t right or wrong, what type of answer will there be?

Hence the mystery begins.


By entering the unknown together, our relationships change.

We shift out of master-student into becoming companions, setting out to see differently and explore new territory off the beaten path.

We become inspired to bring forward the gifts in each other, discover what really matters to us and create new possibilities for the future.


The most important point of the interview might very well be when Markova brought mastery and mystery together in saying

I think the understanding we all need to have is that when we are so habituated to mastery, that we view mystery as something to be avoided rather than something to be engage.


Framing mastery as a habit instead of the ultimate goal changes the game. The door opens a crack – or is flung wide open.


Habits are something we become unconscious about, put on auto-pilot.

When we step back to think about mastery again, we realize not everything is meant to be mastered.

Mastery is what we know, what is familiar, but not necessarily what’s required.


When we look at the unknown as a mystery to be discovered and revealed, we free ourselves from expectations.

We free ourselves from being frozen in place by needing first to know and be right about every last detail.

Pieces are gathered along the way.

Right and wrong don’t come into play when looking at what is. Meaning is assigned afterwards, if at all.


Instead, our curiosity inspires and urges us to see what’s around the next corner and beyond the next step.

We dis cover what has always been there rather than having to figure out everything ourselves.


With two types of inquiry at our disposal, now we can select the best tool for the situation at hand.

Mastery is the path of choice when we want repeatable results.

Discovery is the direction to head when we don’t know, want to know more or want something new.


To become more of ourselves is inherently a risk. We don’t know what we’ll find or who we’ll look like.

Ever evolving means letting go of the right vs wrong of repeatable results and stepping into the unknown to create the next realm of possible.

From that perspective, can we ever achieve mastery of Life?

What if instead, we become increasingly more skilled as explorers discovering the next greatest unfolding of who we really are.



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Lorraine Watson - on rustic porch

chief nudging officer


Crazy for cats and potatoes, Lorraine's insatiable curiosity of Life leads her to question, explore and push beyond the box. A self-professed "left-brained creative big picture" type, she has an intuitive knack for seeing beyond and beneath first appearances while at the same time nerding out on the details. Most of all she sees and holds others in their highest until they can see it for themselves.


  1. Martine Joseph on December 5, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    What a cool post Lorraine! I love how you remind us about the two forms of inquiry. It all comes down to our questions and how we ask them. Becoming more and more skilled as explorers is really the way to navigate our future during this time of global change!

    • Lorraine on December 7, 2013 at 11:44 am

      Yes, questions are so critical to opening new pathways and shifting out of old ones. The uncharted waters of global change will certainly take the explorer’s heart for discovering the new worlds ready to unfold.


  2. Shan on December 8, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    I SO want to be an explorer instead of someone who has mastered everything (if that’s at all possible!) I love questions that get me thinking, rather than want me to answer yes or no or make me feel as though I need to learn something by rote. I really enjoyed reading this, Lorraine – thank you! xx

    • Lorraine on December 11, 2013 at 9:18 pm

      LOL – I excelled at learning by rote as my grades in school attest to. Yet I still couldn’t get enough of learning new things or questions outside the classroom. Maybe some day we’ll be able to explore together in your neck of the woods or mine.


  3. Sue Kearney (@MagnoliasWest) on December 9, 2013 at 10:58 am

    So beautiful! Curiosity keeps me moving forward, growing, learning. Mastery comes in bits, but thank the Goddess I don’t stop, thinking I have all I need. Onward onward into the mystery!


    • Lorraine on December 11, 2013 at 9:20 pm

      Ah yes, curiosity is such a very propelling force. There truly is always something more awaiting to surprise us with glee.


  4. Crystal on December 9, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Lorraine, very thoughtful and insightful post-thank you! I love the way you reflected on the provocative questions that presume mastery and the open-ended evocative ones that invite mystery. We often strive so hard for mastery that we neglect to see and appreciate the mystery all around us. Becoming more comfortable in the not knowing, and letting curiosity lead us whether it be to an answer or to simply more questions brings so much fulfillment to this searching, exploring soul.


    • Lorraine on December 11, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      Amazing to think that comfortable and not knowing can exist in the same space. But it’s true! Paddling around to dis cover possibility really is fulfilling and the pot at the end of the rainbow truly is filled with gold. Happy exploring!


  5. Chizelle on December 9, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Very cool Lorraine.

    Love the way you’ve framed the two and given us the tools and the choice 🙂

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