Last week I finished reading the book Mastery by Robert Greene. Here’s my review.
This is an amazing book jam packed with interesting and useful ideas. I was taken aback at how deep this book goes into unexpected topics such as creativity. Mastery may be in the ‘Personal Development’ category of my book list but it could also fit into the ‘Creativity’ category.
Much of the book focuses on the life stories of current and historical figures who have achieved mastery in their chosen field. A wide variety of people and fields are covered. Robert Greene studies the lives of these people and by picking out certain successes and failures that they each encountered in their careers. We can learn from the experiences of these great people and use that knowledge to avoid similar pitfalls that we may face on our own path to mastery.
This book is going to be useful for people from all walks of life but I would say that younger people are going to get the most benefit out of it as the content is most relevant to people looking to achieve mastery over a long period of time.
You can purchase a printed or audio version of Mastery here.
For now, I want to talk about the five most important insights that I personally felt the book offered me:
1. Your 20’s = the apprenticeship stage
While Robert Greene didn’t directly say that the your 20’s should be the apprenticeship stage of your life, he did say that you should spend a considerable amount of years of your early life dedicated to learning. For me, this would be my 20’s.
The apprentice or apprenticeship stage of your life might not be what you are assuming. The stage doesn’t necessarily involve you undertaking a practical apprenticeship to learn a specific craft (but it could be). All it means is that you dedicate a large chuck of time to learning and improving specific skills rather than focusing on attaining material goals. It could involve you working in one company for ten years to learn the ins and out of the craft you are passionate about or it could involve jumping from position to position having new experiences and learning as you go. The type of apprenticeship you undertake is completely up to you and depends on your personality and what you want out of life.
The important thing is not so much what you do but the approach you take to doing it. Your focus should be on learning rather than achieving.
2. Find purpose by being broad initially
It’s a question that most people want to figure out. Who am I? What am I doing here? What is my purpose?
We are often bombarded with the narrative that you need to find your life purpose from a young age and then never waver from the course. The trouble is that this is impractical if not impossible for most people.
Robert Greene suggests a variety of methods of finding your life purpose including using your childhood inclinations to guide you.
However, what really stood out to me is the idea of using a long-term process of elimination to figure this out. You start by picking an area that you are potentially interested in and then move closer and closer to your actual purpose over time by eliminating routes that you decide of interest to you after all and gravitating towards routes that are. Your focus will naturally become more narrow as you learn more about yourself and areas you are interested. Eventually you will stumble into a niche that fits you perfectly. This will be your purpose.
3. Social intelligence
Social intelligence is mentioned as a crucial aspect of achieving Mastery. It is also an important aspect of life that is sometimes overlooked by people who tend to lean towards a creative pursuit. This part of the book was particularly impactful on me as it’s an area that I tend to largely disregard.
The common belief by many people (myself included) is that if the work is good enough then it will speak for itself and to an extent this is true. But it’s also important not to get so caught up in yourself and your work that you forget that there are other people in the world too.
Robert Greene basically recommends developing social intelligence to deal with the inevitable social politics that act as deadly traps between you and mastery. Once you have developed this skill you can navigate the process far more effectively than without it.
He also goes on to mention that you need to ground yourself in reality. You can come up with big ideas but how are you going to put them into practice. This will usually involve dealing with other people. Don’t try to change people but accept them and understand them. You can use this to your advantage.
4. See with the eyes of a child
A true master can reconnect with their inner child and retrieve the creative and intuitive ideas that reside in that part of themselves. This master will then have to combine this basic, intuitive thinking with the practical skills that they have developed throughout their adult years.
The ability to use both child-like intuition and rationality in this way is the secret to creating masterpieces.
Working in too rigid of a fashion will cut off many possibilities that might have otherwise been available to you.
Greene argues that keeping an open mind and giving your full attention to every idea that presents itself to you will allow serendipity to do its thing giving you access to brilliant creative ideas that never would have been discovered if you weren’t flexible enough to accept new possibilities.
The road to mastery is almost never a straight one. We need to be adaptable, flexible and open to navigate each bend that presents itself.
I loved this book. It was an ideal read for someone in my situation and I believe the above insights and many of the other great ideas included in the book can help a significant number of people (especially younger people) focus on their path to mastery.
Get the book here.
Also published on Medium.