Robert Greene’s book Mastery is a fantastic resource for those dissatisfied with their current path in life and who believe they have the potential for something greater, but who need help moving from a life of passivity to a life more of their own creation. What follows is a brief summary of the book.
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” (Nietzsche)
In the course of life, struggles, hardships, and disappointments are inevitable. However, not everyone is affected by these facts of existence in the same way. There are those who as Nietzsche suggests, have a “why”, or purpose, to their existence which allows them to see struggles as challenges to be overcome, and even in the face of hardships still live fulfilling lives.
Absent such a “why” one is likely to drift through life as if in a dark cloud pushed and pulled by what they see as the inevitable storms of fate. For this reason finding a purpose to one’s life, is quite possibly the most important contributory factor to a fulfilling existence. As Robert Greene puts it in his book Mastery:
“What we lack most in the modern world is a sense of a larger purpose to our lives.” (Mastery, Robert Greene)
Instead of finding a larger purpose most people buy into the societal myth that fulfillment can be found in the attainment of money, a bigger house, fame, or other things of this nature which contemporary society places on a pedestal. Those who succumb to societal pressures and adopt such a lifestyle will quickly find it to be anything but satisfying. Faced with this fact some people double down thinking the next raise, the upgraded house, or a more beautiful spouse will bring them the fulfillment they desire. On the other hand many people quickly become disillusioned and realize the futility of such a pursuit. But what is the alternative they wonder, and unsure of what to do they become infected with an insidious passivity which often leads to anxiety and depression.
Fortunately, there is another option – the path of mastery and this is the subject of Robert Greene’s book Mastery. This path is time tested, available to all and most importantly provides one with a purpose to their life. But what is the path of mastery? Greene explains it in the following manner:
“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 for fulfilling this Life’s Task and achieving mastery.” (Mastery, Robert Greene)
Greene realized that far too often the force that drives one to achieve their Life’s Task is overwhelmed at a young age by the pressure to conform, the expectations of one’s family, and the desire not to be viewed as different. But as he puts it:
“This can set you off on a very dangerous path. You end up choosing a career that does not really suit you. Your desire and interest slowly wane and your work suffers for it. You come to see pleasure and fulfillment as something that comes from outside your work. . .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.” (Mastery, Robert Greene)
Greene outlines three steps he sees as crucial for rekindling the spark that impels one to fulfill their potential and thus start on the path of mastery:
“First, you must connect or reconnect with your inclinations, that sense of uniqueness. The first step then is always inward. You search the past for signs of that inner voice of 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.
Second, with this connection established, you must look at the career path you are already on or are about to begin. The choice of this path – or redirection of it – is critical. . .
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 choosing a field or position that roughly corresponds to your inclinations. This initial position offers you room to maneuver and important skills to learn. . .
Eventually, you will hit upon a particular field, niche, or opportunity that suits you perfectly. You will recognize it when you find it because it will spark that childlike sense of wonder and excitement; it will feel right. Once found, everything will fall into place.” (Mastery, Robert Greene)
This short summary of Greene’s book only touches the surface of the fascinating material which it covers. In addition to offering tips on how to choose what to master, Greene also clearly explains why embarking on the path of mastery is so beneficial. He then spends the majority of the book detailing the three phases which one goes through as they cultivate mastery in their chosen field: the apprenticeship phase, the creative-active phase, and finally, the phase of mastery. Overall Mastery is packed with wisdom and Greene is an engaging writer, so for those looking to exit the rat race it is highly recommended.
Also for those interested in this topic check out our video The Psychology and Principles of Mastery: