Mastery of something is the highest possible level of achievement, but it is rarely done. What makes this level of success so rare? Simple; it’s freaking hard. It takes effort, passion, persistence and it often includes overcoming obstacles and even animosity and from other people. This is more than most people are willing to invest and their lack of work ethic results in being forever stuck in the invidious stage of mediocrity.
If you are willing to put in the time, effort, sweat, and blood, becoming a master at any craft is the most fulfilling and worthwhile endeavor. It won’t be easy, but if mastery is your goal, then Robert Greene is the best mentor there is.
About Robert Greene
Most people will know Robert Greene as the author of bestsellers like “The 48 Laws of Power,” “The Art of Seduction,” or “The 33 Strategies of War.“
What most people don’t know is what Robert Greene did before he became an author. By his own estimation, he must have had 80 different jobs from hotel receptionist to construction worker, before he became a writer. Greene uses an informative writing style and he often teaches principles while using examples from historical figures.
His work has been featured in many magazines such as The New York Times, Huffington Post, and Forbes and he was a guest on a number of various TV shows as well as a TED X speaker.
In his book, Greene details the three stages of mastering your craft.
First is the apprenticeship, the stage where you learn the rules and the necessary skills. During this stage, you will show up, shut up, and take notes. You will follow what your mentors teach religiously and not stray from it until you reach stage 2.
Next comes the so-called creative/active phase. This is when you practice what you’ve learned during your apprenticeship and make additional connections. You get to see the bigger picture and you develop a unique style, a way of executing your craft like nobody else.
Then, after you have put in your 10,000 hours and years worth of learning and practice, you achieve the holy grail of your skill…mastery.
Finding Your Calling
The first step towards mastery is finding your calling. When searching for your calling, passion will be more important than talent, although it helps when you can utilize your natural talents on your journey towards mastery.
Remember this is about you and nobody else. Avoid what other people want you to do if it is not consistent with your purpose. Don’t do things for other people’s approval. The next step after finding your vocation is choosing a career path that is in the right direction, even if it is not the end goal. In the beginning it is okay to just know the direction as you can always adjust during your development.
Design Your Apprenticeship
As you start your apprenticeship, you enter a very exciting phase. But you should keep some rules in mind.
1) Don’t focus on money:
During your apprenticeship, focus on mastery, not money. Be patient and realize that your apprenticeship may last a number of years. Always remember that the reward will outweigh the sacrifice.
2) Accept That You Will Be Ridiculed
Society measures success in material goods or status. Your goal is to focus on knowledge and learning new
skills. Don’t get frustrated by some taunting comments that might come your way and remember that all masters went through this phase. It is about the transformation of your mind and character, not about getting rich quick.
3) Avoid the Easy Path
Move towards challenges and difficulties, never shrink away from adversity. All great masters are forged in the fire of failure and challenge. Remember that the narrow path may be more difficult to tread, but it leads to a greater destination.
The Tasks of the Apprentice
Greene names your three major tasks for your apprenticeship: observe, acquire skills and experiment.
Learn the rules of the game. Learn how the system REALLY works and understand who is really the boss.
2) Skill acquisition:
Reduce the learned skills to the most crucial and important ones. Learn one skill at a time instead of trying to multitask. Mirror your teacher’s techniques. Remember that boredom and pain are important! Dealing with this is a skill on its own and will come in handy later on.
Get out of your comfort zone. Make mistakes, take full responsibility, then do it again. Regardless of the craft we look at, it generally takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at any craft.
Get a Mentor
Getting a mentor is the most efficient way of learning, however, it is also the most difficult process in the beginning. The competition is tough and good mentors are in high demand, this makes it key that you stand out from the crowd and differentiate yourself from the pack. In order to get a mentor, Greene recommends that you think about what they need the most and provide it.
Don’t ask for what they need, just provide it. The mentor will be impressed as you already know what his or her needs are and this makes it more likely that you will get a response. Also, be willing to start at the bottom and work your way up. Oftentimes mentors use low-level jobs as “shit filters” of shorts to make sure that you have what it takes to play with the big boys.
Develop Social Intelligence
In order to avoid being manipulated, you will have to increase your knowledge about the people surrounding yourself.
The key is not to try to change people, just to understand them.
