Mastery (Book Review)


title: Mastery

author: Robert Greene

what you’ll learn: how to master anything you want

Why You Must Read It

According to the 80/20 principle, 20% of the people will own 80% of the wealth. 20% of the men will seduce 80% of the women. 20% of dreamers will account for 80% of the world’s progress.

The time of equality and mediocrity is gone. The few on top will reap most of the rewards. Everyone else will fight for the scraps. In America, the income distribution is even more skewed, in favor of the rich. Instead of the 80/20 principle, it is the 93/20 principle. The top 1% owns 40% of the nation’s wealth. The bottom 80% owns only 7% of the nation’s wealth.

I’m not making this up, watch the following video to see the distribution of wealth in America …

After watching the video, you can react in one of two ways:

  • You can cry about the injustice of the system (and basically, adopt the simp mindset). You can cry all you want, but it won’t do you any good. You’ll still have to fight for scraps. You’ll still have to fight for survival.
  • Or … you can do the hard work and make the leap into the elite (basically, adopt the boss mindset). Money, power, and women are yours for the taking.

If you choose to take the easy way out and just cry about the situation, stop reading now. I can’t help you. But if you are set on joining the elite, there are two ways you can do so:

  • You can get lucky and inherit the world on a silver platter. (Good luck with that.)
  • Or … you can plan, strategize, and take risks. You can persevere and grow in the value you can provide. You can have a passion in life and relentlessly pursue it.

If you are like me, you choose to make your own luck. You choose to become indispensable — irreplaceable. You choose to … become a master.

That is why I want to introduce you to Mastery, another fantastic book by Robert Greene. (If you’re interested in my favorite book by Greene, check out my review of The 48 Laws of Power.)

The general concepts of the book are common sense. If all you want are general concepts, I’ll tell you what they are (and save you time and money). Becoming a master is very simple, but it won’t be easy.

Step 1: Find something you are passionate about. Live life and explore what’s out there to find your calling in life.

Step 2: Once you found your calling, keep working at it. Keep on practicing and honing your skills.

Step 3: Once you have mastered the fundamentals, start experimenting with your craft. Be creative. Push your abilities to a new frontier.

Once you have completed all three steps, you are now a master. You are among the top 1%. You may enter the land of the bountiful — the land of the elite. Whatever you want is now yours.

The true value of the book lies in its rich, historical stories — stories of people who dared to reach their dreams.

You will read about …

  • Paul Graham – internet pioneer
  • Cesar Rodriguez Jr. – master fighter jet pilot
  • Benjamin Franklin – founding father, inventor, writer
  • Leonardo da Vinci – scientist and master artist
  • and more

Their stories will inspire you to dedicate your life to learning. To mastery of a craft. You’ll see how they overcame obstacles. You’ll see how they persevered. You’ll see how they learned, even when there was no one to mentor them.

You’ll see how you have all the resources to become a master, no matter who you are or where you live.

There is no middle ground anymore. You’re either on the top or you’re on the bottom. The competition is too vast. You’re not just competing with those in your class, or with those in your company. Your competition is not limited to your country. No … You’re competing against the whole wide world.

If you reject mastery and embrace mediocrity, you’ll drown in the sea of John and Jane Does. You will fight for the scraps. But if you reject mediocrity and embrace mastery, brace yourself for a flood of rewards.

This is one book I highly, highly recommend.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – Discover Your Calling: The Life’s Task

Chapter 2 – Submit to Reality: The Ideal Apprenticeship

Chapter 3 – Absorb the Master’s Power: The Mentor Dynamic

Chapter 4 – See People as They Are: Social Intelligence

Chapter 5 – Awaken the Dimensional Mind: The Creative-Active

Chapter 6 – Fuse the Intuitive with the Rational: Mastery

Choice Excerpt

Many of the greatest Masters in history have confessed to experiencing some kind of force or voice or sense of destiny that has guided them forward. For Napoleon Bonaparte it was his “star” that he always felt in ascendance when he made the right move. For Socrates, it was his daemon, a voice that he heard, perhaps from the gods, which inevitably spoke to him in the negative — telling him what to avoid. For Goethe, he also called it a daemon — a kind of spirit that dwelled within him and compelled him to fulfill his destiny. In more modern times, Albert Einstein talked of a kind of inner voice that shaped the direction of his speculations. All of these are variations on what Leonardo da Vinci experienced with his own sense of fate.

