Robert Greene’s work on Mastery is a masterpiece in itself — a complete look into what it takes to achieve the pinnacle of human potential.
Greene is a master researcher, the singular skill that makes his books tower above others (literally). He has mentioned (podcast) that he spends a year reading before he even begins to write a book. This year is devoted to intense study, going through every conceivable piece of literature, developing ideas and piecing together bits of information. Using his notecard system, he then compiles thousands of note cards into stacks of knowledge; these stacks usually become chapters.
Months of endless refining would reveal a masterwork. Ryan Holiday would call them perennial sellers, books that endure the test of time.
Forged from the hands of a master is the premiere book on mastery itself. Better than Outliers and more thorough than Talent, it is a full discourse into supreme intelligence: the power that emanates from those who are masters.
Everyone holds his fortune in his own hands, like a sculptor the raw material he will fashion into a figure. But it’s the same with that type of artistic activity as with all others: We are merely born with the capability to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A GLIMPSE INTO MASTERY
Greene’s definition of Mastery is somewhat unconventional: the feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves.
He intends to depict mastery as a higher level of consciousness, a sort of intuition that is forged from hours upon hours of persistent effort.
Furthermore, he notes: “although it might be something we experience for only a short while, for others- Masters of their field- it becomes their way of life, their way of seeing the world.”
History’s greatest names were masters: Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Mozart, Michael Jordan.
When we think of these names, we imagine fluidity, smoothness, otherworldly, superhuman. What we are witnessing, however, is simply mastery in action; the culminating result of hours upon hours of intense focus and effort. Every notable authority on the subject of expertise would note this process.
Mastery is available to anyone but it is the process that trims the fat. Very few are willing to endure the time and effort necessary to become a master. Moreover, very few properly align themselves with their unique calling, which provides the necessary inner drive to push further and longer than most others. Greene calls this a person’s life task.
When a person discovers their life’s task, then the process becomes clear:
The key to high-level achievement in any field is to connect with what I call the Life’s Task, our vocation, what we are meant to do in this short time we have to live. We all experience in early childhood an attraction to certain activities, what I call primal inclinations. This could be physical activities (sports), games of strategy (chess, etc.), visual patterns or mathematics, music, words, and so on. These are indications of what is unique about us. This uniqueness can be expressed by our interest in several things that we want to combine. Most of us lose touch with these inclinations as we get older. We listen more and more to parents; we enter career paths that seem cool or lucrative. Masters stand out by their ability to stay true to their earliest inclinations; they have an exceptional connection to what they were meant to do in life. – Greene in an interview with Forbes
In order to truly embrace the process, it is likely that a person must align themselves with their Life’s Task. It can be an innate inclination to particular vocation- or it can be uncovered through the slow evolution of normal interaction. What this means is that someone may enter a field due to curiosity, then as skill increases, so does passion and energy, thus enabling greater exploration and the path to mastery.
The development of this idea, a life’s task, helps Greene to explore the question: why aren’t there more masters?
Certainly, there exist lots of people that are decent at what they do. But many careerists start to atrophy after years of work, armed only with a declining skill set and a loss of passion and creativity.
The answer is not innate talent. Greene talks of Charles Darwin, his main point maker in this regard: “a very ordinary boy (Darwin), rather below the common standard in intellect… I have great quickness of apprehension.. My power to follow a long and purely abstract train of thought is very limited.”
Charles Darwin was regarded as an ordinary boy, nothing special, nothing worth noting. Until he found his Life’s Task.
LISTEN TO YOUR INNER VOICE= PATH TO MASTERY
“Become who you are by learning who you are” – Greek poet Pindar
After five years at sea upon a voyage that connected several growing interests, Darwin devoted his life to his theory of evolution. But this decision came after years of intense focus and effort, revealing a multitude of large, unanswered questions within his variety of life interests.
Certainly this opportunity could have never come to fruition, indicating to modern readers that we must be proactive in this critical pursuit, the unveiling of our life’s task:
They [masters] excel by their ability to practice harder and move faster through the process, all of this stemming from the intensity of their desire to learn and from the deep connection they feel to their field of study. And at the core of this intensity of effort is, in fact, a quality that is genetic and inborn- not talent or brilliance, which is something that must be developed, but rather a deep and powerful inclination toward a particular subject.
Desire becomes the ultimate emotional quality that separates masters from ordinary achievers:
This intense connection and desire allows them to withstand the pain of the process- the self-doubts, the tedious hours of practice and study, the inevitable setbacks, the endless barbs from the envious. They develop a resiliency and confidence that others lack. In our culture we tend equate thinking and intellectual powers with success and achievement. In many ways, however, it is an emotional quality that separates those who master a field from the many who simply work at a job. Our levels of desire, patience, persistence, and confidence end up playing a much larger role in success than sheer reasoning powers. Feeling motivated and energized, we can overcome almost anything. Feeling bored and restless, our minds shut off and we become increasingly passive.
Read More: Mastery by Robert Greene (amazon)
Mastery is designed as a journey in which the reader discovers the process within themselves. Greene highlights several ancient and contemporary masters, taking time to detail the differences in how they rose to greatness.
♦ Chapter 1: discover your life’s task (the most critical aspect of mastery)
♦ Chapter 2-4: the apprenticeship phase, deeply rooted in intense learning and observation. A master, much like a hero, must go through an ordeal that forges the deep connections making a master seem so uniquely gifted. Also, part of this process is the acquisition of social intelligence- a critical skill that enables greater and increased support by mentors and others with unique and valuable information. Greene’s summation of social intelligence and its importance is worthy of its own book. The interaction with others is often overlooked in the quest for mastery, but is a vital piece in the overall puzzle; we must learn to engage with others using methods that are conducive to our goals.
♦ Chapter 5: the creative-active phase is the application of the creative work developed through years of intense immersion.
♦ Chapter 6: the achievement of mastery: a higher level of intelligence built from years of intense focus.
TIME TO MASTERY= INTENSITY OF FOCUS
The key, then, to attaining this higher level of intelligence is to make our years of study qualitatively rich. We don’t simply absorb information- we internalize it and make it our own by finding some to put this knowledge to practical use. If we experience any failures or setbacks, we do not quickly forget them because they offend our self-esteem. Instead, we reflect on them deeply, trying to figure out what went wrong and discern whether there any patterns to our mistakes. As we progress, we start to question some of the assumptions and conventions we have learned along the way. Soon, we begin to experiment and become increasingly active. At all points in the various moments leading to mastery, we attack with intensity. Every moment, every experience contains deep lessons for us.
Mastery is what you must seek, anything else yields a life unfulfilled.
Aim to attack with intensity.
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