This is the latest from Robert Greene, who has brought us important works such as The 48 Laws Of Power, The Art Of Seduction, and The 50th Law. Written in a similar style, Mastery alternates between sharing stories of masters with analysis and lessons from their success. An alternate title of this book could have been “How People Became Great.” Like always, Greene’s writing is smooth and easy.
The idea of mastery and craft is increasingly punished in modern society where easy fixes and hacks are preferred. No one wants to work hard to achieve a goal or dare take the untreaded path. Technology, which gives us so much without having to expend much energy, has enabled this phenomenon, causing people to avoid the repetition needed for mastery. Easy results are pursued instead, destroying the craftsmen model of the past.
Greene believes in identifying and honing your natural tendencies to turn them into a fulfilling vocation, giving several examples of how this was done for other successful people. His story of Charles Darwin was especially inspiring. Here was a man who was seen as “average” and even odd for his peculiar obsession with collecting specimens, yet when he was put into an environment where that obsession was nurtured, he went on to develop one of the most important theories of mankind.
Here are some other things I learned from Mastery:
- Sometimes it takes a while to find your calling.
- Drill down your passions until you find one that speaks strongly to you and where you can be the best at it.
- Learn one skill at a time. Start with the one you already have some natural ability at.
- Invent exercises that work on your weaknesses.
- Never failing is a curse: you think you are “skilled” and then collapse when the inevitable failure does occur.
- Sometimes to solve a problem you have to think of what is missing, not what is present.
- A sign of a work’s power is to elicit extremes of reaction.
I’m finding that that I get less value in Greene’s sugary pontifications than in his stories and anecdotes of great people. He knows how to relay success in a way that inspires and motivates, and I won’t be surprised if his next stop is motivational speaker. He does repeat examples here, noticeably more than his other work, so I did feel like he was trying to extract too much from too little instead of offering a more diverse sample.
Overall this was a solid book. It cleared my mind and reminded me to battle harder against distractions to focus more deeply. It also gave me advice on what it takes to get to the next level. However, I think I’m approaching the point of diminishing return from Greene’s wisdom. Since the topic of his books are loosely related, you feel like you’re reading sequels instead of entirely new productions, and when it comes to style, pages of his writing at a time can be reduced to a couple sentences. His monologues in this book often lacked punch. I will definitely read any future work he puts out, but I do hope he attempts something different.
Read More: “Mastery” on Amazon