Mastery - Robert Greene

Mastery - Robert Greene

Video Book Summary

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Book Summary Notes 


“In many ways, the movement from one level of intelligence to another can be considered as a kind of ritual of transformation." 

"As you progress, old ideas and perspectives die off; as new powers are unleashed, you are initiated into higher levels of seeing the world. Consider Mastery as an invaluable tool in guiding you through this transformation process."

"The book is designed to lead you from the lowest levels to the highest. It will help to initiate you into the first step— discovering your Life’s Task, or vocation, and how to carve out a path that will lead you to its fulfillment on various levels. It will advise you how to exploit to the fullest your apprenticeship—the various strategies of observation and learning that will serve you best in this phase; how to find the perfect mentors; how to decipher the unwritten codes on political behavior; how to cultivate social intelligence; and finally, how to recognize when it is time to leave the apprenticeship nest and strike out for yourself, entering the active, creative."

"It will show you how to continue the learning process on a higher level. It will reveal timeless strategies for creative problem solving, for keeping your mind fluid and adaptable. It will show you how to access more unconscious and primitive layers of intelligence, and how to endure the inevitable barbs of envy that will come your way. It will spell out the powers that will come to you through mastery, pointing you in the direction of that intuitive, inside feel for your field."

"Finally, it will initiate you into a philosophy, a way of thinking that will make it easier to follow this path.”

The transformation process..

Greene illustrates the path of self growth here perfectly!

Movement from one level of intelligence, skill or ability to another is like a snake shedding it's skin.

The old perspectives, ideas and practices die off to breathe life into the new. 

This process is not easy, and comes with challenges.

But it's mandatory on the path to self actualization.

Mastery (and all the information in this book) is a framework to help guide you through that process.

Together we're going to explore:

The lives and stories of many "masters" who have come before us, and how their lives might inform our own journey.

  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Charles Darwin
  • Benjamin Franklin

How to craft your own path to Mastery in any domain.

Starting from finding your lifes task or vocation.

Learning strategies that will serve you during what Greene calls the "apprenticeship phase".

Exploring what it means to constantly be learning, even after your apprenticeship. 


“Let us state it in the following way: 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. 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 for fulfilling this Life’s Task and achieving mastery."

"What weakens this force, what makes you not feel it or even doubt its existence, is the degree to which you have succumbed to another force in life—social pressures to conform. This counterforce can be very powerful. You want to fit into a group. Unconsciously, you might feel that what makes you different is embarrassing or painful."

"At all costs you must avoid such a fate. The process of following your Life’s Task all the way to mastery can essentially begin at any point in life. The hidden force within you is always there and ready to be engaged.”

Your life's task?  Actualization.

Actualization starts with you, what you feel called to bring forth, ignoring everything else.

  • “The first step is always inward. You search the past for signs of that inner voice or force." 
  • "You clear away the other voices that might confuse you—parents and peers. You look for an underlying pattern, a core to your character that you must understand as deeply as possible.”

Take the time.  Let's go back!

Step One: Take 5 deep breaths and let your running mind ease. 

Step Two: Visit the past in your minds eye. 

  • What have you been passionate about?
  • What has brought you joy and contentment?
  • Who do you most want to help?

Step Three: Search the answers you've come up with and make sure they are your own.

The process can begin at any point in your life.

  • Whether you're in your early 20's or late 60's your life's task will always be there.  Even if you've ignored it for years. 
  • It's important that you fan the flame.  And remember.
  • “You must see your career or vocational path more as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straight line.”


“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."

"You enter a career as an outsider. You are naïve and full of misconceptions about this new world. Your head is full of dreams and fantasies about the future. Your knowledge of the world is subjective, based on emotions, insecurities, and limited experience."

"Slowly, you will ground yourself in reality, in the objective world represented by the knowledge and skills that make people successful in it. You will learn how to work with others and handle criticism. In the process you will transform yourself from someone who is impatient and scattered into someone who is disciplined and focused, with a mind that can handle complexity. In the end, you will master yourself and all of your weaknesses.”

