Mastery Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: Mastery debunks the myth of talent and shows you there are proven steps you can take to achieve mastery in a discipline of your own choosing, by analyzing the paths of some of history’s most famous masters, such as Einstein, Darwin and Da Vinci.

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Robert Greene ships bestsellers. One after another. Seriously, that’s what he does. Between 1998 and 2009 he published 4 NYT bestsellers: The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies of War and The 50th Law (with rapper 50 Cent).

To make it a full hand, he then published Mastery in 2012, which explains not only his own approach to master the craft of writing but also the path all masters seem to take. To do so, he uses historical and contemporary figures as examples, as he often does in his books.

Of course, the book became yet another NYT bestseller. Don’t think he got there easily though. Between finishing his undergraduate degree in classical studies and publishing his first book, 20 years passed – Greene was 39 years old when The 48 Laws of Power came out.

Nobody said the path to mastery would be easy. Here are the 3 first steps you can take:

  1. Trust your gut to find your discipline to master.
  2. Take an apprenticeship and get paid to learn.
  3. Once you complete your apprenticeship, challenge everything you learned.

Let’s learn how to walk the path of mastery!

Mastery Summary

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Lesson 1: Trust your gut feeling to pick a skill to master.

Every one of us has probably had a few rare moments in their lives where the felt an inner voice calling out to them.

“You should be a painter!”

“I think I could write a novel.”

It’s this feeling that something is just made for you. That you’d thrive in it. That you could be great. Greene says you finally have to start trusting that feeling.

We’re all the creations of our very own, unique double helix, but we spend so much time blending in and hiding behind the crowd that we’ve become scared to listen to our inner voice. Yes, finding your true calling isn’t easy. It might take a while. Some deep digging and a whole lot of testing.

But when you go back to your teenage years, when you were 12, 13, 14 years old – what did you want to do? Maybe you’ve already had it. Your lightbulb moment.

Da Vinci had his when he found himself stealing expensive paper from his father’s office to draw animals out in the woods. Tim Ferriss had his when learning about the death of a friend and terminal illness of a child on the same day. Chad Fowler called it his Harajuku moment because it happened in a district of the same name in Tokyo.

It might sound foreign to you, but once you start trusting your gut, you’ll notice these hints your inner voice gives you and you can finally start to listen.

Lesson 2: Learning comes before earning, so take an apprenticeship.

The more you learn, the more you earn. – Frank Clark

Once you decide on a field, discipline, or skill to master, the best way to make progress fast is to take an internship.

Don’t focus on the money, focus on how much you can learn.

A job that pays more now will probably offer you less support and education, which will pay for itself 10 times over down the road.

You’d be better off taking a low-paying job now that maybe comes with a great mentorship, which will lead you to excel in your field much faster than making all the dumb rookie mistakes and learning the hard way.

Yes, you should get paid to learn and create a win-win situation, but always know that learning has a much bigger ROI than being paid a bit more.

Benjamin Franklin could’ve swooped in on his father’s successful candle-making business. Instead, he took a printing job, which he knew would help him master the art of words much faster.

Lesson 3: Once you complete your apprenticeship, challenge everything you learned.

Not that an apprenticeship isn’t hard enough to find, let alone complete, but no, the path to mastery becomes even harder. Once you leave your apprenticeship to venture out on your own, you have to immediately throw everything you learned out of the window.

Well, not quite. But Greene says you must keep an open mind – like a child. Challenge everything you know. The rules your mentor taught you. The common ways of doing things you learned.

Which of them are universal? Which can be broken, bent, or banished?

By the time you end your apprenticeship, you’ll have developed your own unique style of your craft, and only when you allow yourself to let it flourish can you truly innovate and build something that is worthy of a true master. So no, you’re never done learning.

But is it worth it? You decide. You can keep making excuses. Or you can start today.

Mastery Review

I feel like many of the stories and examples that make the book come to life have been left by the wayside in this summary. The general ideas are solid and hold up, and it’s an inspiring read (especially the part about listening to your inner voice), but I can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to Mastery than that.

Contrary to what we learned a little earlier from Cal Newport, this book is more along the lines of the adage to follow your passion – but it doesn’t water down the effort, dedication and deliberate practice it takes to become successful.

I love the message but want more of the stories that powerfully carry it, so I’m going for the book. I recommend you do the same. His latest work, The Laws of Human Nature, is also worth a look!

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Who would I recommend the Mastery summary to?

The 18 year old, who’s about to pick a career path and is debating between interest and money, the 23 year old apprentice, who is about to complete her training, and anyone who keeps second-guessing their gut feelings.

Last Updated on November 28, 2022

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Niklas Göke

Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!