You ever heard of the book Mastery by Robert Greene?
It’s quite well known. He wrote the 48 Laws of Power.
Before I started reading Mastery, I was skeptical because the author didn’t have much credibility outside of his books. However, I was impressed by the amount of research and historical data put into this. It’s definitely worth looking at.
The following is a book summary of Mastery by Robert Greene. It’s fairly long so I’ve provided a free PDF version you can access or print out whenever you are:
Yes, I want the Mastery Summary in PDF form for free
If you prefer video, I’ve filmed a video of some of the cool points from the book:
Finding Your Passion Is Not A Straight Path
This is a common theme. He asserts that finding your calling is a up and down path rather than a straight line. I think it’s true for successful people, not just for young people who want to succeed one day.
When people ask how to find their passion, they’re really asking how they can find a passion that they can do for a living. They probably already have passions that they enjoy already that just don’t pay (like watching movies).
The natural progression outlined is:
- Find a job that isn’t perfect but allows you to start fleshing out what you like and don’t like about it. This is a compromise between being able to pay the bills and feeling out a profession or industry.
- Move to a related job or industry that is better suited to your interests and skills.
- Move again, maybe a couple more times, while continuing developing your skills, until eventually you find an incredible job that you enjoy and pays well. Often, you would have never imagined that you would find what you’re now doing interesting. This is because your interests change and you have stumbled across something you wouldn’t have considered before.
The typical period of time between each job hop usually ranges from 2 to 5 years.
I definitely agree with this concept. People who find their calling at a very early age and very quickly transition to a ton of fame and wealth, like musicians and actors, are usually exceptions to the rule. And obtaining fame and wealth too quickly has its downsides.
Peter Buffett’s book Life Is What You Make It also addresses this topic. He’s the son of Warren Buffett and in his book, he describes the story of his Stanford classmate who went through this exact progression. He went through at least 5 different jobs until he finally found what he wanted.
It went something like this: he liked physics but didn’t like the overly mathematical elements of it-> So he transitioned to architecture which combines the math but is more artsy. -> He didn’t like architecture because it was too overly artsy -> So he transitioned to robotics -> and so on.
Having said that, this does not mean achieving it is easy. If it was easy, the competition of supply and demand quickly makes it not easy anymore. Some of the most appealing jobs, like playing video games for a living or singing, have tons of competition.
Intelligence Doesn’t Guarantee Success
Greene makes a comparison of Charles Darwin and his brother. Darwin is still celebrated today as a successful scientist, while his brother is forgotten. However, while they were alive (just 200 years ago, which really wasn’t that long ago), Darwin did poorly in all his classes while his brother was a genius at school.
Greene asserts that Darwin’s success was also due to his social and political intelligence to be able to navigate the religious and political waters while bringing about his controversial discoveries about evolution to a religious party that believed in creationism. Later on, I will give you some amazing examples of social intelligence used to survive that Greene brings up.
In the real world, mathematical intelligence won’t guarantee your success. The real world is more complicated and often requires levels of social intelligence, emotional intelligence, and street smarts to navigate it. There is often politics and turmoil that you have to deal with.
I have to point to a great study mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers to prove this. They tracked thousands of the highest IQ kids in the United States from childhood to adulthood. When they were young, these children were winning awards left and right. But when they got to adulthood, the results were shocking.
The “gifted” group did no better than a random control group. Some were complete “failures” in terms of society’s standards. They were garbage collectors.
Gladwell asserts that another part of success is access to the right educational resources, great parenting, and great role models. I believe there are other elements to success like having a growth mindset. See Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The Psychology of Success which goes into great scientific detail on this.
In Older Times, You Were Screwed. In the Modern Age, You CAN Find A Passion That Pays Well
Greene states that our ancestors have much more limited job opportunities and potential. You were forced to take jobs that you didn’t enjoy to make ends meet. It was inconceivable to think you could make money singing or doing something fun because the economics of the time didn’t allow it. Many successful people have claimed that this is the best time to be alive in the history of the world. There have never been more opportunities, access to information, technology, and chances to create your dream life.
Almost any metric you name (mortality, health, entertainment, transportation, etc), this is the time that it’s at its best. It’s an incredible time to be alive and you’re very lucky to be born in this age.
However, a lot of average people often complain about the world and take all these things for granted. The fact that the device you’re reading this on is 10,000+ times more powerful than the world’s most powerful computer a couple decades ago is a huge feat.
For Most of Human History, What You Did For A Living Was Already Determined.
He says that for most of human civilization, what you did for a living was determined from the moment you were born by the race, gender, location, and economic class that you were born into. If you were born into a military family, you were going to be in the military no matter what. If you had the talent and genius of Bill Gates but you were born into a family of blacksmiths in a small town and era before computers, you were going to be a blacksmith.
If it just so happened that you enjoyed your job or were good at it, it meant you lucked out.
Nowadays, most of those barriers have been removed. And every day, there are people fighting to remove more of those barriers. The billionaire Sheryl Sandberg fights every day, for instance, for female equality around the world with her social media campaign #LeanIn.
Here’s the point I got out of it:
I should be very thankful to be alive to be even given this chance to pursue something I can do for a living and enjoy. And so should you.
There is a bit of a debate in the community though. One side says that if you hate what you do for a living, you’re screwed since half your life is spent doing that. The other side says that there are compromises that can be made.
