Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mastery by Robert Greene – A Summary (Part I)

 Mastery by Robert Greene – A Summary (Part I)

I have reviewed this book before but after the second reading, I realised that the concepts within its pages are intense and the ideas too many that having a summary would definitely help me.
Disclaimer: This summary is my interpretation of the book to suit my pursuits, dreams and goals.
We all are born with the capability to do what we please. We hold the key to our fortunes but the skill to mould that capability ‘into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated,’ says Wolfgang Goethe. The great danger is that we give in to feelings of boredom, impatience, fear and confusion. We stop observing and learning. The process comes to a halt.

“Why do we need mastery? Why work years when you can achieve so much power with so little effort? Technology will solve everything.” Do not have this passivity. Do not believe the moral stance that says, ‘mastery and power are evil’. You will unconsciously lower your sights as to what you can accomplish in life. This can diminish your levels of effort and discipline below the point of effectiveness. Do not listen more to others than to your own voice. Do not choose a career based on what peers and parents tell you or on what seems lucrative. Lack of true desire will catch up with you and your work will become mechanical. So,

a)      See your attempt at attaining mastery as something extremely necessary and positive. The passive ironic attitude is not cool or romantic, but pathetic and destructive.

b)      People get the mind and quality of brain that they deserve through their actions in life. Work to see how far you can extend control of your circumstances and create the kind of mind you desire.

As you progress, old ideas and perspectives die off; as new powers are unleashed, you are initiated into higher levels of seeing the world. Anything that is alive is in a continual state of change and movement. The moment that you rest, thinking that you have attained the level you desire, a part of your mind enters a phase of decay.

“The geniuses all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman who first learns to construct the parts properly before he ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.

Section I Discover your calling: The Life’s Task

“Just as a well-filled day brings blessed sleep, so a well-employed life brings a blessed death.” – Leonardo da Vinci.

The way to mastery can begin at any point in life. The process of realizing your Life’s Task comes in 3 stages:

1)      You must connect or reconnect with your inclinations - that sense of uniqueness. This step is inward. Clear away confusing voices (parents and peers) and look for an underlying pattern, a core to your character that you must understand as deeply as possible.


2)      Look at the career path you already on or are about to begin. The choice of this path – or redirection of it – is critical. Talking about work-life balance seems illogical as work forms a large part of life. To see work as a means to earn money to seek pleasure in the hours after work is a sad way of experiencing life. Work should be inspiring and engaging. (I have some reservations with this view of Greene. Isn’t it said that an artist works better on a filled stomach? Also, this may be more applicable when you start out in life as a 15-18 year old not as a married with kids 30+ year old. I’m not going into the arguments as this is just a summary and not an analysis.)


3)      Finally, you must see your career more as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straight line.

Ø  Begin by choosing a field or position that roughly corresponds to your inclinations. Don’t start with something too lofty or too ambitious.

Ø  Make a living and establish some confidence. Discover side routes that attract you and discard ones that leave you cold. Keep expanding your skill base.

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

Ø  Once found, everything will fall in place. You will learn more quickly and more deeply. Your skill level will reach a point where you will be able to claim your independence from within the group you work for and move out on your own.

Ø  You will no longer be subject to the whims of tyrannical bosses or scheming peers.

What we lack most in the modern world is a sense of a larger purpose to our lives. “Become who you are by learning who you are” – Pindar.

Strategies for finding your Life’s Task

“Whoever is born with a talent, or to a talent, must surely find in that the most pleasing of occupations!” Wolfgang Goethe

1)      Return to your origins – The primal inclination strategy

In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Your interest must transcend the field itself and border on the religious.


2)      Occupy the perfect niche – The Darwinian strategy

Choose a niche that corresponds to your deepest inclinations – one that you can dominate. It is not a simple process to find such a niche. It requires patience and a particular strategy:

Ø  Choose a field that corresponds to your interests.

Ø  From there, you can look for side paths that attract you and move into a narrower field. You keep doing this till you hit an unoccupied niche.

Ø  Or, you master one field, then another and create a new field combining both or you make novel connections between them.


3)      Avoid the false path- The rebellion strategy

Do not choose a path for money, fame, attention, etc. Don’t act out anxieties and the need to please parents. Scoff at the need for attention and approval – they will lead you astray. Let your sense of rebellion fill you with energy and purpose.


4)      Let go of the past – The adaptation strategy

If change is forced on you, do not overreact or feel sorry for yourself. Don’t abandon the skills and experience gained but find a new way to apply them. These creative readjustments might lead to a superior path.


5)      Find your way back – The life-or-death strategy

No good can ever come from deviating from the path you are destinied to follow. Don’t deviate on the lure of money. It will take you further away from the path. Keep your focus on 5-10 years down the road, when you will reap the rewards of your efforts. The process of getting there is full of challenges and pleasures.



Ignore weaknesses and resist the temptation to be more like others. Direct yourself towards the simple things you are good at rather than making grand plans for the future. Concentrate on becoming proficient in these skills and develop confidence. Learn the value of discipline and reap the rewards.

“Sooner or later something seems to call us onto a particular path. You may remember this “something” as a signal calling in childhood when an urge out of nowhere, a fascination, a peculiar turn of events struck like an anunciation: This is what I must do, this is what I’ve got to have. This is who I am… if not this vivid or sure, the call may have been more like gentle pushings in the stream in which you drifted unknowingly to a particular spot on the bank. Looking back, you sense that fate had a hand in it… A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed, it may also possess you completely. Whatever; eventually it will out. It makes its claim… extraordinary people display calling most evidently. Perhaps that’s why they fascinate. Perhaps, too, they are extraordinary because their calling comes through so clearly and they are so loyal to it… extraordinary people bear the better witness because they show what ordinary mortals simply can’t. We seem to have less motivation and more distraction. Yet our destiny is driven by the same universal engine. Extraordinary people are not a different category; the workings of this engine in them are simply more transparent…”

-          James Hillman  




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