Such feelings can be seen as purely mystical, beyond explanation, or as hallucinations and delusions. But there is another way to see them — as eminently real, practical, and explicable. It can be explained in the following way:

All of us are born unique. This uniqueness is marked genetically in our DNA. We are a one-time phenomenon in the universe — our exact genetic makeup has never occurred before nor will it ever be repeated. For all of us, this uniqueness first expresses itself in childhood through certain primal inclinations. For Leonardo it was exploring the natural world around his village and bringing it to life on paper in his own way. For others, it can be an early attraction to visual patterns — often an indication of a future interest in mathematics. Or it can be an attraction to particular physical movements or spatial arrangements. How can we explain such inclinations? They are forces within us that come from a deeper place than conscious words can express. They draw us to certain experiences and away from others. As these forces move us here or there, they influence the development of our minds in very particular ways.

This primal uniqueness naturally wants to assert and express itself, but some experience it more strongly than others. With Masters it is so strong that it feels like something that has its own external reality — a force, a voice, destiny. In moments when we engage in an activity that corresponds to our deepest inclinations, we might experience a touch of this: We feel as if the words we write or the physical movements we perform come so quickly and easily that they are coming from outside us. We are literally “inspired,” the Latin word meaning something from the outside breathing within us.

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 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.

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. Your parents often act as a counter-force as well. They may seek to direct you to a career path that is lucrative and comfortable. If these counterforces become strong enough, you can lose complete contact with your uniqueness, with who you really are. Your inclinations and desires become modeled on those of others.

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. Because you are increasingly less engaged in your career, you fail to pay attention to changes going on in the field — you fall behind the times and pay a price for this. At moments when you must make important decisions, you flounder or follow what others are doing because you have no sense of inner direction or radar to guide you. You have broken contact with your destiny as formed at birth.

At all cost 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.

The process of realizing your Life’s Task comes in three stages: 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 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.

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. To help in this stage you will need to enlarge your concept of work itself. Too often we make a separation in our lives — there is work and there is life outside work, where we find real pleasure and fulfillment. Work is often seen as a means for making money so we can enjoy that second life that we lead. Even if we derive some satisfaction from our careers we still tend to compartmentalize our lives in this way. This is a depressing attitude, because in the end we spend a substantial part of our waking life at work. If we experience this time as something to get through on the way to real pleasure, then our hours at work represent a tragic waste of the short time we have to live.

Instead you want to see your work as something more inspiring, as part of your vocation. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin meaning to call or to be called. Its use in relation to work began in early Christianity — certain people were called to a life in the church; that was their vocation. They could recognize this literally by hearing a voice from God, who had chosen them for this profession. Over time, the word became secularized, referring to any work or study that a person felt was suited to his or her interests, particularly a manual craft. It is time, however, that we return to the original meaning of the word, for it comes much closer to the idea of a Life’s Task and mastery.

The voice in this case that is calling you is not necessarily coming from God, but from deep within. It emanates from your individuality. It tells you which activities suit your character. And at a certain point, it calls you to a particular form of work or career. Your work then is something connected deeply to who you are, not a separate compartment in your life. You develop then a sense of your vocation.

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. You don’t want to start with something too lofty, too ambitious — you need to make a living and establish some confidence. Once on this path you discover certain side routes that attract you, while other aspects of this field leave you cold. You adjust and perhaps move to a related field, continuing to learn more about yourself, but always expanding off your skill base. Like Leonardo, you take what you do for others and make it your own.

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. You will learn more quickly and more deeply. Your skill level will reach a point where you will be able to claim your independence from within the group you work for and move out on your own. In a world in which there is so much we cannot control, this will bring you the ultimate form of power. You will determine your circumstances. As your own Master, you will no longer be subject to the whims of tyrannical bosses or scheming peers.

This emphasis on your uniqueness and a Life’s Task might seem a poetic conceit without any bearing on practical realities, but in fact it is extremely relevant to the times that we live in. We are entering a world in which we can rely less and less upon the state, the corporation, or family or friends to help and protect us. It is a globalized, harshly competitive environment. We must learn to develop ourselves. At the same time, it is a world teeming with critical problems and opportunities, best solved and seized by entrepreneurs — individuals or small groups who think independently, adapt quickly, and possess unique perspectives. Your individualized, creative skills will be at a premium.

Think of it this way: What we lack most in the modern world is a sense of a larger purpose to our lives. In the past, it was organized religion that often supplied this. But most of us now live in a secularized world. We human animals are unique — we must build our own world. We do not simply react to events out of biological scripting. But without a sense of direction provided to us, we tend to flounder. We don’t how to fill up and structure our time. There seems to be no defining purpose to our lives. We are perhaps not conscious of this emptiness, but it infects us in all kinds of ways.

