By Robert Greene


This was the first Robert Greene book I read, as opposed to his more famous (or perhaps infamous) work like 48 Laws of Power. I understand that Greene has his critics, and I think I get it. He writes dispassionately; if you assume that the book is a story from the author’s point of view, you might think Greene is a terrible person. Especially when you consider that his previous topics were power, seduction, and war. Mastery is about the acquisition of skill and knowledge. It’s a thorough look at various masters throughout history, sharing the lesson that masters are made, not born.

Early humans evolved the ability to detach and think as their primary advantage in the struggle to avoid predators and find food. It connected them to a reality other animals could not access. Thinking on this level was the single greatest turning point in all of evolution—the emergence of the conscious, reasoning mind.

Everything that happens to you is a form of instruction if you pay attention.

The first move toward mastery is always inward—learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force.

The process of following your Life’s Task all the way to mastery can essentially begin at any point in life.

Eventually, you will hit upon a particular field, niche, or opportunity that suits you perfectly. You will recognize it when you find it because it will spark that childlike sense of wonder and excitement; it will feel right.

The career world is like an ecological system: People occupy particular fields within which they must compete for resources and survival. The more people there are crowded into a space, the harder it becomes to thrive there.

You do not hold on to past ways of doing things, because that will ensure you will fall behind and suffer for it.

Your significance will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experiences to the highest advantage of others.

Do not envy those who seem to be naturally gifted; it is often a curse, as such types rarely learn the value of diligence and focus, and they pay for this later in life.

To follow precisely the lead of others or advice from a book is self-defeating.

Every task you are given, no matter how menial, offers opportunities to observe this world at work. No detail about the people within it is too trivial. Everything you see or hear is a sign for you to decode.

As much as possible, you want to reduce these skills to something simple and essential—the core of what you need to get good at, skills that can be practiced.

Learning any kind of skill deeply prepares you for mastery.

Often you must force yourself to initiate such actions or experiments before you think you are ready.

You cannot make anything worthwhile in this world unless you have first developed and transformed yourself.

If you desire an apprenticeship, if you want to learn and set yourself up for mastery, you have to do it yourself, and with great energy.

You drop all of your preconceptions about an environment or field, any lingering feelings of smugness. You have no fears. You interact with people and participate in the culture as deeply as possible. You are full of curiosity. Assuming this sensation of inferiority, your mind will open up and you will have a hunger to learn.

The frustration is a sign of progress—a signal that your mind is processing complexity and requires more practice.

There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn.

In this new age, those who follow a rigid, singular path in their youth often find themselves in a career dead end in their forties, or overwhelmed with boredom.

It is the nature of the human brain to require such lengthy exposure to a field, which allows for complex skills to become deeply embedded and frees the mind up for real creative activity.

To learn requires a sense of humility. We must admit that there are people out there who know our field much more deeply than we do.

It is always possible to practice on your own, but you will not receive enough focused feedback.

If your circumstances limit your contacts, books can serve as temporary mentors.

Sometimes part of what a mentor shows us is something we will want to avoid or actively rebel against.

Confidence is important, but if it is not based on a realistic appraisal of who you are, it is mere grandiosity and smugness.

You find for yourself second-degree mentors in the form of public figures who can serve as role models.

The principal problem we face in the social arena is our naïve tendency to project onto people our emotional needs and desires of the moment.

The most effective attitude to adopt is one of supreme acceptance.

Being able to place yourself to any degree in the mind-set of others is a brilliant means of loosening up your own thought process, which will tend to get locked into certain ways of seeing things.

Whenever a new idea or way of looking at the world is introduced, despite all of the proofs behind it, those who are entrenched in the old ways will fight to the death to preserve them.

By being efficient and detail oriented in what you do, you demonstrate that you are thinking of the group at large and advancing its cause. By making what you write or present clear and easy to follow, you show your care for the audience or public at large. By involving other people in your projects and gracefully accepting their feedback, you reveal your comfort with the group dynamic.