If you absolutely hate what you do 100% or 90%, quit and find something more bearable. In fact, most likely you will be physically forced to eventually unless you’re really stupid. However, compromise is something that you should stomach and can be stomached. Seth Godin makes a great point: for tens of thousands of years, most people did what they had to for work and did what they wanted to in their free time because they had to. And many people were still happy because of that.
Seth Godin makes a great point: for tens of thousands of years, most people did what they had to for work and did what they wanted to in their free time because they had to. And many people were still happy because of that. You can still be happy even if you don’t completely love your job yet.
How To Find Your Passion
Look At What You Liked In Your Childhood
Oftentimes, what you enjoyed in your childhood is what you will have a deep interest in all the way through to adulthood. Some people forget this so it’s worth a shot to look back into the past.
Albert Einstein was super fascinated by a compass his father gave him at 5. He was deeply interested in the invisible force that moved the needle and wondered if there were more forces like that out there. This interest in physics and inventions followed him to adulthood.
Marie Curie was always interested in the cool laboratory her father had when she was a child. She kept her interest in this all the way to adulthood when she had her own lab and discovered Radium.
Leonardo Da Vinci spent his free time as a child teaching himself how to draw. He painted flowers to a scientifically detailed level that no one else had done. He kept his love for art into all the things he pursued later in life including architecture, inventions, and biology.
Greene argues that your passion should be an obsession. You should be consumed by solving the problem. Otherwise, you get bored and lose interest.
This task should be difficult, but not too difficult. It should be difficult enough to push you farther than you’ve ever gone. But it should also be partially attainable and based on foundational skills you have already acquired.
If you are motivated primarily by money or something superficial, you will lose interest during the darkest times and not persevere long enough to succeed.
Steve Jobs said in an interview with Bill Gates that successful people who don’t love it enough will quit because it’s extremely hard. People who didn’t love it, quit because they were sane.
The Standard Progression To A Master
The typical progression to a master in a field goes something like this:
- Learn as an apprentice. Copy others to a tee. Practice.
- Slowly start to do your own things in your unique way.
- Become a master in your field.
It seems simple, but the entire process can take over 10,000 hours.
The Apprenticeship Phase
This phase can take anywhere from 5 to 11 years. This is where you slowly develop your craft and get better at things. There are no shortcuts and you have to put in the work. The time is going to pass anyways so make sure you put it to good use.
The following passages will go into detail on the biggest things you need to keep in mind while going through this phase.
Value Learning Over Money (For Now)
In this phase, you don’t want to overvalue a salary or higher cash compensation over learning. By constantly chasing a high salary, you forsake the actual learning and developing your skills. This puts you in a place where you are constantly trying to play the part and not being found out.
Your focus gets pulled away from actually developing and growing your skills. This eventually catches up to hurt you in the distant future when your skills are far below your job title and you are found out.
Don’t Seek Attention or Praise. Observe and Blend In.
Greene argues that you shouldn’t seek attention during your first months of apprenticeship. Approval will lead nowhere. Your objective is to learn as much as you can to develop your skills and discipline.
He says you should observe the world around you so that you can understand the politics and social dynamics of the hierarchy. This will also help you see how the real world operates and eliminate naive preconceptions of how you think the world works.
He suggests that you look for power dynamics. Look at who has the power and who seems to have the power, but really doesn’t. After a few months, you can start to analyze why certain people have power and why some don’t.
Don’t try and rise through the ranks before you’re ready. You should blend in with the others at work and remain passive.
The main reason behind all of this: in the real world, you have to be socially intelligent enough to survive and deal with politics and power dynamic. It is not so simple as if you’re good at a task, you will succeed.
Although Greene goes into detail giving instructions during this section in the book without much evidence, he does reference Darwin who always avoided needless battles by being socially and emotionally intelligent. I think there’s definitely some truth to this philosophy.
It Can Be A Tough, Grind Initially
When you begin, there will be moments that are boring or tedious. Embrace these moments. You must be willing to sacrifice displeasure for future pleasure.
Successful people do what unsuccessful, lazy people aren’t willing to.
There is a false assumption these days that if you find your passion, 100% of your journey will be easy. Even people who love what they do will come into contact with areas of their career that aren’t appealing all the time. Bill Gates loved running his business at Microsoft but never enjoyed firing people. Neither did Richard Branson.
For you, this displeasure may come from tedious tasks that you must repeat to get better at a skill.
Over time, you will gain mastery over it to the point where you can do it on autopilot. This will allow you to inject your own creativity and uniqueness into your craft, which will put you in a state of flow where time flies by and you actually enjoy your work.
Don’t Demonize or Idolize Your Teachers
Greene states that when you are young, you idealize your parents and adults because they support you. You assume that they are more selfless and kind than they are. You think they can do no wrong.
Then when you grow older, and you realize that they have flaws and mistakes. They have their own selfish interests. As a teen, you demonize them.
Greene says that as an adult, you have to avoid these extremes. People are not as flawless as you think, but they aren’t as horrible as you think either.
Be Fine with The Unknown Future
As a young individual developing your craft, you must realize that your end goal is not clear.
The tasks you have will not have a clear end sometimes and you have to be OK with that. This uncertainty may scare you but you must know that you’re moving forward by perfecting your skill.
Be Humble Enough To Take Advice From Your Mentor
While some people assume that it’s a good thing to criticize your mentor, a mentor has valuable knowledge based on years of experience and testing. Your #1 objective during this phase of life is to absorb as much practical knowledge as you can.
