Robert Greene – Mastery
ROBERT GREENE – MASTERY
If you enjoy these notes on Mastery, you should also check out my notes on The 48 Laws of Power and The 50th Law.
“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
That’s what this book is about, sculpting your mind and your life in the pursuit of mastery. Becoming the best in a craft, emulating the best practicioners in all fields throughout history.
“We imagine that creativity and brilliance just appear out of nowhere, the fruit of natural talent, or perhaps of a good mood, or an alignment of the stars. It would be an immense help to clear up the mystery— to name this feeling of power, to examine its roots, to define the kind of intelligence that leads to it, and to understand how it can be manufactured and maintained. Let us call this sensation mastery— the feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves. 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. (Such Masters include Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, and Martha Graham, among many others.) And at the root of this power is a simple process that leads to mastery— one that is accessible to all of us.”
Then Greene gives a high level overview of the process:
- We enter a new field with excitement, but also fear about how much there is to learn ahead of us. The greatest danger here is boredom, impatience, fear, and confusion. Once we stop observing and learning, the process towards mastery comes to a halt.
- But if we manage these emotions and keep pushing forward, we start to gain fluency, and we master the basic skills allowing us to take on bigger and better challenges.
- Eventually, we move from student to practicioner. We use our own ideas and experiments, getting feedback in the process. We start to use our own style
- Then as we continue for years we make the leap to mastery. We develop an intuitive sense of the skill and have mastered it to the point of being able to innovate and break the rules.
He breaks this into three phases:
His structure is very similar to the Dreyfus model.
1. DISCOVERING YOUR CALLING
“You possess a kind of inner force that seeks to guide you toward your Life’s Task— what you are meant to accomplish in the time that you have to live. In childhood this force was clear to you. It directed you toward activities and subjects that fit your natural inclinations, that sparked a curiosity that was deep and primal. In the intervening years, the force tends to fade in and out as you listen more to parents and peers, to the daily anxieties that wear away at you. This can be the source of your unhappiness— your lack of connection to who you are and what makes you unique. The first move toward mastery is always inward— learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force. Knowing it with clarity, you will find your way to the proper career path and everything else will fall into place. It is never too late to start this process.”
Opens with a story of Leonardo Da Vinci’s early years:
“One time, as part of his studio work, he was asked to paint an angel in a larger biblical scene designed by Verrocchio. He had decided that he would make his portion of the scene come to life in his own way. In the foreground in front of the angel he painted a flowerbed, but instead of the usual generalized renderings of plants, Leonardo depicted the flower specimens that he had studied in such detail as a child, with a kind of scientific rigor no one had seen before. For the angel’s face, he experimented with his paints and mixed a new blend that gave it a kind of soft radiance that expressed the angel’s sublime mood. (To help capture this mood, Leonardo had spent time in the local church observing those in fervent prayer, the expression of one young man serving as the model for the angel.) And finally, he determined that he would be the first artist to create realistic angelic wings. For this purpose, he went to the marketplace and purchased several birds. He spent hours sketching their wings, how exactly they merged into their bodies. He wanted to create the sensation that these wings had organically grown from the angel’s shoulders and would bring it natural flight. As usual, Leonardo could not stop there. After his work was completed he became obsessed with birds, and the idea brewed in his mind that perhaps a human could really fly, if Leonardo could figure out the science behind avian flight. Now, several hours every week, he read and studied everything he could about birds. This was how his mind naturally worked— one idea flowed into another.”
THREE STEPS FOR FINDING YOUR CALLING
This is the goal of discovering your calling, to see what you can completely lose yourself in, become completely obsessed with. So how do we do that?
“First, you must connect or reconnect with your inclinations, that sense of uniqueness. The first step then is always inward. You search the past for signs of that inner voice or force. You clear away the other voices that might confuse you— parents and peers. You look for an underlying pattern, a core to your character that you must understand as deeply as possible.”
“Second, with this connection established, you must look at the career path you are already on or are about to begin. The choice of this path— or redirection of it— is critical. To help in this stage you will need to enlarge your concept of work itself. Too often we make a separation in our lives— there is work and there is life outside work, where we find real pleasure and fulfillment.”
He makes the distinction here, too, that you shouldn’t let it be separate from your life: “Work is often seen as a means for making money so we can enjoy that second life that we lead. Even if we derive some satisfaction from our careers we still tend to compartmentalize our lives in this way. This is a depressing attitude, because in the end we spend a substantial part of our waking life at work. If we experience this time as something to get through on the way to real pleasure, then our hours at work represent a tragic waste of the short time we have to live. Instead you want to see your work as something more inspiring, as part of your vocation… Your work then is something connected deeply to who you are, not a separate compartment in your life. You develop then a sense of your vocation.”
“Finally, you must see your career or vocational path more as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straight line. You begin by choosing a field or position that roughly corresponds to your inclinations. This initial position offers you room to maneuver and important skills to learn. You don’t want to start with something too lofty, too ambitious— you need to make a living and establish some confidence. Once on this path you discover certain side routes that attract you, while other aspects of this field leave you cold. You adjust and perhaps move to a related field, continuing to learn more about yourself, but always expanding off your skill base. Like Leonardo, you take what you do for others and make it your own.”