What is the secret to Mastery? This is the question Robert Greene has poised to answer in his most recent book. Greene’s insights into the path to expertise in any field is based on his profound insights into the lives of Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Michael Faraday and Charles Darwin to name but a few. Only with the author’s vast knowledge and historical research to find answers, has he enlightened us with another excellent product. These answers to personal mastery Greene welcomes us to apply in our own lives.
Robert Greenes’s best selling series of book including The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies of War and The 50th Law paved the way to his latest work. Although most people equate mastery with public recognization, the world is filled with silent masters in their fields, who live beneath the radar, believing that mastering their craft is a way of life. And they focus on mastery as a way of personal self realisation.
What is mastery?
Mastery is about transformation. It’s about moving from one level of intelligence to another which kills old ideas and perspectives to make way for the new.
Mastery which is accessible to all. Provided, of course, we are willing to put in the time, dedication, sacrifice and the ups and downs of learning new to become a master.
Greene suggests that we live in a climate where someone who dedicates their self to a vocation is in a sense looked down upon. The nihilistic culture do not have the patience or focus to seek mastery and therefore resents it in others. Society glorifies the celebrity or overnight success over the struggles of the true master. Nobody wants to be reminded that things take time, and through mastery, sometimes a lifetime.
“To solve real problems will require a generous amount of effort and creativity.”
Discover your calling or life’s task
Greene says what we lack most in the modern world is a larger purpose to our lives, this viewpoint has come to the fore with the work and philosophy of Jordan Peterson and his 12 rules to living.
This lack of purpose, Greene says, affects people in all kinds of ways even if they aren’t conscious of it. To achieve mastery you have to find your vocation. Greene advises to think back to your childhood and ponder your motivations as a child. This, he says, is your calling before parents, friends, peers, school and work took over.
In increasingly saturated markets Greene says to find a niche that you can dominate. It requires patience and strategy. Go into a field that corresponds with your interests and niche yourself from there.
Find an apprenticeship
Live your truth has become the banner call of the mass, listen to your inner child, nobody wants to submit to apprenticeship to reach mastery. Greene says there are eight steps in the ideal apprenticeship.
- Value learning over success
- Deversify your thoughts
- Remain humble
- Trust in slow steady progress
- Resistance a sense of futility
- Grow beyond your mentor
- Accept errors as a path to knowledge
Find a mentor
Greene says having a mentor can turn ten years of self-mastery into five years. Not through shortcuts but by streamlining the process and by ensuring you don’t waste time in wrong areas of study. A mentor should push you into the abyss. Get you uncomfortable and give you self-doubt. It’s during these times that the learning and growth happens. And when you think you’ve learnt everything you have to set yourself a new challenge and start again.
Greene makes the point that toughness and constant connection to a reality are both requirements to achieve mastery.
Mentors develop mastery through the toughness and constant connection to reality.
“Masters are those who by nature have suffered to get to where they are. They have experienced endless criticisms of their work, doubts about their progress, setbacks along the way. They know deep in their bones what is required to the creative phase and beyond.
“In this day and age, you must get the sharpest dose of reality that is possible from your mentor. You must go in search of it and welcome it.”
Greene advocates working directly with a mentor instead of using books and other materials. This isn’t always feasible, as it wasn’t for Thomas Edison, in which case you must be diligent in your study.
What separates humans from other animals is our social intelligence and our ability to sense what others are thinking and feeling.
Humans take longer that other species to become independent from their mother. According to Greene, this greater social bond between mother and child makes us more naive about how the world works.
This is what he calls the Naive Perspective and to achieve mastery we must go beyond this to understand other people’s underlying motives. Not in anger or not with emotion but with supreme acceptance.
Social intelligence has two components:
- Specific knowledge of human nature: the ability to read people and understand how they see the world.
- General knowledge of human nature: understanding the patterns of human behaviour, including the darker qualities we often disregard.
The book elaborates on the second component in depth and in particular the darker qualities. Greene calls them The Seven Deadly Realities which often don’t show up in the surface level day-to-day conversations. These deadly realities are;
- Passive Aggressiveness
These traits are usually disguised because they are so abhorrent but they lay in waiting, deep down, should cause for them arise. Greene says be wary of these realities in people you interact with.