This should not be a period where you are too critical of your mentor. You should be silent and absorb what he has to teach you. This used to be a traditional Chinese norm. You could never talk back or question your master. Or you would be physically disciplined
Nowadays, modern society has eliminated a lot of that. You should be humble enough to acknowledge that your mentor knows a lot more about a skill than you do based on a ton more experience and practice.
By developing an emotional relationship with a mentor, he or she might reveal secrets of the trade to you that might not otherwise have been revealed to others. That is why it is important to develop and embrace a relationship with the mentor. Embrace favoritism.
Hold your tongue. Be careful of being too arrogant early on. The point of a mentorship is to learn, not to teach. Sometimes, your way isn’t the best. Sometimes, you
Why You Need A Mentor
Because you can learn from books, but the advice and knowledge will never be as personalized and tailored to your skills, personality, and situation as a mentor who can guide you face-to-face.
You can learn from your own experiences and mistakes, but it will take a LOT longer. It often takes years of time or thousands of dollars of money to learn one business lesson. You could save that time by learning it in an instant from a book or mentor who learned it the hard way himself.
A mentor streamlines the process.
How To Choose A Mentor
Pick the right guy. Nick Unsworth is an entrepreneur who has talked about how he picked the wrong mentor. This mentor acted rich when he wasn’t. One day, he went bankrupt and Nick realized he wasted years taking bad advice.
While you can’t you choose your parents, you have full control to choose a mentor.
Look for a mentor that suits your personality and how you like to be taught. Greene states that you should find a mentor that fits your learning style. If you like a smooth, guided style, don’t find a mentor who is harsh, rigid, and unforgiving.
A great mentor is one that have achieved what you want to achieve in terms of skills, goals, or lifestyle in one, many, or all areas that you want to achieve success at.
Greene argues that you can use books as mentors temporarily until you find a real mentor to guide you. Through books, you can get advice from people who are now dead but were incredibly successful. Having said that, a real person-to-person mentor is better because he or she can give you personalized advice specific to you.
While the best mentorships often involve studying directly with your mentor for the entire day 24/7, you can still achieve a successful mentorship with someone once a week or once a month. Some people are so successful that they are too busy to meet often. Their time is often worth a lot to them.
Most failures are not as bad as they seem. You’re still healthy and alive after it. I think the only true failures you should avoid or those of inaction (because you don’t learn), incapacitation (a lifetime in jail for example or death), and severe loss of reputation (doing something so unscrupulous that you can’t work with anyone again).
Henry Ford is a great example of this. You would have assumed him to have a fairly privileged life but he worked the night shift for the Thomas Edison Aluminum factory in his early 20’s. He started a company based on an engine he invented. He even got funding. He failed this business twice.
The first time he learned that he was trying to make his product solve too many problems and satisfy everyone. The second time he learned that he didn’t want people command or direct the design process because they weren’t technical enough to know what they were doing.
Each time he failed, he looked at his failures simply as a learning lesson. This was very similar to the founder of the factory he used to work: Thomas Edison. Edison said his 1,000 failed attempts to make a light bulb were not failures. They were simply ways he had found that did not work.
Social Intelligence 101
Ben Franklin is considered one of the best at social intelligence. But he wasn’t always this way.
He had to learn it over time. It’s a skill that can be learned and is really important to survive in the real world.
For example, when he was young he wrote public newsletters under a pen name. His writings were often controversial. When he finally revealed to his brother that it was him who wrote the letters, his brother responded in a way that he didn’t expect: in anger and envy.
Another time, he was working as an apprentice in a publishing company. They had daily beer breaks and every employee was obligated to chip in a contribution for the beer. However, he didn’t drink beer and told them he wouldn’t pay.
Although it logically made sense to do so and the company let him, things turned worse ever since he did that. There were constant spelling errors and mistakes that kept popping up during the writing process. When he asked about where these came from, people said it was a mischevious ghost. This was dangerous because the errors would point to Ben and he would get in trouble from them.
This was dangerous because the errors would point to Ben and he would get in trouble from them. Eventually, he caved in and paid his beer contribution. Mysteriously, the errors all disappeared.
What is Social Intelligence?
Social is defined as the ability to effectively get along and cooperate with others. It also refers to being able to navigate complex social situations.
It is partially related to emotional intelligence, which can also be learned. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to be aware and understand other people’s emotions while controlling your own to handle social situations judiciously and empathetically.
In simple terms, social intelligence is getting people to cooperate with you by fully understanding their needs and desires. Emotional intelligence is understanding other people’s emotions effectively. Both are used to do better in any social situation.
Why Should I Develop Social Or Emotional Intelligence?
The world is not as rational or cut and dry as you think. That’s why it’s important to develop these things. I’ve learned through this book and my own experiences that people are not as rational as they appear.
Humans make illogical, emotional decisions. People form groups and biases.
The real world has other variables at play which include: favoritism, politics, bribery, bias, greed, and selfish motivations.
The book goes into great detail explaining the importance of this. There’s one story I really want to highlight.
It’s about two doctors.
The first doctor was famous for identifying the fact that doctors were transferring germs of infected patients to new patients by not washing their hands. What most people don’t know about the story is that the doctor who did this died poor and isolated in his early 40’s.
Why? Because he didn’t respect, acknowledge, or use social intelligence.
When he got just enough research to prove this, he believed that the data was enough to convince his boss. Instead, his boss was rooted in traditional ways and biased to not believe him because he didn’t want to accept that he and his team of doctors had killed many patients.
