Mastery, by Robert Greene

Although there are other best sellers by the author, this is the only book I read by him. Robert Greene is obviously a good writer, but what was attractive about this book was the extensive research he made on the different individuals he talks about, their road to mastery, and bringing a narrative that is both interesting, inspiring, and realistic.

A non-fiction book with incredibly useful information on the success of some of the greatest masters of history, with a semi in-depth look at their techniques similarities and what got them to become who they are. The basic premise, one not to be taken lightly, making this book not only unique in the modern word of useless self-help, get rich quickly, sell many books, and fool readers into dreamland achievements, is its focus on what is required to become not only good, but a master of your skill. There are no shortcuts to becoming an expert.

I have become numb to all the literature out there, proclaiming success can come quickly, and knowing a few tricks can make you flourish in life. The market driven economy has reversed the attitudes of people, where passion was the driver of skill which in turn provided satisfaction, it is now money that drives everything. Many of the younger generation are looking to specialize in areas where they see money as the goal rather than a result or a means to a goal. Follow the money has become the new motto of the late 20th and 21st centuries. Money and Power is unfortunately the opium of modern industrial capitalist system.

What makes this state of affairs even more depressing, is the lack of proper analysis by those who strive to achieve, blinded by the success stories and celebrity status shown in the media, without much contemplation or calculation in to what it really takes to become wealthy, since wealthy has become interchangeable with accomplished, and high self-esteem. How many times have I had a conversation with a friend or a family member about the squandering of money on lottery tickets, explaining as clearly as I can the stupendous low odds of winning the lottery, only for them to point at people on TV or a Magazine who have actually won, telling me if those people have listened to my advice they would have never got the 100 million dollar prizes dished out every day/month.

Using the lottery is an extreme but good example of how people view career decisions. If you ask anyone who made it big in recent history, and if they were to be honest, they would say luck by far was the irrefutable attribute to their success. Of course you do get those who are fooled and believe they are naturally gifted, and may be they are, but there are some, and those are one ones this book talks about, who are genuine and explained are their passion for their work, and the time they put into it, the amount of times they fell and had to get up, the quest for perfection for its own sake. Money to them was a by-product, because if that’s what their goal was, they would have quit a long time ago.

What Robert Greene proposes in his book, showing examples of actual accounts of those who succeeded because of their skill, and what is so refreshing, is the no bullshit amount of time, effort and perseverance it takes. You start at the beginning and work your way up. Your goal is achieved via steps, each taking its time. 10,000 hours, yes Ten Thousand hours of doing the same thing over and over until you are able to master the craft. When you deduct sleep, and all the idle time one has, as I did, this is a long time to be working on your profession, to become a master, one who has the authority and right to say “I know how it’s done”

He talks about different people and their non trivial achievement to Mastery such as Mozart, Einstein, Darwin, Temple Grandin, V.S Ramachandrin and others, which gives a unique perspective into their life, not just the highlights. Having studied architecture, I was quite intrigued by his research into Santiago Calatrava, who I could relate to. He describes him as someone, not just passionate, but obsessed, the amount of sketching this architect did was staggering, he was always thinking about structure and design, and sketched on any material, and about anything that came to his mind, the interest he had in natural form, natures perfection in structural engineering. It was absorbed by his subconscious, and many years of observation and sketching had opened his eyes to what can only described as another dimension, the emergence of a talent not easily replicated.

Watching some of Calatrava’s lectures, now that he is famous, I can see how difficult it is for him to describe how he comes up with some of the most beautiful designs and structures. It is like a Samurai master wordsmith trying to explain how he crafts his superior swords. It is impossible without living the experience, most of his knowledge comes from experience trial and error, and years of training. This book is a great read, specially for someone who loves a craft and wants to be good at it, and most importantly wants to know what it takes to be good at something.

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