Mastery (Robert Greene)

ROBERT GREENE (1)
If you ask what the one thing I’ve spent at least 10,000 hours doing with intense focus is, my answer would be nothing.

It’s not reading. Quantitatively, yes, but I can’t say the same as for quality. Truth is I am a sporadic, undisciplined reader. As humiliating as it is, I sometimes can’t follow the plot of a fiction novel without seeing the movie first. My brain is incapable of organizing information that I can’t understand a nonfiction material unless I read it at least twice. So it’s not reading.

It’s not cooking, too. Although I cook everyday and bake every week, I’ve only been doing so since I graduated from college and returned to my parents’ house. Let’s say I’ve been cooking for at least an hour (and most of the time it doesn’t take that long) for the last eight years. That’s just around 2,920 hours. So it’s not cooking.

It’s definitely not being a Catholic because I’ve just returned to the Church in 2015.

It’s not even living healthy because I wasn’t living healthy for most of my life.

I can’t even claim the existential “being myself” since I don’t even know myself and I’m just living in the sad state of conformity and distraction for all these years.

So the answer is nothing. I can live with that for now, knowing I’m not alone.

This sad realization (that I am a Jack of All Trades, Master of None) was brought about by the fascinating book by the infamous Robert Greene, Mastery (2012). It is basically a leadership book that aims to teach that everyone can rise to power through doing what you are meant to do.

At first, given that I am trying to be a Christian, doesn’t it seem so unlikely that I’m reading a book that teaches me how to attain power? Truth is, I’d be lying if I claim I don’t want power: I want to become the President of the Philippines. (Lying is against the ten words of life.) More importantly, I read this book because I want to discover that one thing I was brought forth into Earth to do. I’ve always known it’s in here. I just haven’t recognized it yet.

Here I quote my favorite:

“At your birth a seed is planted. That seed is your uniqueness. It wants to grow, transform itself, and flower to its full potential. It has a natural, assertive energy to it. Your Life’s Task is to bring that seed to flower, to express your uniqueness through your work. You have a destiny to fulfill. The stronger you feel and maintain it – as a force, a voice or in whatever form – the greater your chance of fulfilling this Life’s Task and achieving mastery.”

Like Greene’s first book that I read, The Art of Seduction, this book illustrates the lessons and strategies through a short yet in-depth (this seems contradictory but I can’t find a more suitable description) study of the lives of people considered to be masters of their fields: Leonardo, Mozart, Michael Faraday, Albert Einstein, Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Benjamin Franklin, as well as my newest personal heroes linguist Daniel Everett and fighter pilot Cesar Rodriguez, to name a few. First, we are given a snippet of the life of a master that corresponds to the theme of the chapter, and then this is followed by strategies that we can follow on our journey to mastery.

Here are the most important lessons I learned from this book:

  • Each of us has her own Life Task. That one Life Task – or purpose of living, as I prefer to call it – is unique for every person, as unique as our DNA. Therefore we must not pattern our quest for success from another person’s. We must not subscribe to anyone else’s idea of success, even if she be our parent, our teacher, or someone we look up to. We will find ours by examining our natural inclinations, as well as our strengths and perceived weaknesses.
  • What we perceive as our weaknesses may just be our strengths.
  • Mechanical knowledge is not a lesser form of intelligence. Having been immersed in a school system that places higher regard to abstract knowledge, I used to secretly look down at people who do things using their hands. But now I know I’m wrong. As Greene cited Thomas Jefferson, craftsmen make better citizens because they know how things work.
  • If we want to learn a skill, we cannot multitask. Francis and I had just been talking about this over lunch, over a very sexist conversation really. I told him I’m like a man: I’ve never been hardwired to do multiple things at once. From Mastery I learned that it is exactly what we must avoid: to believe that we can learn several skills at once. We need focus, and the word focus is singular.
  • Having said that, we want to expand our knowledge and skills. We do not want to be stuck doing one thing and one thing only. After achieving mastery on a skill, it is time to develop another skill, then another, then another – again, one at a time. This does not only expand the skills we have; we will soon find that the process of learning itself has become easier and faster. Do not be afraid if the skills do not seem related at a glance: our brain is hardwired to find connections.
  • It’s going to take a looooong time of intense focus to learn a skill. More or less 10,000 hours, actually.
  • It’s never too late to start the apprenticeship. Although most of the masters have started with their 10,000-hour apprenticeship at an early age, they did not have their first breakthrough until they were in their 40s or 50s. If the masters can wait, why can’t I? I’m 28 now. I’m not young anymore, but I can make time IF I WANT TO MAKE TIME.
  • Do not underestimate the importance of social skills. I’m not really a social person, but as in one of the illustrations in Mastery, disregarding social skills is going to be detrimental to making an impact, no matter how groundbreaking your idea is.
  • Gaining power is not the end goal. In fact, Greene says that looking at having power as our goal is detrimental to the achievement of mastery. Our goal is achieving mastery.

This book is one of the most fascinating reads I’ve had so far. Although it is pegged as a leadership book, Mastery is not limited to being successful in business, science, politics, or arts. This is useful no matter what your definition of success is. I, for one, discovered the reason behind my life’s course while reading this book. Robert Greene’s Mastery is one book you don’t want to miss.

Untitled design


Robert Greene’s “Mastery” may be bought at Fully Booked.