An asymptote is a mathematical or algebraic description of a curve that approaches a line, but never actually reaches it.
He says, “Mastery is an asymptote. You can approach it, you can hone in on it, you can get really, really close to it, but you can never reach it. Mastery is impossible to realize fully. The joy is in the pursuit, more than in the realization. And in the end, mastery attracts, precisely because it eludes.”
In other words, the joy is in the pursuit, more than in the realization, because you will never realize mastery. It will always elude you. And when you accept this inescapable nature of mastery, you’ll realize that joy is not in the destination, it’s in the journey.
The joy is in all the little wins, the little discoveries, and the gains you experience along the way.
Curiously, it’s precisely the way our brains are designed.
Whenever we experience success, our brains release dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurochemicals that cause us to crave more success. It creates drive, it creates motivation, it creates the feeling of happiness.
So it’s the incremental rewards, the small wins along the way that cause this biochemical reinforcement that gives us the drive, the motivation to keep moving.
Imagine, for instance, if someone were to take you and sit you down on the summit of Mt. Everest… Of course you would enjoy the marvelous vista and the beautiful scenery and the novelty of being there.
But in reality it wouldn’t hold even an iota of the meaning it would if you had gotten there on your very own—if you had trained, sweat, toiled, planned and prepared. It wouldn’t even come close.
Having neglected to invest the effort, you would have forfeited the resulting strength of body and mind and spirit, you’d have cheated the challenge of the journey, and in so doing, robbed yourself of its inherent joys, pleasures, and lessons.
So what matters as you pursue mastery is not to put so much stock in the destination that you fail to appreciate the value and joy of the journey.