For years and years, this man struggled to prove his point. Every year, he got more and more crazy, frustrated, and angry at the world. He stubbornly started his own practice to prove this but alienated his doctors. People didn’t believe him despite the fact that his hospital deaths went down without extensive experimental proof. Even then, there were doubters who wouldn’t believe him.
Compare that to the 2nd doctor.
He discovered something that implied that the blood in a body was circulated rather than consumed. It was completely contrary to what people had believed for decades.
However, he was socially intelligent enough to not just go out there and share his discovery. He knew it would be suicide. So he held off from releasing it until he got a LOT more evidence.
Additionally, he spent years developing a great friendship with the King. Subtly, he would show the king demonstrations nodding at his conclusion. Eventually, when he did release his findings in a published paper, he made sure to acknowledge and honor the kind profusely for it.
He even wrote a large passage comparing the discovery of the heart as the essential, pumping station to how the king is the essential ruler of the kingdom. He had won over the top leaders to avoid retaliation from them.
Despite all of this, he still had skeptics and haters who wrote in to tell him how he was wrong. He was very smart and tactful with his responses. He replied to each one in a very polite way that showed extensive evidence for his theory.
The 2nd doctor did a lot better in life. This was due to social intelligence, not because the math was clear. The math was evident in both cases.
Ben Franklin taught a great lesson that I live by, and I recommend you do as well:
I do my best to avoid any of these things myself, but I should never try to control or change someone else to follow how I do things. Instead, I should fully acknowledge and understand their motivations behind their behavior to properly navigate the situation.
Here are some great real world examples mentioned in the book:
1.You want to do the right thing, which is to finish your project by the deadline because you want to get ahead in your career. However, your coworker(s) won’t let you because it interferes with her hidden motive to slack off and do less work.
She knows she can get away with it, and she knows if you keep working harder on time, you’ll make her look bad. So she sabotages your work. Notice how all of this is behind the scenes and unspoken. She will never verbally state that motive out loud.
2.You do extensive research and find numbers that can be used to prove that your company can make a few tweaks in order to make more money. You’re a very logical guy and the data has so much evidence it’s irrefutable. However, you fail to notice the politics and favoritism going on in the board room. You present your data, but you are rejected. It doesn’t make sense and you don’t fully understand why.
How To Improve Social Intelligence
Put Yourself In Social Situations for Practice
This could be at a service job, like a salesman or waiter. Or it could be as a volunteer. Reflect and learn from your mistakes over time.
Judge People By Actions, Not Their Words
Greene says that people will tell you that they’re virtuous, kind, generous, and other traits. But what you should really judge them by are their actions.
He argues that people who seem most virtuous and giving may be most selfish and insecure, which is why they put up a front.
Don’t be surprised if their actions are different than their words. People will do all sorts of things. You can’t change them. Simply acknowledge them for however they are in nature and use that knowledge to effectively navigate them.
If they’re really selfish or unethical, you know what motivates them and you know you shouldn’t trust them.
Greene says people are always in a state of flux. They could change motivations and personality throughout live. Always be evaluating them to see how they are.
Here’s a great video illustrating the concept:
The book Mastery goes into a lot more detail about Ben’s story. It’s really an example of a man fully mastering social intelligence. Here are the main things you can do:
- Fully recognize and understand the motivations of other people. Realize that they’re different from your own.
- Don’t charm them by using fancy words or your own techniques. Real, effective charm works by fully understanding how other people think and what motivates them to get them to cooperate. Fully understand their perspective to get them on your side.
- Recognize differences in behavior and adjust accordingly (see Branklin story below).
- Turn enemies into friends by expressing interest in their deepest interests and showing yourself in a new light. (see Ben Franklin story below).
- Adopt the character that they enjoy in themselves to be more accepted (see the Ben Franklin story below).
- Put more weight into people’s actions rather than people’s statements. . They can say they’re really kind and gentle, but their actions can prove different.
How Ben Franklin Used Social Intelligence To Keep His Job
Ben had noticed some changes in behavior in his boss. Usually, his boss was very pensive, quiet, and not that friendly. However, he was much more friendly to Ben and had assigned him on a project to train some new recruits on everything he knew.
He knew something was up. Something was fishy.
Based on how he knew his boss to typically act, he guessed that he had been assigned to train the new employees so he could be replaced and fired. That was why his boss was being so friendly.
Ben decided to take things into his own hands. He used his new position to create valuable business relationships with many clients in his area. He learned and developed higher levels of mastery in skills while other people went home early. He trained one of the recruits to be a highly skilled, loyal assistant.
Right before he sensed that his boss was going to fire him, he quit and started his own company. All the business clients and his assistant immediately followed him to his new company. From there, he was grew one of the most profitable businesses of the era.
How Ben Franklin Turned His Enemies Into Great Friends
Ben Franklin found it more intelligent and helpful in the long run to turn many of his political enemies into great friends. He used this throughout his life.
Here’s a model example of how he did it:
Thanks to his insiders, he learned that one of his enemies has a deep interest in collecting rare books. He wrote a polite letter asking to borrow this man’s rarest book for a couple days and promised to keep it in great condition.
A few days later, Ben saw this man at a party. He walked up to him and spoke warmly to him, something he had never done. Over time, they became great friends and political allies.
