5 Steps to Become a Master of Your Craft: Wisdom from Robert Greene
“We imagine that creativity and brilliance just appear out of nowhere, the fruit of natural talent, or perhaps of a good mood, or an alignment of the stars. It would be an immense help to clear up the mystery — to name this feeling of power, to examine its roots, to define the kind of intelligence that leads to it, and to understand how it can be manufactured and maintained. Let us call this sensation mastery — the feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves.” ― Robert Greene, Mastery
We all have the capacity to master any skill. But many of us succumb to pitfalls such as boredom, impatience, uncertainty, and fear which cripple our learning and halt progress towards mastery. Worse, articles on the internet pervert the meaning of “expert” with seductive content on life hacks that make us believe we can become experts in a short amount of time by doing little. But we all know life hacks can only get you so far.
Thankfully, Robert Greene wrote an entire book called “Mastery”, which provides a framework for becoming the best at your craft; incorporating deep analysis and anecdotes from history’s best practitioners.
For the last six months, I’ve hosted a podcast called “Nat Chat,” focused on young adults who pursued non-traditional routes during and after college. Each guest had to develop a skillset in non-traditional ways, and having just re-read Mastery, it’s obvious how Greene’s ideas can be applied by any of us.
We all can use Greene’s roadmap to become masters. You don’t have to be intimidated by iconic figures like Darwin, Napoleon, or Faraday. Forget the Life Hacks and other shortcuts. Here’s the roadmap to mastering ANY skill by leveraging principles from Robert Greene and successful leaders.
Reconnect to Your Roots — Discover Your Calling
“The first move toward mastery is always inward — learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force. Knowing it with clarity, you will find your way to the proper career path and everything else will fall into place.” ― Robert Greene, Mastery
The first step to becoming a master is to rediscover the primal instinct that first sparked your curiosity. Most of us discovered this as children, but had it suppressed by parents, peers, and societal pressures. Allowing this suppression to influence us can only lead to unhappiness.
To reconnect to your roots, follow Greene’s strategies for finding your calling:
- Return to your origins: Many masters discovered their inclinations during childhood. What were you obsessed with when you were young?
- Occupy the perfect niche: Find a field where your skills can flourish.
- Avoid the false path: Do not be seduced to a field for wealth, popularity, or pressure from family and friends. Be honest about your interests, and have the courage to pursue them.
- Let go of the past: Your past decisions do not reflect who you are and should not weigh you down. If something feels wrong, quit.
- Find your way back: You’ll encounter many hardships throughout your journey. If you decide to quit, you can always return.
In my interview with Neil Soni, he shared how reconnecting his childhood curiosity of building fictional economies with Legos developed his early skills in implementing systems. He now applies his craft through consulting and his beer company: Unlimited Brewing, where he gets to combine his interest in designing effective systems with his passion for great beer.
Skill Acquisition — Practice/Experiment Mode
“First, it is essential that you begin with one skill that you can master, and that serves as a foundation for acquiring others. You must avoid at all cost the idea that you can manage learning several skills at a time.” — Robert Greene, Mastery
Once you have chosen a path, the next step should be to collect as many “recipes” as possible. This is the basis of the “Novice” and “Advanced Beginner” stages, according to the 5-step model for expertise developed by the Dreyfus brothers. Recipes can be instructions from classes, blogs, books, forums, or any guide that has you developing early skills. Keep in mind that these should apply to ONE skill, which will serve as your foundation for others.
But to really advance, you must experiment with these recipes. Get creative. Test different recipe combinations, apply new constraints, do anything to add layers of complexity as a challenge. You will make a lot of mistakes, and the only way to advance will be to embrace failure and push through.
In my interview with Connor Grooms, he shared how his nomadic journey led him to become skillful at many things in a short period of time. His trick, he later emphasized, was to have complete focus at one thing at a time. This discipline helped him to learn Spanish in one month, film documentaries, become a web designer, and gain 24 lbs of muscle. Now he puts that focus into running his online Spanish tutoring company BaseLang.
