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.

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

Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Greg McKeown)

18451783_10210383203270502_4300204862066979574_oShe said I was the only librarian she knew who didn’t like books.

It was 2011.  I just weeded out ALL the old textbooks from the school library.  (Come on.  One title had like a gazillion copies rotting in perfectly usable shelves and nobody had read them in the past year.)  Then the principal claimed I didn’t like books.  In my bitchbrain, I Anton Ego-ed (my favorite character in “Ratatouille”), “I don’t like books; I love it.  If I don’t love it, I weed it.”  Then I told the kids, “That means she doesn’t know a lot of librarians.”

Because librarians take up selection and acquisition.

I wasn’t a good student in college but I guess UP trained me well in this area of librarianship because even in other aspects of my life, I am a selector.  I have a carefully crafted set of criteria that I (almost always) strictly follow.

Thus, you can call me an essentialist.

“Essentialism,” says Greg McKeown, “is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

“Essentialism,” Patti follows up, “is my new favorite book.”  In fact I’ve read it three consecutive times already.  Here’s three of what I learned:


1. Be Clear with Your Intent

Years ago, I had a book by the UP professor, TV host, comedian, and Internet action star Ramon Bautista.  It’s hard to believe a book that’s primarily meant as entertainment would teach me something I would apply for the rest of my life: halamanization.

From the root word “halaman”. ‘Yan ay ang pag-convert ng sarili mo para ikaw ay maging halaman: nilalang na walang feelings, walang emosyon at walang kalibog-libog sa katawan. Magcoconcentrate ka sa non-love aspects of life.

(“From the root word “halaman” (plant).  This means converting yourself to become a plant: a creature with no feelings, no emotions, and absolutely no lust in your body.  You concentrate on non-love aspects of life.”)

Thus halamanizing I did.  I decided at once that love – specifically romantic love – is not a life goal.  If God thinks I am for marriage, thank you.  If not, thank you too.  Either way I won’t lose sleep on that.  Thus I stopped reading romance and immersed myself in non-fiction.  I stopped watching sweet flicks.  I practically stopped being a fangirl.  You can ask the kids: Ericka even thought I didn’t have feelings.  Through time, I came up with a list of things I consider important in my life, in this particular order:

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Notice what’s missing?  Work.  Money.  Travel.  Marriage.  (God is NOT missing.  Father Peter said God should not be separated from any aspect of our life.)

These goals guided the course of my life for the past years.  I’m glad I explicitly made this list.  Everything I am now is because of this list.


2. There are Trade-offs

In the course of fulfilling my intent, I had to pass off opportunities – “even good ones,” as McKeown said – because they will cause me to stray off the path.  For example, to fulfill goals 2 (being a mom Inoo) and 3 (being a good daughter), I refused the invitation to become a nun.

It was a hard decision, mind you.  The thought that staying with Inoo and my parents meant I am choosing them over God was the most bitter pill to swallow.  In the end, though, I know that I am not going to be as happy if I left my loved ones and went to the convent half-heartedly.  I accepted that and now I have no doubt that I made the right decision.

On another note, loving myself entailed facing the list of things I hated about myself: my ptosis of the eyes, my weight, my skin, the dullness of my job, my fear of public speaking.  Then I made two more lists, and what I will do to solve them:

  1. Things I can’t change
    1. My ptosis of the eyes
      • How to Solve: None.  Just accept God’s design.
      • Trade-offs: None.
    2. The dullness of my job
      • How to Solve: Nothing.  That comes with the routine.
      • Trade-offs: None.
  2. Things I can change
    1. My weight
      • How to Solve: Change my eating habits (it helped I had become vegetarian at this point), exercise, drink lots of water, have enough sleep
      • Trade-offs: Have to say ‘no’ to my omnivore parents, have less time for other extra activities, can’t watch too much TV anymore
    2. My skin
      • How to Solve: Start using natural and organic products, change my eating habits, lose weight, drink lots of water, sleep
      • Trade-offs: Can’t eat food cooked by my omnivore parents, have less time for other extra activities, can’t watch too much TV anymore
    3. The dullness of my job
      • How to Solve: Find my priority (marketing and advocacy), collaborate with co-workers, love my clients
      • Trade-offs: Didn’t pay as much attention to technical work
    4. My fear of public speaking
      • How to Solve: Start talking, serve as a reader in church, accept hosting tasks at work
      • Trade-offs: None.  Except church service means less time for extra activities

In short, if I want something done, I have to accept that I have to let some opportunities to pass me by – especially opportunities that will delay me from reaching my goals.  For example, I opt out of conferences that are focused on the technical aspects of librarianship.  Instead, the training I choose are more on management.

