by Robert Greene

This is an inspiring and thought-provoking guide for all those who want to achieve mastery over their lives. The book analyzes the lives of past and present masters to debunk our cultural myths about what it means to become a genius. In just six sections, Mastery distills the traits and ingredients that can help you unlock the greatness within you. 

Summary Notes

Discovering Your Life’s Task

“The first move toward mastery is always inward—learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force. Knowing it with clarity, you will find your way to the proper career path and everything else will fall into place. It is never too late to start this process.”

Throughout history, many renowned individuals have confessed that they found their true calling by following an inner voice. Socrates, Einstein, da Vinci and Goethe all said that they were constantly guided by a sense of destiny or an inexplicable force from a young age. But what is this mystical force that led them to achieve such great things? And why did it choose them instead of other people around them? 

These individuals were not more special than anyone else. This mystical force speaks to us all. The difference is that they simply chose to follow this inner guide even when others thought they were crazy for doing so.

As children, we all have certain attributes that make us unique. There is a primal force within us that defines our initial preferences in life. While some children like exploring nature, others enjoy playing with puzzles or playing a musical instrument. This primal force within you comes from your subconscious mind and it gently nudges you toward specific experiences. If you follow this primal force, it can guide you to your calling so that you can achieve your full potential.

In some individuals, this primal inclination is so strong that they perceive it as an external voice or a sense of destiny. When they engage in their preferred activity, they feel more alive and inspired than ever before. These are the people who end up becoming masters in their field.

The challenge that most people have is that they ignore or doubt their primal inclination and allow another powerful force to take over their lives. This other force is known as societal pressure. This societal pressure—which can come from your parents, siblings, friends and even strangers—is the main reason why most people choose to conform instead of following their unique path. Everyone wants to fit into a group, and sometimes you’re forced to suppress your uniqueness in order to get others to like you. Unfortunately, when you ignore your primal inclination for too long, it gradually gets weaker and you then end up moving farther away from your intended destiny. 

Without your primal inclination as a guide, you lose sense of who you really are. You become a clone of everyone else around you, and your desire and interest in your work gradually fades. You start to seek pleasure from external sources because of the lack of inner fulfillment in your career. As a result, you stop upgrading your knowledge and thus fail to achieve any kind of mastery in your chosen field.

Regardless of your current age, you can search within to find your sense of uniqueness. Once you’ve found it, examine your career and decide whether it gives you any real joy. Your work should be a vocation that fulfills and inspires you rather than a means to make money so that you can go have some fun on weekends. Finding your ultimate vocation isn’t always a straightforward journey. You can start a career in one field, move into another related niche, before finally landing an opportunity in another related field that is perfect for you.

We live in a world teeming with all kinds of problems and there is great need for creative and inspiring solutions. We need individuals who embrace their uniqueness, think independently, and understand the bigger purpose of their lives. Finding your vocation is the best way to add real value to the world and inspire others to also pursue their calling.

Actions to take

Becoming an Apprentice

“There are no shortcuts or ways to bypass the Apprenticeship Phase. The very desire to find shortcuts makes you eminently unsuited for any kind of mastery”

When we think of the greatest Masters in history, we often focus on their achievements. This leads us to incorrectly assume that they manifested their extraordinary skills overnight. But the truth is that these exceptional individuals underwent a phase—usually lasting 5 to 10 years—where they struggled with self-doubt and uncertainty as they slowly developed their skills. This phase is known as the Apprenticeship Phase. During this phase, they intuitively focused on things that they felt were essential for their development and future success. But why is apprenticeship necessary for the mastery of any skill?

The simple answer is that it offers you a way to transform your mind and character. As a child, you are dependent on your parents for learning. As you mature, you start relying on books and teachers as a way of passively absorbing information. Once you’re done with schooling, you’re expected to be independent and make decisions for yourself. However, we are often unprepared for this stage of life because we’re still stuck in the habit of learning from others rather than from our own practical experiences. Being socially naïve, many people get entangled in workplace politics and emotional games as they chase money, fame, and status in society.