Why did this work? It worked because Ben had shown himself in a completely new light. His enemy started seeing him differently. He realized that Ben was not a horrible person. He was a man who was interested in the same stuff as him, kept his word on promises, and a kind individual.
What’s also at play is a cognitive bias. He started questioning why he did a favor for Ben by lending him his most treasured book. You only do favors for friends. Ben had laid the groundwork.
This is obviously easier said than done, especially for someone like me who isn’t that great with social intelligence. However, I realized that I did this when I was really young. Back in elementary school, I had a bully that was really men to me. We used to be friends, but something turned. One day, I asked if we could just be friends again and surprisingly he accepted. Back then, I didn’t even know what social intelligence is. I just did it partially because it was tactful and partially because of my Christian upbringing.
How Ben Franklin Won Over The French By Adopting Their Character
Ben Franklin, late in his life, was sent over to the French to win them over and gain allegiance for the war. It was a very tricky, political matter at play and they really needed French resources. Only Franklin could do this well with his social intelligence.
Ben was a very celibate man: he didn’t do drugs, drink, or indulge in anything excessively. However, news spread that he was all of a sudden partying, drinking, and hanging out with many women during his time in France. His popularity in America plummeted.
However, it turned out that Franklin has simply adopted the character of the French. He saw that the French celebrated themselves and wanted to see that in Ben. Eventually, he was able to win over the French through this method.
How To Be More Socially and Emotionally Intelligent
I will cover this topic in more detail in future blog posts. From my own research, there is a decent amount of information on both forms of intelligence, but not enough on how to develop them.
However, based on what I’ve learned from this book, here are some key things you can do:
- Be more aware of how people typically behave and when they start behaving or acting differently.
- Learn as much as you can about why other people act and behave the way they do. Do your best to understand the hidden motivations that drive their actions. Don’t try to change them. Simply be aware of things.
- Become aware of what people deeply value. Understand what they are deeply interested in and enjoy doing.
- Use all this knowledge to tactfully get them to cooperate and/or get along with you. It doesn’t have to be sinister. Ellen Degeneres and other talk show hosts have a high social intelligence but they’re not rude or evil people. It’s a balancing act: you don’t want to be too overbearing or apparent in trying to subtlely mention things or do things, but it shouldn’t be too light either.
- See people as they are. Rather than try to change them, realize that people can be manipulative, evil, jealous, egotistical, or selfish. Accept who they are. See them as they are. And navigate the situation. It’s fruitless to try and change them.
- People are inherently selfish. That’s not always a bad thing. Look to see how you can give value to them first and get value in return. See things from their perspective. As Stephen Covey says, seek win-win relationships.
Stay Under The Radar. Blend In Until It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.
Greene argues a controversial point:
He says that you should do what you can do blend in… until you’re so successful people can’t tear you down if they tried. This is because when you’re starting out people in your immediate work environment can do a lot to stop you from achieving success because of emotional reasons like envy.
While you can choose to avoid doing anything bad to others out of envy, you cannot control how others behave. Other people could try to derail your success if you perform better than them out of envy or jealousy, sometimes even unconsciously.
People can do things out of jealousy even if they themselves believe they aren’t.
Therefore, he suggests that you blend in with the culture of your peers until you become so successful that it doesn’t matter anymore.
Know When It’s Time To Move On From the Apprenticeship Stage
Faraday had worked under his mentor for over 8 years and acquired incredible skills to be independent. However, Greene states that his mentor wanted to keep him as an apprentice assistant forever.
Despite his promotions, he was still treated as an assistant.
Faraday didn’t want to ruin his relationship with his mentor by leaving in a harsh way. He found his opportunity when he published a study that he independently conducted. The results of the experiment had revolutionary conclusions.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. His mentor refused to give him credit for his study and future studies. His perspective was that Faraday’s success was completely thanks to him and his mentorship.
Their relationship was never the same. However, Faraday was able to become independent and do incredible things from then on.
Note: This story is based on the author Robert Greene’s interpretation of history. In the case of reading this book, we may just have to trust him.
Manny Pacquiao, one of the greatest boxers to live, was pointed to as an example. As he became a master of his craft, his relationship with his mentor transformed into one of partners rather than teacher and student.
Later in life, he bounced ideas off his mentor and tried new things based on his mentor’s suggestions.
Once you become a master, you don’t have to be tied to simply listening.
I found that this is true for the great investor Warren Buffett too. As he got better, he started investing in ways his mentor Ben Graham would have never. He started experimenting with other investment styles.
Never Give Up, Be Willing To Settle For The Time Being, & Treat Money As A Byproduct
Buckminster Fuller lived an interesting life. He died just a few decades ago, which isn’t that long ago.
He was born with extreme near-sightedness and needed special glasses. However, he was gifted to the point that he got into Harvard University. However, academia wasn’t for him. He didn’t perform well and was expelled twice. The second time was permanent.
Fuller worked a number of odd jobs that barely paid. He had a family that he could barely support. He often couldn’t find a job. The jobs he did find he didn’t enjoy.
At one point, things got so bad that he was about to commit suicide and have the life insurance help support his family. An invisible voice stopped him by telling him that his significance may seem obscure but he is fulfilling his role by converting his experiences to the highest advantage of others.
From them on, he decided to follow nothing but his own voice. He chose not to focus on the money but on the doing great service. Every time he focused on money, only disaster followed.
Fuller went on to pursue ideas that lead to the design of inexpensive, energy-efficient transportation and shelter.
