Robert Greene’s “Mastery” Quotes

I read “Mastery” by Robert Greene and here are the quotes I found most interesting. As always, if you like the quotes please buy the full book here.

“To the extent that we believe we can skip steps, avoid the process, magically gain power through political connections or easy formulas, or depend on our natural talents, we move against this grain and reverse our natural powers. We become slaves to time – as it passes, we grow weaker, less capable, trapped in some dead end career. We become captive to the opinions and fears of others.” (9)

“This intense connection and desires allows them to withstand the pain of the process – the self-doubts, the tedious hours of practice and study, the inevitable setbacks, the endless barbs from the envious. They develop a resiliency and confidence that others lack.” (12)

“Our levels of desire, patience, persistence, and confidence end up playing a much larger role in success than sheer reasoning powers. Feel motivated and energized, we can overcome almost anything. Feeling bored and restless, our minds shut off and we become increasingly passive.” (12)

“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 ourselves 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 us in life, then our apparent powerlessness is more palatable.” (13)

“First, you must see your attempt at attaining mastery as something extremely necessary and positive.” (14)

“Second, you must convince yourself of the following: people get the mind and qualify of brain that they deserve through their actions in life.” (14)

“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.” (31)

“The more people there are crowded into a space, the harder it becomes to thrive there. Working in such a field will tend to wear you out as you struggle to get attention, to play the political games, to win scarce resources for yourself. You spend so much time at these games that you have little time left over for true mastery. You are seduced into such fields because you see others there making a living, treading the familiar path. You are not aware of how difficult such a life can be.” (35)

“The game you want to play is different: to instead find a niche in the ecology that you can dominate.” (35)

“The moment you rigidly follow a plan set in your youth, you lock yourself into a position, and the times will ruthlessly pass you by.” (40)

“Do not envy those who seem to be naturally gifted; it is often a curse, as such types rarely learn the value of diligence and focus, and they pay for this later in life.” (45)

“In the stories of the greatest Masters, we can inevitably detect a phase in their lives in which all of their future powers were in development, like the chrysalis of a butterfly. This part of their lives – a largely self-directed apprenticeship that last some five to ten years – receives little attention because it does not contain stories of great achievement or discovery.” (54)

“The goal of apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind and character.” (55)

“If you impress people in these first months, it should be because of the seriousness of your desire to learn, not because you are trying to rise to the top before you are ready.” (57)

“It is essential that you being 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. You need to develop your powers of concentration, and understand that trying to multitask will be the death of the process.” (60)

“You will know when your apprenticeship is over by the feeling that you have nothing left to learn in this environment.” (63)

“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.” (64)

“What is important when you are young is to train yourself to get by with little money and make the most of your youthful energy.” (66)

“It is often the height of wisdom to find the perfect mentor and offer your services as an assistant for free. Happy to exploit your cheap and eager spirit, such mentors will often divulge more than the usual trade secrets. In the end, by valuing learning above all else, you will set the stage for your creative expansion, and the money will soon come to you.” (68)

“Whenever you feel like you are settling into some circle, force yourself to shake things up and look for new challenges.” (71)

“What separates Masters from others is often something surprisingly simple. Whenever we learn a skill, we frequently reach a point of frustration – what we are learning seems beyond our capabilities. Giving in to these feelings, we unconsciously quit on ourselves before we actually give up.” (77)

“The difference is not simply a matter of determination, but more of trust and faith.” (77)

“Buried in their minds is the sensation of overcoming their frustrations and entering the cycle of accelerated returns. In moment of doubt in the present, the memory of the past experience rises to the surface. Filled with trust in the process, they trudge on well past the point at which others slow down or mentally quit.” (77)

“When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient.” (77)

“We generally follow what others have done, performing the accepted exercises for these skills. This is the path of amateurs. To attain mastery, you must adopt what we shall call Resistance Practice. The principle is simple – you go in the opposite direction of all of your natural tendencies when it comes to practice.” (80)