Absorb the Master’s Power: The Mentor Dynamic
“To learn requires a sense of humility. We must admit that there are people out there who know our field much more deeply than we do. Their superiority is not a function of natural talent or privilege, but rather of time and experience.” ― Robert Greene, Mastery
At this stage, you should have a large collection of recipes that you can apply, but not a lot of clarity around deciding which to use. This is the best time to have a mentor. A mentor can focus full attention on helping you better assess your skills, deconstruct rules and guidelines, and accelerate your learning.
Greene’s Strategies for finding the perfect Mentor:
- Choose a mentor according to your needs and inclination: “In this case, the right choice can perhaps provide what your parents didn’t give you — support, confidence, direction, space to discover things on your own.” — Robert Greene, Mastery
- Gaze deep into the mentor’s mirror: Mentors will point out your weaknesses. Embrace it. You will only gain more confidence through objective feedback.
- Transfigure their ideas: As you continually learn concepts from your mentor, apply them with your own creative spin.
- Create a back and forth dynamic: This isn’t a one-sided relationship. Be very clear what you want to learn and adjust their instruction to fit your need.
Zak Slayback placed 50+ young recruits into roles at high growth startups through his former role at Praxis. In our interview, Zak stressed the importance of apprenticeships and understanding opportunity cost for busy people. His advice for finding a mentor: Create value by doing things busy people don’t have time for.
Awaken the Dimensional Mind
“As you accumulate more skills and internalize the rules that govern your field, your mind will want to become more active, seeking to use this knowledge in ways that are more suited to your inclinations.” — Robert Greene, Mastery
Your focus now is to think beyond conventional wisdom and awaken the “Dimensional Mind.” Conforming to recycled methods will now be a constraint towards your growth.
Greene’s Creative Strategies:
- Cultivate Negative Capability: Practice imagining that everything can go wrong, anytime.
- Allow for Serendipity: Break away from your normal realm of comfort and explore the unfamiliar. Let new discoveries come.
- Alternate the Mind Through “the Current”: The Current is our “dialogue between our thoughts and reality”. If practiced deeply enough, we can come into contact with an ideology that is something far above our limited senses.
- Alter Your Perspective: Approach your subject or problem from a different angle. Locate its ambiguity and take notice of its relation and differences.
- Revert to Primal Intelligence: Spoken language can be limiting. Get visual with diagrams, pictures, and colors.
Max Friedman knew early in college that he wanted to be an entrepreneur. He wasn’t interested in the corporate life; rather, he was captivated with solving today’s problems through technology. In my interview with Max, he shared his story of how he learned how to code by following a textbook, his learning experiences from his first app, how he handled self doubt in entrepreneurship, his favorite failure, and how it all lead to his accidental breakthrough which he now works on full time.
“All of us have access to a higher form of intelligence, one that can allow us to see more of the world, to anticipate trends, to respond with speed and accuracy to any circumstance. This intelligence is cultivated by deeply immersing ourselves in a field of study and staying true to our inclinations, no matter how unconventional our approach might seem to others.” — Robert Greene, Mastery
Attaining mastery requires fusing the intuitive with reality, allowing our intuition to respond to any circumstance no matter how unorthodox it looks. Once this happens, your work has become alive, and new powers will allow you to forever expand your craft.
Greene’s Keys to Mastery:
- Internalize the Details — The Life Force: See your work as something alive. Study and absorb its details to the point where you can feel it expressed effortlessly.
- Submit to the Other — The Inside Out Perspective: Surrender your ego, and allow others to input their perspective. It’s valuable feedback.
- Synthesize all forms of knowledge — The Universal Man/Woman: Extend your knowledge to unknown territory. By breaking away from convention, you will be able to a test new creative ideas and inch closer to becoming a master of your craft.
As Greene emphasized, “Mastery is a form of intelligence that anyone can reach.” It is your life’s task to recognize and stay true to your inclination allowing you to see more of the world, disrupt conventional theories, and innovate new ideas. If you follow this mastery process long enough, you cannot fail to achieve something exceptional.
Best of luck, and if you want more on mastering your craft, be sure to pick up a copy of Mastery for yourself.