His story is very similar to one of America’s best-known films It’s A Wonderful Life. I recommend you watch the film if you ever have time. It’s very inspiring.
The message is clear:
- Don’t give up because ending your life eliminates any chance of success while persevering during hopeless times still has a chance of success.
- Settle and do what you have to do now to do what you want to do in the future. People think that you can just jump to your dream job without any work in between. Oftentimes, it’s a transition.
I can’t tell you how many billionaires and millionaires have said to focus on providing great value, and the money will come. This is because money is simply a paper representative of the monetized and captured value you have delivered to other people.
People succeed by delivering great value to people, whether in the form of entertainment, information, service, or delivered goods.
Elon Musk said in an interview with Bill Gates that he recommends people focus on helping others and the money will come. He focused on creating alternative-energy cars and that created a market that made him rich. He knew space travel was really important in the years to come so he focused on how he could help out NASA and that lead to him making a lot of money off a company he founded called SpaceX.
Multimillionaire comedian Steve Harvey said he never focused on making more money, even when he was homeless. He focused on becoming the best comedian in the world and the money naturally came. I have many other examples, but I hope you get the point. In Steve’s book Act Like A Success Think Like A Success and his appearance on Oprah, he said he didn’t focus on becoming a multi-millionaire. He focused on being the best comedian he could be and the money came.
Focus on developing your skills and providing value. Understand and believe that the money will come in time if you do that. If you focus on the money, you will be pulled over time into careers that you hate and won’t make that much money.
Don’t Live Other People’s Dreams
This book really changed how I thought about parental pressure. I used to think that the Asian American pressure for the parents to want the kids to have a specific job of doctor, lawyer, or engineer was only an Asian American thing.
As I got older and talked to people of different cultures, I found out that wasn’t true. I met Indians who dealt with this, Black people, White people, Hispanic people, native Asians, Africans, and everyone in between. I also met some Asian-Americans who surprisingly didn’t have to deal with this because they had cool parents.
This book Mastery showed me that this parental pressure was there even in older times. Wolfgang Mozart, one of the most talented musicians to ever live, had severe pressure from his father. He was paraded around cities by his father as a child to show off his talent, kind of like what Michael Jackson’s father did. Because of this, many of his childlike tendencies stayed with him and came out in adulthood in his music.
As Mozart came of age, Robert Greene asserts that his father consciously or unconsciously was jealous of his gift’s and set out to stifle his son’s potential. The jobs Mozart’s father wanted him to get were very rigid in what they allowed him to do and therefore stifled his creativity and potential.
Note: I think Greene is going a bit far in what he infers here and I’m not sure how accurate this actually is. In the book, he goes on to say that Mozart eventually decides to not listen to his father and do what he wants. From there, he cuts off a good deal of his good relationship with his father, but goes on to write some of his most impactful compositions.
Greene goes on to say that you should embrace resentment and anger if your parents impose their wishes or dreams on you. He says you should use that to fuel you to disobey them. I respectfully disagree and believe that this is bad advice. I think that’s too harsh of a process. I think you can sometimes respectfully go your own way without resorting to negativity. From what I have seen of successful people, you generally want to stick with positivity. You can succeed without being resentful or angry.
Trust Your Mentor’s Advice, Not The Public Opinion
While it is important to get some general feedback from the public, don’t let their advice or opinions direct your moves too much.
There are plenty of fools and idiots in the public that will lead you astray.
Make your biggest decisions to get better based on your mentor’s critique instead. He or she knows better.
If Resources Aren’t Presented To You, Seize Them
Leonardo Da Vinci was born a bastard child.
That means he was born out of wedlock and barred from any of the noble professions such as a doctor.
Despite this, he still managed to become a successful artist and creator through hard work.
In this section, I bring out numerous stories in the book of people who weren’t handed the educational resources that they wanted in life. They had to work really hard to get as close as they can.
They were not like Mozart, Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, who had access to the finest education to develop their gifts from a very early age.
How Ben Franklin and Albert Einstein Broke Free From Few Career Options
Let’s start with a man who didn’t want the future career path his father laid out for him: Ben Franklin. Ben’s story also illustrates how you can work really hard to get yourself the education or apprenticeship you want even if it’s not presented to you.
His story reminds you to not let excuses hold you back.
Have you ever heard someone complain that he can’t get a certain job because the field is too competitive (even though they barely tried)?
Einstein didn’t do well in school and turned down some decent jobs to work at a low-paying patent office job to explore his intellectual curiosity in science and inventions.
Against the wishes of his father, Ben got an apprenticeship at a publishing company. He wasn’t paid much and had to work for a decade as an apprentice. He did everything he could to move closer and closer to the newspaper department so that he could develop his skill at writing, which he was very interested in. Most of his work time was spent on areas not related to writing.
The lesson is that you have to work towards your goal and all the resources in the world aren’t going to be served to you on a silver platter.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – A Similar Conclusion
Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers has another conclusion: some people succeed because of their fabulous luck and access to resources, while others don’t because of this.
That may be true, but where do you draw the line? Don’t be the guy who holds himself back because of a false assumption that you don’t have the resources or can’t get it when you can. At least try your best.
Gladwell’s book, however, focuses on the best of the best, like Bill Gates. You might not be worth 60 billion dollars if the stars didn’t align perfectly and you weren’t born with a genetic gift for complex numerical calculations.
You can definitely make a ton of money (millions) and live your dreams even if you come from nothing.