When you go through an apprenticeship, you slowly wean yourself off of the need to follow others and you gain your own perspective of life. Books don’t cut it anymore as you now strive to gain practical knowledge of whatever career you’ve chosen. You develop greater patience, discipline, objectivity, and tolerance of criticism as you encounter challenges that toughen you. The more challenges you face, the more you enhance your strengths and master your weaknesses. This is why it’s important not to choose apprenticeships that are easy and comfortable.

There are three major steps in the apprenticeship phase—Passive Mode, Practice Mode and Active Mode. In the Passive Mode, you deeply observe your work environment to learn its rules, standards and social dynamic. You perform whatever menial tasks you’re given and stay in the background instead of trying to impress people or rise to the top. You also observe the power relationships within the group to determine who has real power and who’s just making noise.

In the Practice Mode, you move toward acquiring practical skills. You concentrate on one foundational skill and master it before moving on to the next one. You are forced to embrace the tediousness of doing one thing repeatedly until it becomes almost automatic. Once you’ve gained enough skill, then you can add more pleasurable elements to your work process.

The final step—the Active Mode—is the shortest but scariest part of apprenticeship. This is where you start to take on more responsibilities and initiate new projects as a way of gauging your level of competence. You willingly expose yourself to judgment from your peers and seniors as you deal with their criticism. But the good news is that you can now assert your own style of doing things instead of copying others.

Ultimately, you’ll know that your apprenticeship phase is over when you feel that you’ve got nothing left to learn in that organization. It may be time to move up the ladder, change careers or find another place to expand your skill set. You have now learned how to learn.

Actions to take

Finding the Right Mentor

“Life is short, and your time for learning and creativity is limited. Without any guidance, you can waste valuable years trying to gain knowledge and practice from various sources.”

There was a time when people such as aristocrats and religious elites were highly respected and even worshipped. Some of these individuals had some accomplishments worth talking about, but their authority was mainly the result of their position in society. As the world became more democratized, we stopped honoring people with authority. Today, we assume that anyone with authority has a privileged background and should thus be criticized. This disdain for authority may serve us well when dealing with politicians but it poses a huge problem when it comes to apprenticeships.

To go through the apprenticeship phase, you need a mentor who can impart their knowledge and experience to you. You need to humble yourself and accept that there are people out there who are superior to you, not because of privilege but due to the time they’ve spent studying a specific field. Many people tend to mistrust all forms of authority because it makes them feel inferior. Some even go as far as ignoring and openly challenging their teacher’s advice because they think it makes them look intelligent. If you think that submitting to a mentor is a weakness, then you will struggle to learn and master any skill.

The main thing you should be concerned about during the early stages of your career is gaining sound practical knowledge. To do this, you require mentors who can help you shorten and streamline your learning process so that you don’t spend years making avoidable mistakes. Learning from books is okay but a book offers you abstract information that may not apply to your situation. Learning via personal experience can work but it doesn’t provide you with focused feedback in real-time. 

A good mentor trumps a good book and personal experience because they can offer you tailored advice that fits your personality and current needs. They have walked the path and know where the pitfalls are.

This mentor-apprentice dynamic can also have an emotional quality that is of immense value to both of you. Maybe your mentor likes you, recognizes a unique talent in you, or wants to relive their youth through you. You, on the other hand, may admire your mentor’s achievements and feel a desire to become like them. By emotionally investing in the relationship, it becomes easier for you to pay deeper attention, absorb more information, and imitate their style of thinking. Due to the emotional bond, your mentor also willingly divulges certain trade secrets that they wouldn’t teach other students. Having a close relationship also makes it easier for your mentor to point out your weaknesses constructively, thus accelerating your learning process.

Keep in mind that mentors also have weaknesses. Watch out for mentors who try to restrict your growth, refuse to let you develop your own style, or want to keep you in their service for longer than necessary. Once you notice that your mentor is becoming overly envious or critical of your work, it’s a sign that your time is up. If you stay too long under them, they can diminish your self-confidence. Begin to emotionally distance yourself from them and start pointing out some of their character flaws or beliefs. This will create a separation that makes it easier for you to cut the cord without feeling guilty about leaving.

