Last weekend, I accompanied my friend Lady A to go look at some mid-century rosewood furniture for her house. Mid-century rosewood furniture is the kind of furniture that the characters on the show Mad Men have. Rosewood is extremely durable, hard, and lustrous, making it ideal for furniture and musical instruments like the guitar.
As Lady A and I pulled up to the home of the Craigslist seller, we both gasped and began to furtively whisper to one another, taking turns guessing at what we were both seeing.
“He’s a hoarder!”
“Oh my goodness…Maybe the hoarder died and he’s selling all their stuff…”
The seller’s two-car garage was open, revealing countless rosewood tables, chairs, and desks packed tightly and carefully like so many Tetris blocks. Every square inch of the garage housed a piece of carefully placed rosewood furniture.
Though we originally thought that the Craigslist vendor was a hoarder, we quickly learned that no, he was not a hoarder. His family specialized in buying, fixing up, and reselling mid-century rosewood furniture. Rather than pay for a storage unit, they stored their inventory in the garage. The seller knew where every single piece was in the unit, and how to access it without disturbing the rest of the Tetris pieces.
I was in awe during the entire thirty minutes we spent with the rosewood expert. He knew about the history of rosewood, how to clean it, how to store it, how to buy it cheaply and sell it for premium prices. He even knew when it was worth his time to fix up pieces to sell at a higher price and when he should just put it on Craigslist at an attractive price for those who know the value of rosewood furniture.
“You are a master of mid-century rosewood furniture,” I breathed as I watched him use steel wool to gently scrub paint marks from the legs of a chair without leaving one scratch.
“Of course I am,” he said nonchalantly. “This is what my parents did and what I do too.”
The rosewood man knew everything there was to know about mid-century rosewood furniture. His face emanated joy and accomplishment as he effortlessly packed Lady A’s jeep with a five-foot long dining table and six chairs. During the thirty minutes we spent with him, the rosewood man sold over a $1000 worth of furniture. Enjoying my admiration, the rosewood man pulled out a stack of invoices to show me the dozens of orders he receives for his pieces, for which people pay hundreds of dollars in shipping alone. Half dazed, I smiled and congratulated him as I scanned the invoices, littered with dollar signs and zeros.
That afternoon, I realized what it means to be successful:
Success is mastering something that matters to you.
Before this weekend, I had no idea what mid-century rosewood furniture was or that people paid thousands of dollars for it. Even after this experience, I will most likely furnish my next place with secondhand pressboard furniture from Ikea. Mid-century rosewood furniture just doesn’t matter to me.
But it matters to the rosewood man, and he has mastered the art of preserving and selling it. Even though rosewood is not his full-time job (he didn’t reveal what that was), there is no doubt in my mind that the rosewood man is successful. He dedicated his time and energy to mastering something that he cares about.
Inspiring and influencing people through words and ideas is what I want to master.
It’s why I love writing, why I love being an admissions coach (influencing others in how to influence admissions committees), and why I love reading relationship self-help books (how to influence relationships for the better).
Gaining clarity in the way in which I want to be successful has helped give focus to my goals and significance to what could look like side projects or hobbies. Blogging isn’t just a fun way to communicate; it’s an exercise in mastery. Learning better ways to reach potential clients isn’t just about increasing my brand presence; it’s moving me closer to my goal of mastering the art of influence.
Whether you want to master the art of parenting, skiing, painting, sales, hairdressing, or fabulous living, know that taking the time to think about what matters most to you–and being willing to dedicate the time and effort to truly master that thing–means you will inevitably be successful. Because there’s joy and fulfillment in working hard to be excellent at something that matters to you. Even if it isn’t your full-time job, the payment comes in the form of knowing that you didn’t squander your talents on mediocre effort; you gave your best to something and, in turn, received the satisfaction of knowing that there is something in this world about which you know everything.