Mastery (Part 02)

Mastery (Part 02)

This post is Part 02 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. Click here to read Part 01.

Don't think about why you question, simply don't stop questioning. Don't worry about what you can't answer, and don't try to explain what you can't know. Curiosity is its own reason. Aren't you in awe when you contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure behind reality? And this is the miracle of the human mind—to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas as tools to explain what man sees, feels and touches. Try to comprehend a little more each day. Have holy curiosity. —Albert Einstein


In Part 01, we discussed discovering your Life's Task or calling that is deep within you. From then discovering this call to apprenticing yourself to learning the skills and knowledge necessary to fulfill that call.

In Part 02, we will discuss transitioning from the Apprenticeship Phase into what Robert Greene calls the Creative-Active Phase and then into True Mastery.

The Creative-Active

"As you accumulate more skills and internalize the rules that govern your field, your mind will want to become more active, seeking to use this knowledge in ways that are more suited to your inclinations. What will impede this natural creative dynamic from flourishing is not a lack of talent, but your attitude."

The thing that distinguishes Masters from other people is their attitude.

What kills the creative force is not age or lack of talent, but our own spirit, our own attitude. When a normal person looks at a situation as a risk, or a potential for failure, a Master looks at that same situation as a challenge and something to be learned. This transformation phase in transitioning to Master truly begins to take place in the mind. And what more creative mindset than that of a child?

Children are naturally creative. Masters find ways to retain the spirit of a child, but add to it their years of apprenticeship and an ability to focus deeply on problems or ideas. This leads to high-level creativity.

Masters are able to take the kinds of simple questions that most people pass over, but they have the rigor and discipline to follow their investigations all the way to the end. They retain a childlike excitement about their field and a playful approach, all of which makes the hours of hard work alive and pleasurable.

Masters blend a childlike spirit with discipline. As Louis Pasteur declared, "Chance favors only the prepared mind."

Don't mistake taking on a childlike spirit for being lax with your work, or unable to meet a deadline. In fact, Masters blend the creative mind of a child with the intense rigor and discipline of a professional. [Note: Put time constraints on your work, always operate on strict deadlines. Let go of the difficult problems and allow serendipity into your process.]

True Mastery

In culture, we have a bent toward banning practice and hard work. We pretend people are geniuses. But Masters don't just take the 10,000 hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell introduced in Outliers. True masters have an inner call and passion. They end up doubling this 10,000 hour rule and expanding it to 20,000 hours.

At first glance, 20,000 hours may seem like something one could never attain to, yet this amount is the direct result of intense focus, high-level creativity, a childlike love of learning and discovering, and a deep call from within.

Since it has been shown that the brain is literally altered after approximately 10,000 hours of practice, Masters are the result of a transformation that happens in the brain after some 20,000 hours and beyond. It becomes second nature. When you move toward mastery, your brain becomes radically altered by the years of practice and active experimentation.

Mastery is not a function of genius or talent. It is a function of time and intense focus applied to a particular field of knowledge. Masters have a strong inner guiding system and a high level of self-awareness.

Avoid The Easy Road

The 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.

The need for certainty is the greatest disease the mind faces.

Practical Ways To Become A Master

  • Develop a sense of humility—To learn requires humility. We must admit that there are people out there who know our field much more deeply than we do.
  • Have an open heart and mind—In any competitive environment in which there are winners and losers, the person who has the wider, more global perspective will inevitably prevail.
  • Know your strengths—Mastery is like swimming—it is too difficult to move forward when we are creating our own resistance or swimming against the current. Know your strengths and move with them.
  • Develop patience and a ferocious tenacity for learning.
  • Be willing to fail (rinse and repeat). Develop a positive view of failure. It teaches you; failure doesn't define you.

Getting to a high level of achievement through practice seems so banal, so uninspiring. Besides, we don't want to have to think of the 10,000 to 20,000 hours that go into such mastery. These values of ours are oddly counterproductive—they cloak from us the fact that almost anyone can reach such heights through tenacious effort, something that should encourage us all. It is time to reverse this prejudice against conscious effort and to see the powers we gain through practice and discipline as eminently inspiring and even miraculous…As individuals we must resist such a trend, and venerate the transformative powers we gain through practice.

Mastery is not a question of genetics or luck, but of following your natural inclinations and the deep desire that stirs you from within. Everyone has such inclinations. This desire within you is not motivated by egotism or sheer ambition for power, both of which are emotions that get in the way of mastery. It is instead a deep expression of something natural, somewhat marked you at birth as unique. In following your inclinations and moving toward mastery, you make a great contribution to society, enriching it with discoveries and insights, and making the most of the diversity in nature and among human society. It is in fact the height of selfishness to merely consume what others create and to retreat into a shell of limited goals and immediate pleasures.

Follow the call from within.