Mastery (Part 01)

Mastery (Part 01)

This post is Part 01 of 02 in a short series based on the book Mastery by Robert Greene. If this content is interesting to you, we recommend that you pick up a copy of the book and put it into practice.

Do not think that what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; and if it is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach. —Marcus Aurelius

The word "genius" is Latin, originally referring to a guardian spirit that watched over the birth of each person; it later came to refer to the innate qualities that make each person uniquely gifted. Today, the very concept of mastery has become denigrated, associated with something old-fashioned and even unpleasant. Who really wants to spend years of their life mastering a skill, way of thinking, or craft?

Your whole life is a kind of apprenticeship to which you apply your learning skills. It can either transform you from an apprentice to a master, or your life can be a never ending apprenticeship with no clear direction.

The first step to becoming a Master is to:

Discover Your Life's Task

The word "vocation" comes from the Latin meaning to call or to be called. Its use in relation to work began in early Christianity—certain people were called to a life in the church; that was their vocation. Over time, the term became secularized, referring to any work or study that a person felt was suited to his or her interests, particularly a manual craft. It is time, however, that we return to the original meaning of the word, for it comes much closer to the idea of a Life's Task and mastery. The call that is deep within.

With every call there is also a False Path. Avoid the False Path in life—something we are attracted to for the wrong reasons: money, fame, attention, and so on. Instead, embrace the grind. Embrace the patience it takes to be a master and decide to apprentice yourself to your calling.

The way to mastery requires sacrifice.

You cannot have everything in the present. The road to mastery requires patience. You will have to keep your focus on five or ten years down the road, when you will reap the rewards of your efforts. The process of getting there, however, is full of challenges and pleasures. Make your return to the path a resolution you set for yourself, and then tell others about it. It becomes a matter of shame and embarrassment to deviate from this path. In the end, the money and success that truly last come not to those who focus on such things as goals, but rather to those who focus on mastery and fulfilling their Life's Task.

Ignore your weaknesses and resist the temptation to be more like others. Direct yourself toward the small things you are good at. Do not envy those who seem to be naturally gifted; it is often a curse, as such types rarely learn the value of diligence and focus, and they pay for this later in life.

In Mastery, Greene tells a riveting story of Leonardo da Vinci:

When Leonardo da Vinci wanted to create a whole new style of painting, one that was more lifelike and emotional, he engaged in an obsessive study of details. He spent endless hours experimenting with forms of light hitting various geometrical solids, to test how light could alter the appearance of objects. He devoted hundreds of pages in his notebooks to exploring the various gradations of shadows in every possible combination. He gave this same attention to the folds of a gown, the patterns in hair, the various minute changes in the expression of a human face. When we look at his work we are not consciously aware of these efforts on his part, but we feel how much more alive and realistic his paintings are, as if he had captured reality.


As you begin to discover your Life's Task, you must then begin to apprentice yourself, or transform yourself toward mastery. The goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind and character—the first transformation on the way to mastery. All the great masters went through some kind of apprenticeship—Einstein working countless hours in the basement of the patent office studying patent applications. Ben Franklin working alongside his older brother in the printing business for years. The Wright Brothers using their hands and minds to develop a new model of bicycle out of scrap parts, far before their time.

This has a simple consequence: you must choose places of work and positions that offer the greatest possibilities for learning. Adopt a spirit that looks for challenges and see your apprenticeship as a kind of journey in which you will transform yourself.

What separates you between "geniuses" like Einstein, Edison, Ben Franklin, and da Vinci is the patience and willingness to devote yourself to your life's call. To be a Master, you must have a tenacious patience to resolve yourself to consistent and diligent study of the skills necessary to achieve that call, and the sheer determination and persistence to be the best that you can be.

In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Value learning above all else.

Concentrated practice over time cannot fail but produce results.

The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways. Think of yourself as a builder—you cannot make anything worthwhile in this world unless you have first developed and transformed yourself.

And let's get something straight in our minds: No one is really going to help you or give you direction. Take responsibility of yourself and choose to apprentice yourself with great energy.

No mentor, life coach, or boss is going to take ownership of your life. You have to take ownership and decide to choose you. You are responsible for you.

Push against the passive trend of these times. Create the kind of mind that will help you accomplish your Life's Task—using action as your driver. Thinking is good. Talking is good too. But only action produces results.

In Part 02, we'll discuss the creative mind of a Master and what it looks like to become one over time. You've heard of the 10,000 hour rule? We'll build upon that in our next post.

(photo alex abian)