There’s plenty of other stories in this book to illustrate this. For example, Leonardo DaVinci was born out of wedlock and thus not given a proper education or upbringing.
But this turned out to be his greatest blessing since it gave him freedom to pursue his own interests and skills.
How Zora Neale Hurston hustled to the top without being given any resources
Zora was the first female to be paid a full-time living to be a writer and the most successful black writer of her time. Similar to Chris Gardner, her story is one of leveraging everything she had for every subsequent opportunity.
The book goes into more detail, but here’s the summary:
Zora loved reading and consumed many Greek mythology stories as a child from her mother. When her mom died, she couldn’t finish school because his father didn’t care about her or want to pay for tuition. She spent over 5 years working as a maid to get by. During that time, she tried her best to work for higher-income families so that she could read the books in their libraries in her free time. In her late 20’s, she went to high school and pretended to be the same age as everyone. She was able to get away with it because she looked young.
In her late 20’s, she wanted to get an education so she went to a public high school and pretended to be the same age as everyone. She was able to get away with it because she looked young. She read many more books than what was assigned of her in order to get ahead.
She leveraged everything she had to get to college. She was the only black woman in her school. She leveraged the extra time she spent studying to learn more. She constantly kept leveraging what she had to open up more opportunities for her to learn more and build her craft by traveling to cities that allowed her to grow.
Over decades, she finally got the chance to write her first book. She poured her decades of built-up skill and experiences into the book and it became a best-seller. She wrote many more books and became wildly successful.
Her story is very admirable and it reminds me of quite a few successful people I have met who have hustled in a similar fashion. They self-taught when they couldn’t get the internship experience. They packaged and presented what experience and results they did have for every new job opportunity that they aimed for. That’s how they moved up the chain.
I met one lady who borrowed the books of her classmates to study since she couldn’t afford her own. She would immediately dive into her studies while her classmates wasted time. She did a massive amount to get ahead and was incredibly smart. However, her dream of becoming a doctor didn’t work out because her province didn’t have medical schools. It’s just a reminder to be thankful for the opportunities these days. At least we have the chance to pursue what we want.
However, her dream of becoming a doctor didn’t work out because her province didn’t have medical schools. It’s just a reminder to be thankful for the opportunities these days. At least we have the chance to pursue what we want.
How Michael Faraday Became A World-Renowned Scientist with No Connections
Faraday is considered one of the greatest scientists to ever exist. His contributions to advances in electromagnetism and other related fields are legendary.
However, he didn’t have easy access to resources or education either. In fact, he had trouble finding work. After a lot of hustling, he was able to work as a temporary assistant for a few days for a scientist because he had sustained an injury.
After the time was up, he begged to be a lab assistant but was turned down because they already had enough. He kept pushing and eventually got his foot in the door. Eventually, he proved his work and slowly became the favored assistant at the lab. He studied for 8 years and developed incredible scientific skills because of what he learned here.
Develop Your Creativity
Greene says that you should use breaks and related areas of study to spark your creativity.
He references numerous successful people who came up with their great idea when they weren’t on the job. They were doing something else.
These include the discoverers and inventors of the printing press, phonograph, and penicillin.
- Write down your ideas whenever you have them.
- Embrace breaks and study non-related or somewhat related fields of study to spark your creativity.
- To create great things, you need to embrace your creativity at some point. Mozart spent 8 years stifling his creativity to support his family with a job. He gave up his relationship with his father to pursue unconventional, creative songwriting.
Take A Break. Use Other Senses
Countless masters were referenced in the book who found their greatest ideas when they took a break.
Einstein decided to go to sleep early and that’s when he came up with his best ideas.
A great composer dreamed of himself drowning in weird waters, which inspired him to write the Prelude he was most known for.
Other senses will often stimulate your creative juices. It’s usually not the sense that you usually use for your craft. Sometimes, it’s those who know you best, like your spouse, who can identify these creative stimulants.
One story was told in the book about a man whose wife discovered that he was most creative when he smelled apples. So she put a bunch of apples under his desk at all times.
Use Deadlines To Get Things Done
Set rigid and tough deadlines.
A great mathematician was challenged to a duel. The night before, he knew he was going to die so he wrote down all the math problems he could never figure out. That night, he solved many of them.
Sure enough, he died the next day. But for decades afterwards, people marveled at how ahead of his time those notes were.
Ben Franklin often announced his lofty goals to the public before he got started. It pushed him to get going.
Attention To Detail Matters
Leonardo Da Vinci paid excruciating attention to detail.
When he painted the Last Supper, he took the longest time filling out the final face in the painting. This was because it was Judas’s face and he couldn’t find the right model of a villainous face to use.
He spent long days walking the streets of the most dangerous, criminal-infested town in the area to find the right face.
Leonardo enthusiastically dissected corpses with saws and surgical equipment. He attended every autopsy he could. By doing this, he was able to understand the musculature and physiology of a human being beyond anyone else.
His drawings of human bodies were way ahead of his time and more accurate than anything else.
His paintings of women were so realistic that men fell in love with the paintings. You literally thought the lips were real and the veins were beating.
Even today, many security guards have been fired for their weird love for his paintings. Leonardo’s paintings are some of the most vandalized in history because of all the people who can’t help but touch, or even kiss, his works.
It reminds me of a story I heard from a man who recently visited the Sistine Chapel. This man was an artist.
He saw the paintings of the other rooms there and admired them, but wasn’t floored. When he saw what Michelangelo painted, he was blown away.
