date Jan 6, 2014
authors Robert Greene
reading time 14 mins

##The Book - Mastery

Mastery by Robert Greene - After having finished this book, I’m definitely adding it to my list of resources to draw inspiration on doing any creative work.

I first heard about this book when Katrina mentioned it in the Ruby Rogues episode on How to Learn. This book focuses on how to achieve mastery and breakthrough in any field of creativity such as science, arts, humanities, sports, etc.

Mastery by Robert Greene

The following abstracts have inspired me and I hope they do so for you too!

##Why start on the path to Mastery?

Mastery through humbleness and contribution…

This is not mastery for the purpose of dominating nature or other people, but for determining our fate. The passive ironic attitude is not cool or romantic, but pathetic and destructive. You are setting an example of what can be achieved as a Master in the modern world. You are contributing to the most important cause of all—the survival and prosperity of the human race, in a time of stagnation.

Mastery with purpose and direction…

Feeling that we are called to accomplish something is the most positive way for us to supply this sense of purpose and direction. It is a religious-like quest for each of us. This quest should not be seen as selfish or antisocial. It is in fact connected to something much larger than our individual lives.

##How to get started

Lookout for an activity that you are never tired of…

Look for its traces in visceral reactions to something simple; a desire to repeat an activity that you never tired of; a subject that stimulated an unusual degree of curiosity; feelings of power attached to particular actions. It is already there within you.

Repeated activity with a flow

As the cycle accelerates, you can reach a point where your mind is totally absorbed in the practice, entering a kind of flow in which everything else is blocked out. You become one with the tool or instrument or thing you are studying. Your skill is not something that can be put into words; it is embedded in your body and nervous system—it becomes tacit knowledge.

##Tools and the subject matter

Obsession with the subject matter…

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. For Einstein, it was not physics but a fascination with invisible forces that governed the universe … These childhood attractions are hard to put into words and are more like sensations—that of deep wonder, sensual pleasure, power, and heightened awareness.

Working with tools

In fashioning a stone tool, expert toolmakers would feel as one with their instruments. The stone or wood they cut with became an extension of their hand.

##First phase - Apprenticeship

Value learning above all…

… you must value learning above everything else. This will lead you to all of the right choices. You will opt for the situation that will give you the most opportunities to learn, particularly with hands-on work. You will choose a place that has people and mentors who can inspire and teach you. A job with mediocre pay has the added benefit of training you to get by with less—a valuable life skill.

Do the work yourself…

…no one is really going to help you or give you direction. In fact, the odds are against you. 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.

Handling praise and attention during apprenticeship…

The greatest mistake you can make in the initial months of your apprenticeship is to imagine that you have to get attention, impress people, and prove yourself. These thoughts will dominate your mind and close it off from the reality around you. Any positive attention you receive is deceptive; it is not based on your skills or anything real, and it will turn against you.

Do not be afraid of open sourcing code or launching projects in public…

to apprentice as an entrepreneur you must act on your ideas as early as possible, exposing them to the public, a part of you even hoping that you’ll fail. You have everything to gain.

##Getting a mentor

Always have something to give back to mentor as well…

What makes the mentor-protégé dynamic so intense and so productive is the emotional quality of the relationship. By nature, mentors feel emotionally invested in your education. This can be for several reasons: perhaps they like you, or see in you a younger version of themselves, and can relive their own youth through you; perhaps they recognize in you a special talent that will give them pleasure to cultivate; perhaps you have something important to offer them, mostly your youthful energy and willingness to work hard. Being useful to them can build a powerful emotional connection to you over time.

Email, tweet, approach people anyway!

In any event, you should not feel timid in approaching Masters, no matter how elevated their position. You will be frequently surprised at how open they can be to serving as a mentor, if the fit is right and you have something to offer. The ability to transfer their experience and knowledge to someone younger often provides them with a great pleasure, akin to parenting.

Finding our own voice under mentorship…

As apprentices, we all share in this dilemma. To learn from mentors, we must be open and completely receptive to their ideas. We must fall under their spell. But if we take this too far, we become so marked by their influence that we have no internal space to incubate and develop our own voice, and we spend our lives tied to ideas that are not our own.

##Creative-Active phase after gathering skills

Mode of experimentation and taking in critisicms…

As you gain in skill and confidence, you must make the move to a more active mode of experimentation. This could mean taking on more responsibility, initiating a project of some sort, doing work that exposes you to the criticisms of peers or even the public. The point of this is to gauge your progress and whether there are still gaps in your knowledge. You are observing yourself in action and seeing how you respond to the judgments of others. Can you take criticism and use it constructively?

Overcoming failures with deep passion

With such a deep-rooted interest, you can withstand the setbacks and failures, the days of drudgery, and the hard work that are always a part of any creative action. You can ignore the doubters and critics. You will then feel personally committed to solving the problem and will not rest until you do so.

Bringing out the originality after apprenticeship

As you emerge from your apprenticeship, you must become increasingly bold … In the end, you will turn against the very rules you have internalized, shaping and reforming them to suit your spirit. Such originality will bring you to the heights of power.

