Mastery Summary
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Mastery by Robert Greene Summary and Analysis

Life gets busy. Has Mastery been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.

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Mastery outlines the process of how you can become a master within your field. In reality, true mastery relies on rejecting the conventions associated with the world. Mastery is about finding your inner calling, choosing to learn rather than succeed, and becoming a master of adding your unique touch. To support these claims, Robert Greene draws upon the experiences of some of history’s most successful figures. These famous figures range from Albert Einstein to Professional Boxer Freddie Roach.

About Robert Greene

Robert Greene is a highly successful American author. His books primarily focus on strategy, power, and seduction. Many of his ideas are supported by Zen Buddhist principles, as he is a student of Zen Buddhism. He is currently the author of six international bestsellers. 

Find Your Inner Calling

Each of us has our own unique calling in life. There is a discipline or field perfect for you. If you have a feeling about a specific discipline, then Robert Greene suggests you trust this feeling. Often, people suppress this uniqueness and instead follow the actions of others. However, although there are some advantages to this approach, you will never find your inner calling. Greene highlights that most geniuses and influential individuals from history had a moment of clarity where they suddenly understood and accepted their inner calling. 

To reiterate this point, Greene offers the example of Leonardo Da Vinci. For Leonardo, his inner calling became apparent when he started stealing sheets of paper from his father’s office. He stole this paper to engage with his deepest passion: sketching animals in the forest. Many attribute their inner calling to a word from God. However, no matter how you view your inner voice, you should always listen to it. In doing so, you can find your inner calling.

Learning Is More Important Than Short-Term Successes

“Think of it this way: 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. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.” – Robert Greene

After identifying one’s inner calling, people search for opportunities with the greatest prestige or financial reward. However, Greene suggests that alternative rewards are more important than short-term successes. He believes that roles that provide you with an opportunity to learn are a better choice than ones that offer short-term praise. Therefore, consider these roles even if they do not pay well. You can obtain prestigious and well-paid jobs further down the line. Importantly, you are potentially more likely to obtain these prestigious jobs if you have learned along the way. The practical knowledge you obtain from a learning role will help you for decades to come. The short-term gains you make from a prestigious job will not be influential in your life in decades’ time.

Notable Examples

Freddie Roach

Greene offers the example of boxer Freddie Roach. Instead of immediately pushing for the big time, he instead took an unpaid position at a boxing center. In this role, Roach was able to effectively develop his skills and guaranteed his future professional career in boxing. In the end, Roach earned considerably more money than if he had taken a well-paid job in a different field earlier on.

Charles Darwin

Freddie Roach is not the only example of a highly successful individual prioritizing learning over prestige during their primary years. For example, Charles Darwin rejected places at a medical school and a well-paid job in a church. Instead of engaging with these opportunities, Darwin chose an alternative route that emphasized learning. He convinced his father to allow him to work as an unpaid worker on the HMS Beagle. On this journey, he learned incredible amounts about exotic plants and animals. Without making this decision, Darwin may have never been the person to develop the theory of evolution.

Benjamin Franklin

Finally, Greene explains how Benjamin Franklin also engaged with learning opportunities over monetary gains. Franklin’s father ran a lucrative candle-making business and suggested Benjamin took over the family business. Undoubtedly, this would have been the easier option and would have provided Franklin with immediate monetary reward. However, Franklin decided to move away and work at a printing business. This role offered him the opportunity to learn how text was composed. The result of this learning process was becoming one of the most influential Americans to ever live. 

Greene explains that these three offer just a tiny proportion of the famous individuals who chose learning over short-term success. Therefore, you should avoid fixating on prestige or money. Instead, search for opportunities that will help you learn and develop your skills. In the long-term, you will benefit considerably more from these opportunities. 

Search for a Mentor

Greene highlights the importance of learning. However, he admits that this is easier said than done. Therefore, Greene recommends encouraging your learning by searching for somebody who can mentor you in your chosen skill. Learning alone is often associated with preventable mistakes and wasting time trying to understand where you made your mistake. This approach will only waste your time and resources. 

The alternative is to find yourself a mentor who can effectively guide you during your learning process. The outcome of this partnership should be more efficient learning and, subsequently, saved time and resources. Greene is keen to point out that mentorship is never a one-way relationship. Never feel like you are leeching off another individual’s capabilities, as a mentor will always benefit from this relationship. A mentor-mentee relationship is often productive for two reasons:

  1. The mentor regards the apprentice as a younger version of themselves. Therefore, they are more interested and invested in the future of the apprentice. 
  2. The apprentice admires the mentor for reaching their current skill level. Hence, they pay much closer attention and absorb their knowledge far more readily than from other sources.