To think more flexibly entails a risk—we could fail and be ridiculed. 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; we reach a limit in our field and lose control over our fate because we become replaceable.

You cannot find anything new if you are unwilling to leave the shore.

Truly creative people in all fields can temporarily suspend their ego and simply experience what they are seeing, without the need to assert a judgment, for as long as possible.

The idea or theory that you are currently formulating, that seems so fresh and alive and truthful, will almost certainly be shot down or ridiculed in a few decades or centuries.

By continually cycling between speculation and observation/experiment, we are able to pierce deeper and deeper into reality, like a drill that penetrates a piece of wood through its motion.

As the great physicist Max Planck put it, scientists “must have a vivid intuitive imagination, for new ideas are not generated by deduction, but by an artistically creative imagination.”

The responses of the public will make you think more deeply about what you are producing. Such feedback will help make visible what is generally invisible to your eyes—the objective reality of your work and its flaws, as reflected through the eyes of many people.

Make sure, however, that you do not become lost in the details and lose sight of how they reflect the whole and fit into a larger idea.

It is the strange and random variation in nature that often sets a species off in a new evolutionary direction.

The real trick is to focus our attention on some need that is not currently being met, on what is absent.

If we feel afraid, we tend to see more of the potential dangers in some action. If we feel particularly bold, we tend to ignore the potential risks.

As opposed to words, which can be impersonal and rigid, a visualization is something we create, something that serves our particular needs of the moment and can represent an idea in a way that is more fluid and real than simply words.

Faced with the slenderest amount of time to reach the end, the mind rises to the level you require.

Sometimes greater danger comes from success and praise than from criticism.

What must ultimately motivate you is the work itself and the process.

Understand: the greatest impediment to creativity is your impatience, the almost inevitable desire to hurry up the process, express something, and make a splash.

In the end, you win through superior craftsmanship, not marketing.

Any kind of resistance or obstacle that crosses your path should be seen as yet another chance to improve your work.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to human creativity is the natural decay that sets in over time in any kind of medium or profession.

People are dying for the new, for what expresses the spirit of the time in an original way.

Your task as a creative thinker is to actively explore the unconscious and contradictory parts of your personality, and to examine similar contradictions and tensions in the world at large.

Understand: to create a meaningful work of art or to make a discovery or invention requires great discipline, self-control, and emotional stability. It requires mastering the forms of your field. Drugs and madness only destroy such powers. Do not fall for the romantic myths and clichés that abound in culture about creativity—offering us the excuse or panacea that such powers can come cheaply.

It is not the moves of the pieces on the chessboard but the entire game, involving the psychologies of the players, their strategies in real time, their past experiences influencing the present, the comfort of the chairs they are sitting in, how their energies affect each other—in a word, everything that comes into play, all at once.

No moment is wasted if you pay attention and learn the lessons contained in every experience.

People who spend years studying a particular subject or field develop so many of these memory networks and pathways that their brains are constantly searching for and discovering connections between various pieces of information.

If the situation is complex and others are reaching for simple black-and-white answers, or for the usual conventional responses, we must make a point of resisting such a temptation.

In the culture at large, people will make the finest distinctions between closely related or overlapping subjects, and argue endlessly about the differences.

There are many paths to mastery, and if you are persistent you will certainly find one that suits you. But a key component in the process is determining your mental and psychological strengths and working with them.

Those qualities that separate us are often ridiculed by others, or criticized by teachers.

A fighter who enters the ring with a clear sense of purpose and strategy, and with the confidence that comes from complete preparation, has a much better chance of prevailing.

Studying from the outside, many would say, preserves our objectivity. But what kind of objectivity is it when the researcher’s perspective is tainted by so many assumptions and predigested theories?

Your false self is the accumulation of all the voices you have internalized from other people—parents and friends who want you to conform to their ideas of what you should be like and what you should do, as well as societal pressures to adhere to certain values that can easily seduce you. It also includes the voice of your own ego, which constantly tries to protect you from unflattering truths.


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