Book notes: Mastery by Robert Greene

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20 April 2017: Completed.

I started this book months ago, let myself get distracted by — I don’t know, life — and got back to it and read the last half in the last 5 days.

Read it.

I’m not sure what the rules are on how much you can quote from a book before you are infringing on copyright, and I don’t want to push any limits. If I shared everything I highlighted and underlined, it would probably be 30% of the book.

I want to read this book again, immediately. I’m going to take a little break though. I have about 5 other books waiting that will be great follow-up reads to this one. Then I’ll circle back around and read it again.

Greene talks about finding your main thing in life and then being focused and intense and committed enough to it to become not just okay at it, but to excel and be the master in that field you’ve chosen.

He shares stories and challenges of Masters and pithy little observations about, oh, psychology and evolutionary tendencies and human behavior and failure and success and creativity and tiny subjects like that.

For example:

A natural response when people feel overwhelmed is to retreat into various forms of passivity. If we don’t try too much in life, if we limit our circle of action, we can give ourself the illusion of control. The less we attempt, the less chances of failure. If we can make it look like we are not really responsible for our fate, for what happens to use in life, then our apparent powerlessness is more palatable. For this reason we become attracted to certain narratives…

Boy, do we ever become attracted to certain narratives.

Anyway.

I love that Greene is adamant that you have distinct, unique work to do, but he doesn’t pad it up with all the “follow your passion” language.

In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Your interest must transcend the field itself and border on the religious.

The pure passion approach weakens the dedication and desire you need to pursue something specific and become excellent at it. Greene is clear about the amount of work you have to put in. He’s also clear about what happens if you’re not willing to put in the work and you settle for some mundane course of life:

If you lose contact with this inner calling, you can have some success in life, but eventually your lack of true desire catches up with you. Your work becomes mechanical.

And then he comes around with statements like this that you can think about for days:

We must create our own world or we will die from inaction.

And this:

The passive ironic attitude is not cool or romantic, but pathetic and destructive.

Get the book. Read the book.

Okay, four more quotes that are worth reading about 100 times each. That’s it though.

When you are faced with deficiencies instead of strengths and inclinations, this is the strategy you must assume: ignore your weaknesses and resist the temptation to be more like others. … direct yourself toward the small things that you are good at. Do not dream or make grand plans for the future, but instead concentrate on becoming proficient at these simple and immediate skills.


…knowing your environment inside and out will help you in navigating it and avoiding costly mistakes. …the ability to observe any unfamiliar environment will become a critical lifelong skill. You will develop the habit of stilling your ego and looking outward instead of inward. You will see in any encounter what most people miss because they are thinking of themselves. You will cultivate a keen eye for human psychology, and strengthen your ability to focus.


Intuition, primitive or high level, is essentially driven by memory. When we take in information of any kind, we store it in mnemonic networks in the brain. The stability and durability of these networks depends on repetition, intensity of experience, and how deeply we pay attention.


In any competitive environment in which there are winners and losers, the person who has the wider, more global perspective will inevitably prevail. The reason is simple: such a person will be able to think beyond the moment and control the overall dynamic through careful strategizing. Most people are perpetually locked in the present. Their decisions are overly influenced by the most immediate event; they easily become emotional and ascribe greater significance to a problem than it should have in reality.





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