Feeling that we are called to accomplish something is the most positive way for us to supply this sense of purpose and direction. It is a religious-like quest for each of us. This quest should not be seen as selfish or antisocial. It is in fact connected to something much larger than our individual lives. Our evolution as a species has depended on the creation of a tremendous diversity of skills and ways of thinking. We thrive by the collective activity of people supplying their individual talents. Without such diversity, a culture dies.

Your uniqueness at birth is a marker of this necessary diversity. To the degree you cultivate and express it you are fulfilling a vital role. Our times might emphasize equality, which we then mistake for the need for everyone to be the same, but what we really mean by this is the equal chance for people to express their differences, to let a thousand flowers bloom. Your vocation is more than the work that you do. It is intimately connected to the deepest part of your being and is a manifestation of the intense diversity in nature and within human culture. In this sense, you must see your vocation as eminently poetic and inspiring.

Some 2,600 years ago the ancient Greek poet Pindar wrote, “Become who you are by learning who you are.” What he meant is the following: You are born with a particular makeup and tendencies that mark you as a piece of fate. It is who you are to the core. Some people never become who they are; they stop trusting in themselves; they conform to the tastes of others, and they end up wearing a mask that hides their true nature. If you allow yourself to learn who you really are by paying attention to that voice and force within you, then you can become what you were fated to become — an individual, a Master.

Get it now!

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  1. Great Post Alex,

    Mastery takes practice and if your inner voice is telling you to keep going it will bring you and turn you into a Master. When you do not follow your inner voice your body will begin to react negatively. You will begin to get aches and pains and your mind will begin to fog. I can tell you that this happens because it has been happening to me when i chose to ignore that inner voice.

    When i was young i found out that i had a knack for creative writing. My English Teachers always patted me on the back and told me to continue to cultivate this thing. I had the ability to come up with short stories that were 10 to 15 pages long! It just felt right to me as i became one with the paper. I would write so much by hand that my fingers would lock up. I could not stop writing as it just flowed out!

    But as i got older i began to ignore my inner voice because i thought that i needed to grow up and start doing adult things. I stop writing and i never went back to it for many years. There was not one day that my inner voice would bring up my creative writing days. But i never had the opportunity with work and school and a social life.

    During the time i call “The Lost Mind” I felt as if i was floating aimlessly. Depression came knocking as i spent my days either working and at home watching TV and doing all over again the next day. I was staring into the abyss of boredom!

    Then i came across some blogs like this one and all of a sudden i found my muse! A place where i can write about ideas and opinions pertaining to things all of us men go through. this brought back my inner voice which have awaken my creative writing skill. Don’t get me wrong i’m no professional but I’m getting there! I enjoy writing as it just helps me get through the day emotionally.

    These days my depression is gone i think more clearly and am a whole lot happier than i was before. I’m so into this inner voice that i carry a notebook around with me just in case my inner voice gives me some inspiration and now I’m on my way to mastery!

    Listen to your inner voice! Do not ignore it as it is there to help you! If it help those famous Masters Alex mentioned above then that voice is there to help you! Find your passion and go from there!

    Practice, Practice, Practice!

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Jose,

      Following the inner voice is something I am learning the hard way. I love writing as well, and would keep on doing it even if I wasn’t paid to do it. But inpatient medicine … I enjoy it as much as getting my teeth pulled. Sure I can get paid lots, but I dread every single day at the hospital.

      I have to somehow shape the course of my future to satisfy that inner voice. We’ll see what happens in the future.

  2. Hi Alex,

    This is a very interesting article. I actually typed up a ~10,000 word comment, but on second thought, I have decided to focus on the following short story:

    There is a famous quote attributed to an Indian Chief that goes like this:

    “Indian Chief, “Two Eagles,” was asked by a white government official, “You have observed the white man for 90 years. You’ve seen his wars and his technological advances. You’ve seen his progress, and the damage he’s done.”

    The Chief nodded in agreement.

    The official continued, “Considering all these events, in your opinion, where did the white man go wrong?”

    The Chief stared at the government official for over a minute and then calmly replied. “When white man find land, Indians running it. No taxes, No debt, Plenty buffalo, Plenty beaver, Clean Water; Women did all the work, Medicine man free. Indian man spend all day hunting and fishing; All night having sex.”

    Then the chief leaned back and smiled. “Only white man dumb enough to think he can improve system like that.”