After you've identified your life's work.  Apprentice.

Greene shares all sorts of stories about people who we think of as great starting as apprentices.

  • They started out just as we all do with naïve ideas of the world.
  • Full of misconceptions obscured by dreams and fantasies.
  • This is a pretty way of saying you don't know what is possible, what's not and what to do about that.

That, is why we're going to go through an apprenticeship.  

Finding someone(s) who can guide us through all of those misconceptions and lead us to the truth.

Three Key Strategies for Apprenticeship: 

  • 1. Deep Observation
  • 2. Skill Acquisition
  • 3. Experimentation

Remember what Greene says in the beginning though, we're not looking to impress.

Apprenticeship is a time to be wrong, to look stupid and to mess up.  The more failure the better (check out Fail Fast Fail Often on the channel). 

"In the process you will transform yourself from someone who is impatient and scattered into someone who is disciplined and focused, with a mind that can handle complexity. In the end, you will master yourself and all of your weaknesses.”

“You are a craftsman learning to adhere to the highest standards. For all of this, you must go through a careful apprenticeship." 

"You cannot make anything worthwhile in this world unless you have first developed and transformed yourself.”


"On December 17, 1903, Wilbur piloted their flying machine at Kitty Hawk for an impressive fifty-nine seconds—the first manned, controlled, and powered flight in history." 

"Over the years they would improve the design, and the flight times would increase." 

"For the other competitors in the race it was a complete mystery how two men without any engineering or aeronautic experience or financial backing had managed to get there first.”

The story of the Wright brothers is the story of Mastery..

They were the first to ever build (and pilot) an aircraft!  (59 seconds was a big deal). 

  • They were up against people with advanced degrees and almost unlimited finances.
  • Yet these two brothers with little experience, and almost no finances dominated the race to creating the first aircraft.

How did they do it?  They followed the path.

  • When we step back far enough, mastery in any domain looks very similar to the craftsman analogy.
  • “Through intense labor on your part, you gain a feel for what you are creating. In doing this work, you see and feel the flaws in design."
  • "What you are trying to create will not magically take off after a few creative bursts of inspiration, but must be slowly evolved through a step-by-step process as you correct the flaws."
  • "In the end, you win through superior craftsmanship, not marketing. The craftsmanship involves creating something with an elegant, simple structure, getting the most out of your materials—a high form of creativity.”

The main takeaway I got from the Wrights.

  • Creating something truly great doesn't happen in one take.
  • Often (especially now) we see the end result of someones success.  
  • But it's easy to forget how many iterations (or planes with 6 wings) they had to make before they were truly successful.  
  • Side Note: Failure isn't good in and of itself.  But our reaction to failure (iteration and improvement) can be.  

Twenty Thousand

“In our culture, we tend to denigrate practice."   

"We want to imagine that great feats occur naturally—that they are the sign of someone’s genius or superior talent. Getting to a high level of achievement through practice seems so banal, so uninspiring.

"Besides, we don’t want to have to think of the 10,000 to 20,000 hours that go into such mastery. These values of ours are oddly counterproductive—they cloak from us the fact that almost everyone can reach such heights through tenacious effort, something that should encourage us all."

"It is time to reverse this prejudice against conscious effort and to see the powers we gain through practice and discipline as eminently inspiring and even miraculous.”

Are you willing to commit 10,000 or 20,000 hours to becoming a master at your craft?

Those are some scary numbers!

Often we don't want to think about how long it might actually take to be great. 

I believe they are scary for two reasons.

1. Obviously the number is large, we don't want to commit that much time to something that might not work out.

2. The number, means that anyone can do it with a lot of effort and sacrifice.

Overcoming your fear of 20,000 hours.