Learn to read people. Be present and observe, understand non-verbal communications, pay attention in stressful situations as people show their real face in such moments, and never rely on first impressions. Understand general human tendencies such as envy, rigidity, self-obsessiveness, laziness, conformism, flightiness, and passive aggression.
If it is really necessary you can create a social mask at work. This might contradict what you often hear, as Sean teaches us to become our most authentic selves, but remember that the goal is your development. You will have to do whatever is necessary to avoid being caught up in power games and manipulations in order to fully concentrate on your development. You can be your most authentic self outside your workplace.
Get Active Get Creative
Remember being a child. You were free from social programming. No demands. All you had was curiosity about the world surrounding you. Everything was magical. Believe it or not, that was a skill. A skill most of us lost as we grew up and listened to people telling us to behave and to fit in.
Combine a child-like mind with your acquired knowledge and skills! Don’t do everything as you did during the apprenticeship. Choose a task you are obsessed about. Don’t consider financial success. Choose a goal that is realistic, but ambitious and goes for it.
Don’t follow your routines, be open-minded. Don’t fear the unknown. Deal with doubt and allow serendipity. Don’t just confirm your paradigm, alter your perspective. Observe yourself without judging and be willing to admit that what you thought was right is actually wrong.
The Highest Goal: Mastery
Society only knows one form of intelligence: rationality. Mastery in itself is not plain rationality. Mastery is the combination of knowledge, skill, and intuition.
Intuition is driven by memory and it will take up to 20 years to reach a level of intuition suitable for mastery. Mastery in itself is an ongoing process. You don’t just become a master and then stop developing. The brilliant and for some people scary aspect about mastery is, that you will never stop facing situations of frustration and other setbacks.
You can use such moments for your continual growth, as you never know which level you can reach unless you really gave it your all. Take every possible opportunity to learn and improve continually. And that’s the beauty of mastery.
As you have probably seen, there is no shortcut to mastery. But time is on our side. While our bodies decrease, our minds evolve. During discussions about mastery people often bring up the aspect of natural talent and how this is the greatest factor for your success. Greene denies and states that natural talent is not as important as people always tend to believe. Darwin for example was an ordinary kid, while his brother was considered to be a genius at young age.
While the cousin became a good scientist, Darwin became a master in his field, passing everybody who came before him and pioneering in his craft. And yes, even Mozart wasn’t born a master composer. His talent would have been enough for 20 people, but he still went through years of learning. When you ask music experts about Mozart’s best work, his first considered masterpieces weren’t produced until he was 17 or 18 years old.
Greene also mentions how in the history of mankind only few true masters existed. This is due to the fact that in history, people weren’t able to choose their occupation as they wished. If you had massive talent in art, but you were born as the son of a farmer in the 13th century, chances are you never got the opportunity to even get started on your journey towards mastery in the field of art.
In fact, it was a pure coincidence if your job and your passion matched. Today, we can truly consider ourselves lucky, as such barriers don’t exist in western society for the most part. It’s up to you to achieve mastery.
Personal Thoughts and Putting Knowledge into Practice
I haven’t achieved mastery in any craft yet and there is no guarantee I ever will. But I use some of the advice from the book in my daily life. In order to acquire more skills in field of my personal interest, I renounced a better paycheck and applied for a position where I would focus on mastering the skills I am passionate about.
I observed my surrounding to understand how the system really worked, learned the necessary skills, experimented and learned from my mistakes. I know that it will take me many more years of continual learning, but I am willing to do so as I know that it is all part of the process.
I personally use books as mentors, as they are the compressed knowledge of people who are experts or even masters in the craft. But I actually don’t just read books. As cheesy as it might sound, I make everybody my mentor.
Depending on what your goal is, you can make every encounter with another human being a learning experience. If your goal is to conquer yourself and be the best you that you can be, you will have to master your social skills. And you will have the chance to practice whenever you leave your house.
This is obviously not true for every craft, as a pianist depends on his or her instrument for the most part. But then again, if you visit a website like Menprovement, I guess you take interest in becoming a better man.
In that case, please remember that you are yourself in every second of your life, so you can improve in every passing moment. It’s up to us to do so and master that skill. So, are you with us?
Lenny Hu is a scientist at day and a self-improvement addict at night. He believes presence, gratitude, authenticity and continual personal growth are the four ingredients for living a fulfilled life. He is interested in fitness, meditation, neuroscience, psychology, studying languages and learning from everyone he meets.