He told me that the curtains that were painted on the walls were so life-like that he had to reach out and touch them to prove that they were fake.
And that’s after tens of thousands of people before him had probably also touched the painting, slightly smudged it over the years, and made it less realistic.
Masters pay attention to the smallest of details because at this stage, everything else is perfected and the smallest things are the hardest to master.
Be Honest With Yourself
Most people have an ego. They can’t see themselves clearly because they think too highly of themselves. They can never correct themselves because they fail to see their own flaws.
Science has proven that most humans can easily identify flaws in others but find it very difficult to identify the flaws in ourselves. We are also very selfish creatures.
Greene says you need to be humble and honest with yourself to improve. He says the best way is to ask for the truth from friends you trust. Explain to them why so that they will tell you honestly.
Greene goes on to say that most of us make fun of people from hundreds of years ago who believed in things that are common sense to us today, like transferring disease through bacteria or natural selection. He says that in a couple hundred years, people will do the same with us.
His point is to not accept too firmly any of our beliefs. What we hold so dearly may be false.
“Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” -Ben Franklin
I would argue those aren’t even certain. Some countries don’t pay taxes. And is death really certain? Apparently, there’s a jellyfish out there that doesn’t die.
Maybe Oprah Winfrey knows. She’s a billionaire and she wrote a book on what she knows for sure called What I Know For Sure.
Conclusion and Book Review
This book really opened my eyes and really showed me some incredible stories that changed how I thought about things. It really opened my eyes to how successful people didn’t get a silver spoon and how they often had a lot of similar struggles that I thought only I faced.
Having said that, I am also a tiny bit skeptical on how much I can trust some of the bigger inferences made by the author Robert Greene in the book.
I’m not sure yet if I can fully believe that Mozart’s father was jealous of his son’s talents so he sought to stifle him or that Darwin was considered a celebrated success during the time he was alive. I would have to consult with a historian to verify these and until then, I, unfortunately, am forced to just trust the author of this book.
Throughout this article, I would state sentences starting with “Greene states…” This was because I wanted to make sure that you knew that this was Greene’s interpretation of history. I don’t know how accurate it was or how much it could be trusted.
The author has quite a few long passages in the books where he is simply giving directions on how to do things. There really isn’t much evidence or proof during these sessions. I would take those passages with a grain of salt. I definitely think he does go a little too far in voicing his own opinions through his directions.
Nonetheless, it’s a great book that I recommend reading for anyone who is starting out or in the middle of the journey through apprenticeship, finding your passion, finding your dream job, or moving towards mastery of a craft.
Although I feel like he may be drawing too many conclusions from about 50 case studies of successful people, there’s plenty of stuff in this book but that I think is most likely true. There are definite grains of truth to the fact that people do crazy things out of selfishness, greed, envy, lust, and ego.
Take Robert Greene’s Advice With A Grain of Salt
Robert Greene made almost all of his money from his books. Before that he went from odd job to odd job. In terms of personal credibility and achievement, he doesn’t have it outside of his work.
Take what he says with a grain of salt. He does a great job using successful case studies to prove his point, but single data points are not enough scientifically. You need a large sample size.
Also, there are long passages where he is voicing directions with no evidence or reasoning. I think he goes way too far in injecting his own opinions into the book.
The overall tone and message of the book on how to act give off a really dark, skeptical, cautious, calculating, over-thinking view on how to approach life.
The overall tone and message of the book seemed to be “act chameleon-like to avoid envy, bitterness, greed, betrayal, and other nasty human tendencies.
It can cause you to overthink and be overly skeptical of people. You could see negative traits in people that aren’t actually there, which causes a feedback loop to think you don’t like them, which makes them not like you.
I would like to suggest Brian Tracy’s contrasting advice. I learned about this in his Goal-setting book. He said that you should try assuming your enemy is actually trying to do you good. Overtime, you might see them in new light.
Arguably, Robert Greene agrees with this. He mentioned how Ben Franklin was a very socially savvy man who turned his enemies into friends.
It’s basically saying that you want to not reveal most of your cards, stay behind the scenes, blend in, and be like everyone else. He suggests feeding on resentment and anger if your mentor won’t let you go.
There are grains of truth to this. Not everyone is good. People can be sinister, unethical, and dangerous.
But as a whole, I think advice goes too far. Not everyone has to play this “game of thrones” to get by well in life.
Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen Degeneres, and Oprah are all examples of positive, loving, giving people who are friendly to everyone. I don’t think they ever did any of these weird, complex stuff Greene recommends like staying under the shadows, avoiding envy, or being skeptical if someone’s too friendly.
I would take his other books like 48 Laws of Power with a grain of salt too for these reasons.
One of the big things I did like about the book were the points made on the importance of social intelligence. The stories clearly showed how important it was in the real world. You could have all the facts and data, but if you’re not socially intelligent in the real world, you can still lose your job or life.
You could have all the facts and data, but if you’re not socially intelligent in the real world, you can still lose your job or life.
Many of his points have grains of truth to them. The world isn’t a kind, simple place. There are bad people in it. It can be a competitive or cut-throat place. I have discovered businessman who had to battle it out. People will do bad, unethical things.
You don’t have to stoop to their level. But you do have to acknowledge others as they are and navigate your way to success.
What’s the #1 thing you found valuable? Let me know in the comments.
Also, for further study, I suggest my playlist I made of videos on Following Your Passion.