Master your Life's Task

Mastery – Robert Greene


I got turned on to Mastery while listening to a podcast of James Altucher’s featuring Robert Greene, author of 48 Laws of Power. Greene was talking about his most recent book Mastery in which he explained a collection of examples, methods, and observations of how different people mastered their given fields. What I didn’t realize is that through reading his book many feelings that I had felt in the past but could not put words to would be described beautifully through Greene’s eyes.

Greene is thorough in describing the process in which the mind goes through three stages, newbie to master: Apprenticeship, Creative-Active, and Mastery. This is the process of being a novice to an activity, skill, instrument, language, anything you don’t know, until through practice/repetition/study it becomes a part of you. Here are 10 quotes that hit me most throughout the book.

1. My favorite example of how to describe the mastery transition is explained through a relationship of body and mind. When reading this example do not limit its means to the physical body in general, but rather apply this metaphor to any skill or activity in which you are trying to learn.

“In our daily, conscious activity we generally experience a separation between the mind and the body. We think about our bodies and our physical actions. Animals do not experience this division. When we start to learn any skill that has physical component, this separation because even more apparent. We have to think about the various actions involved, the steps we have to follow. We are aware of our slowness and how our bodies respond in an awkward way. At certain points, as we improve, we have glimpses of how this process could function differently, how it might feel to practice the skill fluidly, with the mind not getting in the way of the body. With such glimpses, we know what to aim for. If we take our practice far enough the skill becomes automatic, and we have the sensation that the mind and the body as operating as one.”

2. explains here that once you are the mastery level you do not need to consciously thinking about decisions you once had to slave over. Your brain has been re-wired to think in terms of your trade and your movements have become instinctual, or a return to the child/animalistic state.

“Intuitive powers at the mastery level are a mix of the instinctive and the rational, the conscious and the unconscious, the human and the animal.”

3. Throughout the book I felt like examples would be ideal for someone who didn’t have to worry about money. I felt relieved to read Greene talk about taking care of business first while pursuing your Life’s Task on the side till you can make it a reality.

 “Finally, you must see your career or vocational path more as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straight line. You begin by choose a field or position that roughly corresponds to your inclinations. This initial position offers you room to maneuver and important skills to learn. You don’t want to start with something too lofty, too ambitious—you need to make a living and establish some confidence. Once on this path you discover certain side routes that attract you, while other aspects of this field leave you cold.”

4. It seems fitting that James has Robert on his podcast with the next quote. After reading Altucher’s Choose Yourself, one cannot help but feel a sense of urgency to quit waiting for life to happen and go and do something for yourself.

“You are not tied to a particular position; your loyalty is not to a career or a company. You are committed to your Life’s Task, to giving it full expression. It is up to you to find it and guide it correctly. It is not up to other to protect or help you. You are on your own.”

5. This next quote hit me because it gave me security in believing that it’s ok to be curious about so many different things. It’s alright to love to do a lot of things but the goal is to master what you love and try to understand everything about your goal. With regards to the Apprenticeship phase:

“The principle is simple and must be engraved deeply in your mind; 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… Practical knowledge is the ultimate commodity, and is what will pay you dividends for decades to come—far more than the paltry increase in pay you might receive at some seemingly lucrative position that offers fewer learning opportunities.“

6. Again, Choose Yourself and be your biggest advocate for getting shit done.

“Zora Neale Hurston’s story reveals in its barest form the reality of the Apprenticeship Phase—no one is really going to help you or give you direction. In fact, the odds are against you. If you desire an apprenticeship, if you want to learn and set yourself up for mastery, you have to do it yourself, and with great energy.” 

7. It is ok, and even expected, to fail. Failing can be a great experience because then you learn what not to do next time.

“Think of it this way: There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time… In fact, it is a curse to have everything go right on your first attempt…When you do inevitably fail, it will confuse and demoralize you past the point of learning.” 

8. I starred this quote because of its power to show you that the path is not easy, you’re not always going to know which way to go, but pushing through the setbacks will ultimately toughen your weak mind up.

“Masters are those who by nature have suffered to get where they are. They have experience endless criticisms of their work, doubts about their progress, and setbacks along the way.” 

9. This makes me think of that quote, “Smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” The quotes been around forever but I have to give props back to it.

“Second, you must let go of your need for comfort and security. Creative endeavors are by their nature uncertain. You may know your task, but you are never exactly sure where you efforts will lead… If you are worried about what others might think and about how your position in the group might be jeopardized, then you will never really create anything” 

10. Right when I read this I thought back to a post I wrote about “Maximizing your chances.” Meaning, give as many chances to the world to be good to you. If a good life only happens after 20 tries but a great life happens after 220, why should you stop? What’s your excuse for stopping? When talking about random connections happening:

 “Such chance associates and discoveries are known as serendipity—the occurrence of something we are not expecting—and although by their nature you cannot force them to happen, you can invite serendipity into the creative process by taking two simple steps.”

11. You need to push your mind mentally and creatively in order for it to go. This fact is obvious, but it’s easier to see when comparing to the physical body.More than 10 quotes? Eh..whatever 

“These difficulties will make you tougher and more aware of the flaws you need to correct. In physical exercise, resistance is a way to make the body stronger, it is the same with the mind.”

12. Greene quotes a famous French author who had gone through some depressing times in his life but ended up writing some amazing work by realizing that his whole life experience had set him up for material in his novels. Marcel Proust, feeling to intertwined in a high class French society, describes his connect to this world as if he was…

“Like a spider sitting on its web, feeling the slightest vibrations, knowing it so deeply as the world he had created and mastered.”

13. This last quote comes from Friedrich Nietzsche himself, started from the bottom now we here… 

“Genius too does nothing but learn first how to lay bricks then how to build and continually seek for material and continually form itself around it. Every activity of man is amazingly complicated, not only that of the genius: but none is a ‘miracle.”

Would definitely recommend this book for anyone trying to tap into the realm of what it means to understand a topic on a higher level of thinking. Greene does a great job describing this world and how to get to it in depth. This model applies to all industries and professions, not just the dreamers and artists.