Actions to take

Developing Your Social Intelligence

“Often the greatest obstacle to our pursuit of mastery comes from the emotional drain we experience in dealing with the resistance and manipulations of the people around us”

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, our ancestors lived in social groups that relied on empathy and mimicry to cooperate and survive. When they developed the ability to reason, they were able to identify and use patterns of behavior to deduce each other’s motivations. Theoretically, the rational and empathetic skills of modern humans are even more powerful, and this allows us to better understand each other. But in practice, we don’t use these skills as well as we should when interacting with each other. The reason for this can be found in our childhood dependencies.

Compared to other animals, human children spend an extensive period of time depending on their parents. This prolonged dependency—which usually lasts about 18 years—is good because it gives us enough time to develop our brains. However, the downside is that we spend our immature years idealizing our parents. We perceive them as strong, selfless, and more reliable than they actually are because we need to fully trust in their ability to take care of our needs. We see them as extensions of ourselves, and thus we assume that our needs must be their needs as well. When we become teenagers, we realize that our parents, teachers, and friends have weaknesses we hadn’t noticed before. Disappointed, we then exaggerate their negative qualities in the same way that we exaggerated their positive attributes.

Unfortunately, when we finally become adults, we continue to hold this naïve perspective of others as extensions of our emotional needs. Thus we feel surprised and vulnerable when we see people manipulating and backstabbing each other to survive in the real world. For example, if you work in an office, you continue to believe that your colleague is a nice person even when she’s clearly envious and sabotages your work. At the same time, you may fear or hate your boss at work because you didn’t have a good relationship with your dad or mum. Holding on to your naïve perspective and childhood fantasies distorts your reality and neutralizes your rational and empathetic powers. The result is that you continually find yourself embroiled in emotional battles that distract you from your apprenticeship.

The only solution is to discard your naïve perspective and develop social intelligence. Instead of filtering everything through the lens of your emotional needs, focus on observing and understanding people and the needs they have. Instead of idolizing or demonizing someone, tap into their emotions and find out what they are missing. This will help you accept people as they are rather than trying to make them fit your expectations.

Social intelligence means accepting that the world is full of people with diverse characters. It requires you to pay attention to people’s body language and not just the words they use. Sometimes you have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to create an empathetic connection with them. This can help you identify any hidden motives that they may have. Ultimately, everyone has a dark side, and all you can do is read others well enough to avoid the kind of people who seek to harm you. Armed with this attitude, you can focus on your apprenticeship and gain the skills you need to attain mastery.

Actions to take

Awakening Your Creative Mind

“The mind must be forced from its conservative positions and made active and exploratory.”

Think about what life felt like when you were a child. You asked a lot of questions, were curious about everything, and your mind was open to new ideas. You also experienced life in terms of vibrant images, sensations, and colors. Life was a huge game and you could turn any circumstance into an opportunity to play. In your childhood phase, you were essentially living according to your Original Mind.

As you grow older, you start to see the world differently. Instead of intense images and sensations, you begin to perceive things in the form of words and opinions. You slowly shed your childlike nature as you began conforming to societal expectations. Now, as an adult, your perception of the world is colored by your past experiences and your mind no longer embraces new ideas as it once did. If something or someone presents you with an alternative belief, you become defensive and angry. Even when you play games or visit a foreign country, the childlike spirit within you only pops out briefly before it is suppressed again. You have now adopted what is known as the Conventional Mind.

What separates creative masters from everyone else is their ability to retain the Original Mind in spite of the pressures of adulthood. They can merge the childlike imagination of their youth with their years of experience to attain a higher level of creativity. Though their mind is filled with profound knowledge, they are still open to alternative ideas. Masters ask simple questions like children yet can still exercise the discipline and patience necessary to investigate things thoroughly. Instead of relying solely on words, they also utilize spatial, visual, and intuitive knowledge. This is what enables them to formulate groundbreaking ideas and creations.