  • The number is large.  But remember, we started this entire journey with connecting to your life's work.  If you're truly connected to that 20,000 hours seems like a small price to pay.
  • Anyone can do it, but only with sacrifice.  I encourage you to reframe sacrifice. The path to mastery is one filled with Flow and fulfillment.
  • Check out Flow on this channel and you'll realize.  That the state of Flow we'll find on the way to mastery is one of the most joyful we can have.

How to get to 20,000 hours?

52 x 40 x 10 = 20800 That's a good place to start!

If you're not able to get to 40 hours a week because you're working in another job. I suspect there are two options.

1. Are you truly on the path to mastery if you're not in an apprenticeship that can support your living?

2. Flip the numbers, find 10 or 20 hours a week instead of 40.  Cut back on mindless habits and turn them into deliberate practice.

Y Combinator

“They coached their apprentices in all of the principles they had learned along the way"

"The benefit in looking for new applications of existing technology and needs that are not being met; the importance of maintaining the closest possible relationship with customers; the need to keep ideas as simple and realistic as possible; the value of creating a superior product and of winning through craftsmanship, as opposed to fixating on making money."

"As their apprentices learned, they learned as well. Oddly enough, they discovered that what really makes successful entrepreneurs is not the nature of the idea, or the university they went to, but their actual character—their willingness to adapt their idea and take advantage of possibilities they had not first imagined."

"This is precisely the trait—the fluidity of mind—that Graham had identified in himself and in other inventors. The other essential character trait was supreme tenacity.”

What makes truly successful entrepreneurs?

Y Combinator is known for helping create some of the most successful new entrepreneurs!

  • They run their training program very much in line with this book..  
  • The entrepreneurs are essentially apprentices, with access to high level thinkers and business builders!

What have they found makes the most successful entrepreneurs?

  • It's not the business idea or the schooling they've had (or the resources).  
  • Instead it's about their willingness to adapt their idea, take advantage of opportunities they hadn't first imagined.  
  • Naval Ravikant one of my favorite business thinkers says something like "Ideas can fail, but good entrepreneurs do not."

What can we learn here if we're not entrepreneurs?

  • The truth is that willingness to change, learn and adapt is a secret to success in any domain.  
  • If you're not constantly willing to be learning, forgetting and failing it's unlikely you'll be world class at anything. 


“Mastery is not a question of genetics or luck, but of following your natural inclinations and the deep desire that stirs you from within."   

"Everyone has such inclinations. This desire within you is not motivated by egotism or sheer ambition for power, both of which are emotions that get in the way of mastery."

"It is instead a deep expression of something natural, something that marked you at birth as unique. In following your inclinations and moving toward mastery, you make a great contribution to society, enriching it with discoveries and insights, and making the most of the diversity in nature and among human society."

"It is in fact the height of selfishness to merely consume what others create and to retreat into a shell of limited goals and immediate pleasures. Alienating yourself from your inclinations can only lead to pain and disappointment in the long run, and a sense that you have wasted something unique. This pain will be expressed in bitterness and envy, and you will not recognize the true source of your depression.”

We're all unique, and that's a key to mastery.

Twenty thousand hours and being willing to fail. 

  • These are both parts of the mastery process that we spoke about.  
  • The idea with following your inner calling isn't necessarily even that you'll be innately good at it when you firs start. 
  • The idea is that if you feel a natural calling, you'll be better able to stick through the hours, hard work and failure that it will take to master.

Mastery as your highest calling in life.

  • Through all the stories of mastery in the book one thing stuck out to me the most. 
  • Where would we be if these great people didn't follow their inclinations and be willing to suffer through mastery?
  • Sure, getting a job and having a relaxing life is pleasurable for us.  Maybe not as fulfilling as mastery but certainly more pleasurable. 
  • But as we read their stories, it stands out to me that Mastery is our highest calling in this life.  Maybe even the reason we're here.  
  • Self Actualizing and bringing humanity up along with us.  A worthy goal. 
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