##What changes with Mastery

Definition of pleasure

You develop emotionally. Your sense of pleasure becomes redefined. What offers immediate pleasure comes to seem like a distraction, an empty entertainment to help pass the time … Boredom no longer signals the need for distraction, but rather the need for new challenges to conquer.

on 10,000 hours

Although the number of hours might seem high, it generally adds up to seven to ten years of sustained, solid practice—roughly the period of a traditional apprenticeship. In other words, concentrated practice over time cannot fail but produce results.

##Social intelligence

What is social intelligence?

Social intelligence is nothing more than the process of discarding the Naïve Perspective and approaching something more realistic. It involves focusing our attention outward instead of inward, honing the observational and empathic skills that we naturally possess. It means moving past our tendency to idealize and demonize people, and seeing and accepting them as they are. It is a way of thinking that must be cultivated as early as possible, during the Apprenticeship Phase

Every industry has its politics to deal with

Often the greatest obstacle to our pursuit of mastery comes from the emotional drain we experience in dealing with the resistance and manipulations of the people around us. If we are not careful, our minds become absorbed in endless political intrigues and battles.

Let the work speak for itself

Understand: your work is the single greatest means at your disposal for expressing your social intelligence. 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. Work that is solid also protects you from the political conniving and malevolence of others.


It is not generally acknowledged or discussed, but the personality we project to the world plays a substantial role in our success and in our ascension to mastery.

##Elements of Mastery

Sheer tenacity

When you look at the exceptionally creative work of Masters, you must not ignore the years of practice, the endless routines, the hours of doubt, and the tenacious overcoming of obstacles these people endured. Creative energy is the fruit of such efforts and nothing else.


In the latter case, such visualizations require a degree of relaxation on your part. If you think too hard, you will come up with something too literal. Let your attention wander, play around the edges of your concept, loosen up your hold on consciousness, and allow images to come to you.

Constant humbleness and wonder

Constantly remind yourself of how little you truly know, and of how mysterious the world remains.

Intense self criticism

you must regularly doubt that you have achieved your goal and subject your work to intensive self-criticism. All of this requires a great deal of flexibility, which means you must not get too hung up on any single frame of mind. You must bend to the moment and adopt the attitude appropriate to the moment.


Since it has been shown that the brain is literally altered after approximately 10,000 hours of practice, these powers would be the result of a transformation that happens in the brain after some 20,000 hours and beyond. With this much practice and experience, all kinds of connections have been formed in the brain between different forms of knowledge. Masters thus have a sense of how everything interacts organically, and they can intuit patterns or solutions in an instant.


you must also maintain a sense of destiny, and feel continuously connected to it. You are unique, and there is a purpose to your uniqueness… Never losing your connection to your Life’s Task, you will unconsciously hit upon the right choices in your life.

##Challenges to Mastery

Handling success

If you gain any kind of attention or success for your work in this phase, you face the great danger of creeping conservatism. This danger comes in several forms. You begin to fall in love with the ideas and strategies that worked for you in the past … What must ultimately motivate you is the work itself and the process. Public attention is actually a nuisance and a distraction. Such an attitude is the only defense against falling into the traps set by our ego.

Limitations…(Story of the Wright Brothers)

Instead of beginning with a grandiose device to test out their ideas, they would have to slowly evolve the perfect design, just as they had done with the printing press and the bicycle.

Scratching your own itch

The principles behind mechanical intelligence can be summarized as follows: whatever you are creating or designing, you must test and use it yourself. Separating out the work will make you lose touch with its functionality.


Finally, you must come to embrace slowness as a virtue in itself. When it comes to creative endeavors, time is always relative. Whether your project takes months or years to complete, you will always experience a sense of impatience and a desire to get to the end. The single greatest action you can take for acquiring creative power is to reverse this natural impatience. You take pleasure in the laborious research process; you enjoy the slow cooking of the idea, the organic growth that naturally takes shape over time.

Handling complexity…

This desire for what is simple and easy infects all of us, often in ways we are mostly unaware of. The only solution is the following: We must learn how to quiet the anxiety we feel whenever we are confronted with anything that seems complex or chaotic. In our journey from apprenticeship to mastery we must patiently learn the various parts and skills that are required, never looking too far ahead. In moments of perceived crisis, we must develop the habit of maintaining our cool and never overreacting.

On hurrying or finding shortcuts…

Most people don’t have the patience to absorb their minds in the fine points and minutiae that are intrinsically part of their work … Their work inevitably reveals their lack of attention to detail—it doesn’t connect deeply with the public, and it feels flimsy. If it gets attention, the attention is momentary.

Joy and work

… a key component in the process is determining your mental and psychological strengths and working with them. To rise to the level of mastery requires many hours of dedicated focus and practice. You cannot get there if your work brings you no joy

##Guiding Principles for Mastery

This book is definitely added to my list of guiding resources to doing creative work. With example from Charles Darwain, to Leonardo da Vinci to Mozart and many others, it was an inspiring book with a positive call to action.

Some of my other guiding principles on doing work include:

  1. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  2. Ira Glass on Story Telling
  3. Art & Fear by David Bayles
  4. When we Build by Wilson Minor

Genius too does nothing but learn first how to lay bricks then how to build, and continually seek for material and continually form itself around it. Every activity of man is amazingly complicated, not only that of the genius: but none is a “miracle”.

I hope you will have the chance to pick up this book and go into hours of reflection just like I did. I’m also looking for more such resources that you might know :)

What are your guiding resources, books or videos on creating your life's work?