Mastery summary

Mastery is a wonderful book by Robert Greene which looks at how you can become a master in your chosen discipline.

A lot of us make the mistake of thinking success is down to talent. That those who reach the heights do so because of innate gifts.

This isn’t the case.

As Greene explains in the book, success is done to mastering a particular discipline. A process that takes time.

This is similar to the 10,000-hour rule which Malcolm Gladwell espouses in his book, Outliers.

However, Greene doesn’t refer to this. His book focuses on successful people in history and contemporary life and looks at the processes which led them to become masters in their field.

It’s an interesting book and one which has a lot of value for anyone looking to develop strategies to master their own field.

Mastery summary

  • 1-sentence summary: Mastery tackles the myth of talent and presents the steps you need to take to become a master in your own field.
  • Author: Robert Greene
  • Year published: 2012
  • Pages: 353
  • Rating: 9/10

Takeaway 1 – It takes time to master a skill

This is a book about mastery. If you think about the term ad consider figures in their fields who are considered masters, what do they have in common.

Da Vinci, Shakespeare and Calatrava to list a few names. All of them spent years honing their craft. They worked tirelessly, toiling to master their respective fields.

In the case of Da Vinci, his curiosity was so all-consuming he mastered several fields and was proficient in many more.

This is a concept we see in books such as The Sports Gene. Most sports stars become successful in spite of their genetics rather than because of it.

It’s the insatiable desire to get better, to practice until they’ve mastered their field. Tom Brady and Cristiano Ronaldo come to mind when I about this.

They’re two individuals who served their apprenticeships, learnt the ropes and then became masters in their respective sports.

You’re unlikely to become sports superstars, but you can become a master in another field. In that case, you’ll start at the bottom.

You might not get paid much but you get an opportunity to learn. To soak up all the information you can and use it to master your field.

Don’t look down on this. It’s all about playing the long game. That investment will pay off over time.

Takeaway 2 – Keep on experimenting

One of the hardest things to do once you feel you’ve mastered a skill is to keep going.

It’s similar to climbing a mountain. Your effort thus far has been solely focused on getting to the top, that once you do, you’re not sure what you should do.

Should you stop to admire the view? Or should you head back down, recalibrate and set your sight higher?

I think you should do both, but option two should be a long-term goal. Just because you’ve mastered a field doesn’t mean you’ve learnt everything there is to know.

Branch out and read more books in a variety of different fields. Search out the information from other areas which you can incorporate into your own.

This is what Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, refers to in Shoe Dog. He wasn’t satisfied and kept pushing the boundaries of what was possible with his products.

It’s important to use trial and error to determine what works and what doesn’t. If it works find a way to use it, if it doesn’t work, discard it.

As Greene states in Mastery, you should advance through trial and error:

“In this new age, those who follow a rigid, singular path in their youth often find themselves in a career dead end in their forties, or overwhelmed with boredom. The wide-ranging apprenticeship of your twenties will yield the opposite – expanding possibilities as you get older.”

Takeaway 3 – Trust your intuition when it comes to your chosen field

After I graduated university, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Not a clue.

I ended up getting a job in a betting shop which I get after 10 months to go and spend a year in Australia. It was there that I began to take notes and start writing.

I don’t know why I started to do this, but it felt natural. I was drawn to writing. After spending a year in New Zealand after leaving Australia and then travelling around Southeast Asia I came home and set up a travel blog.

Again, I felt compelled to write and express myself through my writing. I’d always enjoyed writing essays and writing for my site was a creative release.

Here I am years later, still writing and still enjoying it. Robert Greene talks about using your intuition to find your career path.

I think this is useful advice. Most of us know what we love to do. It’s instinctive. We’re drawn to these fields whether we realise it or not.

Da Vinci found his calling when he stole paper from his father’s office to draw animals he saw in the woods. You may not reach Da Vinci’s level but you’ll have an activity you feel compelled to do.

Odds are, you should follow your gut, commit and do what you’re drawn to.

Favourite quotes

  • “All of us are born unique. This uniqueness is marked genetically in our DNA. We are a one-time phenomenon in the universe – our exact genetic makeup has never occurred before nor will it ever be repeated.”
  • “The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways. And the process of learning skills, no matter how virtual, remains the same.”
  • “To learn requires a sense of humility. We must admit that there are people out there who know our field much more deeply than we do. Their superiority is not a function of natural talent or privilege, but rather of time and experience.”
  • “Masters and those who display a high level of creative energy are simply people who manage to retain a sizeable portion of their childhood spirit despite the pressures and demands of adulthood. This spirit manifests itself in their work and in their ways of thinking. Children are naturally creative. They actively transform everything around them, play with ideas and circumstances, and surprise us with novel things they say or do. But the natural creativity of children is limited; it never leads to discoveries, inventions, or substantial works of art.”
  • “If you are doing something primarily for money and without a real emotional commitment, it will translate into something that lacks a soul and that has no connection to you. You may not see this, but you can be sure that the public will feel it and that they will receive your work in the same lacklustre spirit it was created in.”

Mastery review

This Mastery summary has looked at one of Robert Greene’s best books. If you’ve read The 48 Laws of Power or The 33 Strategies of War, you’ll enjoy Mastery.

It’s a fantastic insight into what it takes to become a master. Considering Greene is a prolific and successful writer, he’s a great guide.

If you’ve read some of his other books, you’ll be familiar with his style. Greene likes to use historical stories as a way of teaching his lessons.

You look at how Da Vinci came to master his fields. How Benjamin Franklin came to prominence and many more.

What I enjoyed most was the variety of figures. Greene lists many people I’d heard of and many more I was unfamiliar with. But each one has a story we can learn from.

This book is a good compliment to Deep Work as it shows what can be accomplished if we knuckle down and do some serious work.

A good analogy for the strategies outlined in Mastery is Ryan Holiday. He’s the author of The Obstacle Is The Way and Stillness Is The Key.

He worked for Greene early in his career, researching information for many of his books, including his own. Holiday served his apprenticeship and is now a successful author in his own right.

His story proves that what Greene espouses in his books is not fanciful, it’s grounded in reality.

If anyone wants to become a master, learn techniques to develop the skills of their chosen craft and learn from some of the most fascinating figures in history, Mastery is the ideal book to read.

Who should read Mastery?

Anyone who’s interested in learning from some of the most interesting figures in history will enjoy this book.

Greene sets out the various ways these figures became leaders in their fields.

If you want to know which career path to take, or you’re an apprentice looking to achieve mastery in your chosen field, this book will be of particular interest.