The Example of Alexander the Great

Another key factor to consider is that a mentor-mentee relationship does not have to limit your progress. Some people believe you are limited to the skill level your mentor has acquired. However, history suggests this assumption is incorrect. For example, Alexander the Great learned about governing a state from the great philosopher Aristotle. Most would argue that Alexander the Great easily surpassed the skill set of Aristotle as a governor. Alexander built on the lessons he had learned from Aristotle and tailored these lessons based on his own experiences. Hence, Greene believes your goal should always be to surpass rather than match your mentor. The best approach for doing this is taking their lessons onboard and molding them through your own innate strengths.

Think Innovatively and Challenge the Rules

“We are all in search of feeling more connected to reality—to other people, the times we live in, the natural world, our character, and our own uniqueness. Our culture increasingly tends to separate us from these realities in various ways. We indulge in drugs or alcohol, or engage in dangerous sports or risky behavior, just to wake ourselves up from the sleep of our daily existence and experience a heightened sense of connection to reality. In the end, however, the most satisfying and powerful way to feel this connection is through creative activity. Engaged in the creative process we feel more alive than ever, because we are making something and not merely consuming, Masters of the small reality we create. In doing this work, we are in fact creating ourselves.” – Robert Greene

An effective mentor will provide you with all the most important aspects related to your field. However, these fundamentals should only act as a foundation for two reasons. Firstly, you should always be seeking to surpass what is already known. Secondly, the world is always changing, and you need to adapt as these changes surface. You cannot stay an apprentice forever. Therefore, you need to become fearless and adopt an open mind. Greene points out that this approach is similar to what we were like when we were children. A child’s mind is entirely open to new ideas and believes anything is possible. Plus, children are highly inquisitive about the world.

Children Are True Problem-Solvers

Greene believes that the natural state of humans is showcased by children. Naturally, we thrive off being open-minded and questioning everything we don’t understand. Despite this, adult humans are limited by external pressures. One of the few circumstances where humans generally adopt the openness they have when they were children is while they are on holiday. When you are experiencing a foreign culture, you can’t remain stuck in your old habits and experiences. Therefore, you are forced to be open-minded again. Seeing the world with a child’s eyes is one of the most enjoyable things about traveling.

The Example of Mozart

Try to imagine the freedom and adventurousness you experience when you are in a foreign country. You are willing to break your personal rules and alter the expectations you and others have of yourself. Implement this same freedom as soon as you have finished your apprenticeship with your chosen mentor. This freedom will allow you to grow in your unique way and achieve mastery. Unique mastery is a key feature of the most successful people throughout history. For example, Mozart was a highly talented musician from a young age. However, he was tired of performing the classic piano music that was popular among all talented musicians. Therefore, he decided to compose his own music. Mozart utilized much of the knowledge he had obtained from music that had gone before him. However, he provided his own unique twist to attain mastery. To Greene, this is true innovation. Mozart’s audiences were more impressed by his music than other musicians, as he had provided a degree of originality. Therefore, try to take the rules in your chosen field and change them slightly by providing your own unique twist.

Train Your Mind to Problem Solve

“With our limited senses and consciousness, we only glimpse a small portion of reality. Furthermore, everything in the universe is in a state of constant flux. Simple words and thoughts cannot capture this flux or complexity. The only solution for an enlightened person is to let the mind absorb itself in what it experiences, without having to form a judgment on what it all means. The mind must be able to feel doubt and uncertainty for as long as possible. As it remains in this state and probes deeply into the mysteries of the universe, ideas will come that are more dimensional and real than if we had jumped to conclusions and formed judgments early on.” – Robert Greene

Problem-solving is one of the crucial skills associated with success. However, Greene believes that solving problems in original and creative ways is even more effective. Importantly, he also believes this problem-solving ability can be trained. 

Training Techniques for Problem-Solving

Firstly, try to broaden your mind and avoid tunnel visioning on certain solutions. Humans are creatures of habit, which means we often overuse suboptimal solutions. A solution working for one problem need not mean it will work to solve your current problems. Instead of intuitively reusing solutions, you should stop and consider whether this solution could even work. Similar to this point, there are standard responses and solutions that society offers for particular problems. Although an approach could provide you with a quick solution, adopting these easy solutions will limit your creativity and innovative thinking. In doing so, you prevent yourself from learning the creative problem solving required to solve problems society is yet to solve. 

The first step in becoming more creative in our problem solving is by looking at the world around us differently. There are several binary distinctions made in society, such as body/mind and man/woman. However, the reality is there is more nuance than these binaries. Therefore, prevent yourself from becoming desensitized to the nuances that lie between. The best way of doing this is by creating new and uncommon connections between objects in your environment. 

The Example of Einstein

One famous study showed that after 10,000 hours of practice in a given field, the brain is qualitatively changed. Your brain builds brand-new connections between formerly unconnected areas. This enables you to quickly visualize any given problem in that field in a different way. Greene compares this to the eureka moments we all sometimes experience. Opening yourself to new experiences increases your chances of experiencing these eureka moments. For example, Einstein used to play the violin while he pondered theoretical problems. This was Einstein’s way of learning to problem-solve creatively. Therefore, you can do the same. 

Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.

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