    As the story illustrates above, we don’t realize what we have until it’s gone. I would absolutely love to live in the simple world the Indians lived in than in the overcomplicated and often miserable world that is now.

    In short, we have paved over paradise to put up a parking lot.

    In your opinion, why are the elite (the top 1% wealthiest people) so hell-bent on destroying the earth and turning it into one big shopping mall?

    Surely, there is more to life than excessive desire for money, power, and women. Or am I just too naïve because I have never really had the lust for such potentially corruptive things?

    By the way, are you getting to the point (as I have several years ago) in your reading that you realize that there is really nothing else to learn from books after reading a few thousand or so?

    Bob Smith

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Bob,

      I would love to read the 10,000 word comment.

      To answer your question …

      “In your opinion, why are the elite (the top 1% wealthiest people) so hell-bent on destroying the earth and turning it into one big shopping mall?

      Surely, there is more to life than excessive desire for money, power, and women. Or am I just too naïve because I have never really had the lust for such potentially corruptive things?”

      Lots of people will say that life is more than money, power, and women. But their actions tell a different story. That is why they spend so much time at work. That is why they work out to build muscles. That is why they buy expensive clothes. That is why they learn game and have a ranking system based on how much attention they get from women.

      Few people can live like monks. Few people have a purpose in life outside of accumulating money, power, and women. But hey, maybe you are part of the few. And there is no shame in that.

      The Indians may have had a better life before the white men came. But the white men had the power to force the Indians to change — even if it is for the worse. If you have the money and the power, you can get what you want as well. You can persuade a poor kid to trade his youth away for a few dollars an hour. You can force your rules on others. You can get VIP service while other people can barely get into the club, and prove that some men are more equal than others.

      What I am saying is not politically-correct, but that’s the truth.

      To answer your other question …

      “By the way, are you getting to the point (as I have several years ago) in your reading that you realize that there is really nothing else to learn from books after reading a few thousand or so?”

      I have to dig further to find books that teach me new things, but I feel that I can always learn something new. Sometimes, I even go through my notes from books I have read in the past and remember what I have forgotten. But if I have so much knowledge that I can’t learn anything new, that means I am not taking enough action to implement what I know. Knowledge is not just knowing a new subject, but it is knowing the same subject in a different light.

  3. True be that was a simple life but also one that was dull and unfulfilling .No adventure just a routine of eat,hunt,fuck,sleep.When your culture does not innovate or create then you lie waste to the culture that do ie the whites.And this is why I can count the number of Indians
    left on my fingers.

    “In your opinion, why are the elite (the top 1% wealthiest people) so hell-bent on destroying the earth and turning it into one big shopping mall?”

    Because they know that by providing good products and services will add value and hence money into their pockets.Which will then give then more security and freedom for them, their families,and society at whole.Destroying the earth by providing services and value to people???

    “Surely, there is more to life than excessive desire for money, power, and women. Or am I just too naïve because I have never really had the lust for such potentially corruptive things?”

    I go to a country that does not have a top notch shopping mall and then I solve the need by erecting one ,does that make what I am doing corrupt?

    And If money,power,and women are corrupt and an simple Indian lifestyle is the was to do then why are you using something as complex as the internet shouldn’t you be living in a cabin or in a monastery in India.

    “By the way, are you getting to the point (as I have several years ago) in your reading that you realize that there is really nothing else to learn from books after reading a few thousand or so?”

    Truth there are tons of books that you have not read.I mean from all the books from 2014 years after Christ and before till now you have nothing more to learn?I highly doubt it.
    Oh yeah and keep me us updated when you decide to live in the cabin.

  4. Bob Smith says:

    Well said.

  5. Hey Alex, Mastery is next on my list to read.

    “Surely, there is more to life than excessive desire for money, power, and women. Or am I just too naïve because I have never really had the lust for such potentially corruptive things?”

    In reply to Bob Smith, I believe there is more to life than money, power, and women. But without a doubt, those three things are definitely important and meaningful parts of life.. It’s the reality we live in.

    Smart people realize it’s all just a game and that you could live a happy and peaceful life without those things. Smarter people realize that even though it might all be nonsense, you play to win the game!!

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Brandon,

      It is an excellent read. You’ll learn a lot from it.

      The more I know, the more I realize that life is a game. We’re here briefly, do our thing, and are replaced by someone newer and younger. If we play well, we can win a prize. Some want money. Some want power. Some want women. Some want something else (i.e. wisdom, salvation, whatever). But everyone plays. The only difference is how well you can play your role.


  1. […] you ask masters how they first started their craft, they will all point to love. They loved what they were doing. […]

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