And you know what?  Doing that is starting to pay off.


3. “Priority” is Originally Singular

This is probably the best lesson I’ve read my whole life.  Apparently, the term “priority” only became plural in the 1900s, as if, as McKeown puts it, by adding s we can change reality.  Truth is, we can’t have multiple priorities because that means we don’t have any priority.

Francis and I had been planning on going on a date to the National Museum Planetarium since April but we don’t seem to find time.  We’re both working 8 to 5 so of course weekdays are off the choices.  Sundays are not good too because we’re both serving at church.  (He now has six services on Sundays.)  He’s even joining the Knights of Columbus.  Even Saturdays are off-limits now since we’re both in the Neocatechumenal Way community.  Then we planned to do it on Saturday, May 20, and just excuse ourselves from the liturgical celebration.  But I remembered May 20 is the christening of my goddaughter Francine and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  May 20 is also Francis’ mom’s birthday.

At first, I was really pissed off that the universe seems to conspire against our date.  But thinking about it, would I really have enjoyed being at the Planetarium and missing my goddaughter’s baptism?  And would Francis have fully enjoyed our date knowing he should be with his mom?  No.

It turns out my priority for May 20 is Francine.  Her baptism will happen only once.  His priority is his mother’s birthday.  Nothing else would be more important than that.  Reading this lesson made me realize that if I pursue things that are not the most important at the moment, I will not be happy.


I can write about this book and what I’ve learned from it for ages but I will stop here.  After all I also learned that I should know when enough is enough.

For the recommendation?  Five stars!

The Vegetarian (Han Kang)

Saturday, March 25, 3-something in the afternoon.  I don’t know what’s gone into him.  (I’m lying now.  I do.  Peace.)

Boy Scout: Let’s watch “Beauty and the Beast” tomorrow.  If we wait until next weekend (as originally planned), it mightn’t be showing anymore.

Girl Scout: Okay.

But this isn’t about Beauty and the Beast and our mutual admiration of Emma Watson’s breasts.  This is about The Vegetarian – the book, not the librarian who happens to be a vegetarian, not the librarian’s man who happens to be one as well.  This is about the three-part novella that tackles the subjugation of women and the power of a single act of rebellion to disturb the status quo.  (Or at least that’s how I found it.)

I had been longing to read The Vegetarian since I first saw it on the shelves of National Book Store in SM Cabanatuan last year – mainly because of the title and a bit because it posed itself as a horror story – but somehow I was always hesitant to buy it.  (Always didn’t have enough money.  There’s another book in my priority list.  And I haven’t heard of Han Kang before so I’m not sure about her style.)  I’ve been into Paulo Coelho lately, if you haven’t noticed, and to read another author might disturb the smooth flow.  But I don’t know.  With Boy Scout beside me after our first movie date I pushed all hesitations aside and decided if I didn’t get this one last copy I will regret it for the rest of my life.  (Note to Boy Scout: pretend you did not read this.)

And regret it I would have because The Vegetarian hit me on multiple levels.

(Spoiler alert!)

First, of course, the obvious: the protagonist is a vegetarian.

Told through the third person omniscient eyes of her husband Mr. Cheong (“The Vegetarian”), her brother-in-law (“Mongolian Mark”), and her sister In-hye (“Flaming Trees”), The Vegetarian is the story of Yeong-hye, a housewife in Seoul, who, because of her series of bloody nightmares involving cruelty, made the decision to stop eating animals and animal byproducts.