Greene also provides advice on how to have more social intelligence. He says to speak through your work; craft the appropriate persona; see yourself as others see you and suffer fools gladly.
Awaken the dimensional mind
Greene says we have two minds. The Conventional Mind and the Original Mind.
The Conventional Mind is the mind which develops over the years through experience and the pressure to conform to society.
“We force our minds into tighter and tighter grooves. We become defensive about the world we now take for granted, and we become upset if our beliefs or assumptions are attacked.”
The Original Mind is the type of mind we have as children, when everything seems new and interesting, and before we settle into a more fixed mindset. This is what drives the creative force within us.
Masters, Greene says, retain a sizeable portion of their childhood spirit despite the pressures and demands of adulthood.
“Masters not only retain their spirit of the original mind, but they also add to it their years of apprenticeship and the ability to focus deeply on problems or ideas.”
What kills the creative force is not age or a lack of talent, but our own spirit, our own attitude. We become too comfortable with the knowledge we have gained in our apprenticeships. We prefer to live with familiar ideas and habits of thinking, but we pay a steep price for this: our minds go dead from the lack of challenge and novelty.
To awaken the Dimensional Mind and move through the creative process, Greene says there are three essential steps;
- Choose a proper creative task
- Loosen and open up the mind through certain creative strategies
- Create the optimal mental conditions for a breakthrough or insight
Fuse the intuitive with the rational
The final step to achieving mastery is through fusing the intuitive with the rational.
Through years of working in or studying a particular subject, masters come to understand all elements on a deep and unconscious level.
This high level of intuition is the ultimate form of mastery.
Intuition is developed through following rational thinking. The two work together and it is the master’s depth of knowledge along with their analytical thinking what creates intuition.
This final stage of mastery does not come without its barriers and setbacks but, as Greene says, this is part of the process.
“You must see every setback, failure, or hardship as a trial along the way, as seeds that are being planted for further cultivation, if you know how to grow them. No moment is wasted if you pay attention and learn the lessons contained in every experience.”
Greene says there are strategies for attaining mastery which include;
- Connect to your environment. Detach from technology and take time out to live primitive using only your inbuilt human senses
- Play to your strengths. Develop a supreme focus on what your strengths are not your weaknesses
- Transform yourself through practice. You can’t achieve mastery through natural capabilities but rather it takes day-after-day, year-after-year dedication and practice
- Internalise the details. To truly master something you have to study and absorb the small details
- Widen your vision. Most people are locked in the present, therefore, having a wider vision and understanding will allow you to create a better strategy to prevail
- Submit to the other. Place yourself inside of other people to understand them and think like them
My 3 key learnings from reading Mastery
1. Your life should be in a constant state of apprenticeship
If you’re comfortable you’re dying. We should endeavour to learn new skills related to our job, vocation, hobby or general life. If you’re not learning new skills and getting out of your comfort zone your worldview becomes smaller each year.
2. Having a direct mentor can shave five years off your skill development
I’ve always been a do-it-yourself kind of guy and used secondary sources like books and the internet to develop my skills. In hindsight, I should have tried to find mentors to work with.
3. You can become a master regardless of age
Some masters don’t achieve mastery status well into an older age because the process takes time. It ain’t over until it’s over.
Final thoughts on Mastery
The historical references and the in-depth research that go into each one of Greene’s books will keep it selling for years to come.
The first half of the book, for me, seemed to be the most interesting. It took me a few days to read it but towards the end, I was beginning to lose focus. Partly to do with my reading fatigue but also to do with the book drawing out some sections to long to make a point.
If you want to understand what it takes to become a master of a subject then there is no better book than this one.
It may make you realise that you don’t have what it takes to become a master because you’re not prepared for the long process, self-doubt, drudgery and so on.
Or, it may inspire and confirm that you are on the right path in your chosen field and you’re willing to do whatever it takes.
Like The 48 Laws, Mastery is a book I’ll often refer to. I usually buy the Kindle version first and buy a paperback version if the book is special. In this case, I went straight to the paperback because anything from Greene is a keeper.
You can buy Mastery on Amazon here.