If you want to become a Master, you have to blend the childlike spirit of your Original Mind with the discipline of the Conventional Mind. This results in what is known as the Dimensional Mind. The Dimensional Mind can access all dimensions of the world and move in different directions of reality. It is an active mind that transforms existing ideas into original concepts. Achieving this mind is not easy because most people suppress their childlike spirit for the sake of conforming to societal norms. But Masters find a way to hold on to their childlike spirit even as they pass through the apprenticeship phase. Once they’ve gained the practical knowledge they need, they then allow their intuitive creativity to flourish once again.

We all have this creative potential within us regardless of our age. But what hinders this creative desire is a tendency to become comfortable with familiar ways of thinking. Basically, you care so much about other people’s opinions that you won’t risk failing at something. The result is that you become a copy of everyone else, thus making you easily replaceable in your field of work.  

When you cultivate your Dimensional Mind, you can experience a rejuvenation of your spirit as well as your career. You can regain the mental elasticity of your youth and break free of the limitations of conventional thinking. This will set you apart from everyone else in your field and empower you to chart a unique career path.

Actions to take

Merging Your Intuition With Rationality

“All of us have access to a higher form of intelligence, one that can allow us to see more of the world, to anticipate trends, to respond with speed and accuracy to any circumstance.”

History is replete with stories of people who claim to have used the power of their intuition to accomplish great feats. The great chess master Bobby Fischer and renowned scientists such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison all confessed that it was their intuitive power that helped them grasp complex situations clearly. After spending years immersed in their field, they described their intuition as a sensation of possessing enhanced intellectual powers. But despite these brilliant minds openly stating the major role played by intuition in their lives, this topic is still ignored or relegated to the realms of mysticism and the occult. Why is this so?

The reason is that humans prefer to utilize only one form of intelligence—rationality. We want to solve problems in a sequential and formulaic manner because it allows us to examine and verify the solution. Unfortunately, intuitive intelligence cannot be reduced to a formula, and therefore we delegitimize anything that is associated with intuitive thinking. Thus we’re quick to attribute intuitive experiences as miracles so that we can label intuition as hoodoo and push it to the fringes of society.

When we do this, we fail to recognize that intuition is not only the ultimate sign of mastery but it’s also more accurate and perceptive than rationality. It is a legitimate form of intelligence that simply requires greater understanding. Imagine that you’re a brilliant general strategizing for a battle. As a rational thinker, you place all your focus on weaponry, logistics, enemy maneuvers, etc. But despite having all this knowledge, there’s still something missing. Every good soldier knows that once a battle starts, the situation becomes highly fluid and unpredictable. There is an unseen element that you simply cannot measure or predict. This is where a strong intuitive sense is necessary. Rationality may help you see the sum of the parts but its intuition that enables you to see the experience as a whole.

Once you have studied a skill for years, you reach a point where all the details become internalized and fused together to create a whole picture. Those who have mastered a skill after tens of thousands of hours of practice ultimately develop an intuitive feel of how things interact organically. They can see flashes of patterns and solve problems in an instant as their brain connects the different pieces of knowledge in front of them.

However, it would be foolhardy to assume that you can follow intuition and ignore rational thinking. You must first acquire deep knowledge of a subject before your brain can reach this higher form of intelligence. Secondly, when you receive an intuitive insight, you should still reflect on and analyze it. This means that rationality and intuition are not mutually exclusive—they are intertwined. To a Master, reasoning is guided by intuition and intuition comes from intense rational focus.

Most people don’t understand just how important intense focus is to mastery. Spending 10,000 hours practicing a skill is useless unless you’re intensely focused from start to finish. Intense focus is what helps you internalize the information, connect the different dots, and then put it to practical use. Intense focus enables you to identify and reflect on your pattern of mistakes whenever you suffer a setback. Over time, it becomes easier to question your assumptions and learn deeper lessons that lead to mastery. This ensures that you spend the rest of your life continuously awake instead of simply going through the motions like everyone else.

Actions to take

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