Second, the violent reactions over the decision.

Having been a vegetarian for five years – and the only one in my family at that – I relate to the violent reactions of the people around Yeong-hye on her conscious decision to renounce meat.  Unlike her, I didn’t get force fed by parents, but I remember them trying to taunt me with my former favorites: siningang na pata ng baboy (soured pork leg stew), relyenong bangus (flaked and stuffed milkfish), pancit, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, double dutch ice cream.  I remember talks about nutrition and the insults hurled at me for being ugly.  I remember reciting this to their faces as my mantra: “I would rather die than not be vegetarian.”

Third, Yeong-hye’s suicide.

Yeong-hye’s attempt to kill herself reminded me of how I chose to cut myself from people who force me out of my principles.  Amidst years of frustration over their trying to push their eating choices on me, I have decided that one day I will move out and there will be no corpse in my kitchen.  (The sad reason I don’t call myself vegan.)  This could well be my act of rebellion.  And I realized that an act of rebellion, no matter how small, is liberating to the spirit.

Fourth, how Yeong-hye realized it isn’t the food.

I loved the novella’s second part “Mongolian Mark” primarily because this ended Yeong-hye’s sufferings.  Here, she discovers something inside her that stopped the nightmares and she became truly happy and truly free.

And fifth, Yeong-hye’s words, “Why, is it such a bad thing to die?”

I remember on our first date, on the way home, on his motorcycle, in between huge trucks and through a dangerous winding road, I said something to that sort to Boy Scout and he stopped me.  I understood.  Death is a repulsive topic for many people.  But truth is, I’m not afraid of death.  You see, I could be with Jesus.  And when I decay, I will become one with the earth.  Then, I will have a more meaningful role: being part of the continuation of life.  Isn’t that beautiful?

In the end, I realized that The Vegetarian is not the horror gore story I first thought it was.  It isn’t even about vegetarianism.  Instead, it is liberation.

Probably it is because I consider myself a feminist (a girly feminist at that), I saw The Vegetarian as a social protest.  In the beginning of this piece I said this is a novella of subjugation of women and the power of an act of rebellion to disturb the status quo.

It is.  And it is empowering.

The Missing Piece (Shel Silverstein)

A week ago, a friend asked if I’ve tried breaking up.  Yes, I have… five something years ago.  Back then, it felt crappy but I had to because Shel Silverstein found me.

He has a knack for finding librarians, you see, since the chance of us meeting in this universe of books is better than getting wet in the ocean.  This librarian he found tucked in her little corner of the world five something years ago.  She was unhappy.  He changed her.  Forever.

“The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” is the sequel to another Silverstein epic “The Missing Piece.”  It follows the story of the missing piece after it rolled away and left her.

The missing piece sat alone
waiting for someone
to come along
and take it somewhere.

It is the quest of the titular character the missing piece as she waits for the person with whom she perfectly fits.  (I, like Peacegal, identify the missing piece as a female.)  In her wait, she meets many wrong ones: those that “fit but could not roll,” those that “roll but did not fit,” one who “did not know anything about fitting,” one who “did not know anything about anything.”

At times, it seems both hilarious and scary how the ones that stumble upon the missing piece are like some ones that stumbled upon yours truly.  There’s one that “put it on a pedestal and left it there.”  There’s the one that has “too many pieces missing” and that one that has “too many pieces, period.”  And yes, like the missing piece, there are those creepy “hungry ones.”

If there is one story I read over and over again, even in my head, it has to be this.  Yes, I have read it years ago, and yes it is a children’s story.  And yes, it can be read in less than five minutes.  But the impact it left on me is unmistakable and so deep I could say this is the reason I am who I am.  I share the feelings of Dimitris Hall:

“Some books just meet your life like passing comets. You can’t possibly predict their coming or the respective impact they’re going to have on you, but there they go, shooting across the night-sky of your life. Spectacularly… It’s almost as if they become so important for you precisely because they come out of nowhere.”

So…  I’m not blaming Shel Silverstein but that’s why I had to leave.


Note: I got my copy of “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” from Fully Booked for P680.