“Resist the temptation to be nice to yourself. You become your own worst critic; you see your work as if through the eyes of others. You recognize your weaknesses, precisely the elements you are not good at. Those are the aspects you give precedence to in your practice. You find a kind of perverse pleasure in moving past the pain this might bring. Second, you resist the lure of easing up on your focus. You train yourself to concentrate in practice with double the intensity, as if it were the real thing times two. In devising your own routines, you become as creative as possible. You invent exercises that work upon your weaknesses. You give yourself arbitrary deadlines to meet certain standards, constantly pushing yourself past perceived limits. In this way you develop your own standards for excellence, generally higher than those of others.” (81)

“There are two kinds of failure. The first come form never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done. In fact, it is a curse to have everything go right on your first attempt. You will fail to question the element of luck, making you think that you have the golden touch. When you do inevitably fail, it will confuse and demoralize you past the point of learning.” (84)

“In this new age, those who follow a rigid, singular path in their youth often find themselves in a career dead end in their forties, or overwhelmed with boredom. The wide ranging apprenticeship of your twenties will yield the opposite – expanding possibilities as you get older. “(90)

“Your goal is always to surpass your mentors in mastery and brilliance.” (93)

“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. Their authority in the field is not based on politics or trickery. It is very real.” (102)

“You may not want to go in search of mentors until you have acquired some elementary skills and discipline that you can rely upon to interest them.” (105)

“If you work on yourself first, developing a solid work ethic and organizational skills, eventually the right teacher will appear in your life. Word will spread through the proper channels of your efficiency and your hunger to learn, and opportunities will come your way.” (106)

“The problem with all students is that they inevitably stop somewhere. They hear an idea and they hold on to it until it becomes dead; they want to flatter themselves that they know the truth. But rue Zen never stops, never congeals into such truths. That is why everyone must constantly be pushed to the abyss, starting over and feeling their utter worthlessness as a student. Without suffering and doubts, the mind will come to rest on clichés and stay there, until the spirit dies as well.” (115)

“Masters are those who by nature have suffered to get to where they are. They have experienced endless criticisms of their work, doubts about their progress, setbacks along the way. They know deep in their bones what is required to get to the creative phase and beyond.” (116)

“It is often a curse to learn under someone so brilliant and accomplished – your own confidence becomes crushed as you struggle to follow all their great ideas.” (118)

“Even as we listen and incorporate the ideas of our mentors, we must slowly cultivate some distance from them.” (119)

“Gaining their respect for how teachable you are, they will fall a bit under your spell.” (122)

“You must allow everyone the right to exist in accordance with the character he has, whatever it turns out to be: and all you should strive to do is to make use of this character in such a way as its kind of nature permits, rather than to hope for any alteration in it, or to condemn it offhand for what it is.” (134)

“You must turn this around and being with yourself – how you saw in others qualities they did not possess, or how you ignored signs of a dark side to their nature.” (137)

“The most effective attitude to adopt is one of supreme acceptance. The world is full of people with different characters and temperaments. We all have a dark side, a tendency to manipulate, and aggressive desires. The most dangerous types are those who repress their desires or deny the existence of them, often acting them out in the most underhanded ways. Some people have dark qualities that are especially pronounced. You cannot change such people at their core, but must merely avoid becoming their victim. You are an observer of the human comedy, and by being as tolerant as possible, you gain a much greater ability to understand people and to influence their behavior when necessary.” (137)

“The choice of mate or partner can be quite eloquent too, particularly if it seems slightly inconsistent with the character they try to project. In this choice they can reveal unmet needs from childhood, a desire for power and control, a low self-image, and other qualities they normally seek to disguise.” (140)

“Often it is the quiet ones, those who give out less at first glance, who hide greater depths, and who secretly wield greater power.” (140)

“People are in a state of continual flux. You must not let your ideas about them harden into a set impression. You are continually observing them and bringing your readings of them up to date.” (140)

“Most of us have these negative qualities – Envy, Conformism, Rigidity, Self-obsessiveness, Laziness, Flightiness, and Passive Aggression – in relatively mild doses. But in a group setting, there will inevitably be people who have one or more of these qualities to a high enough degree that they can become very destructive.” (141)

“People who praise you too much or who become overly friendly in the first stages of knowing you are often envious and are getting closer in order to hurt you. You should be wary of such behavior. Also, if you detect unusual levels of insecurity in a person, he or she will certainly be more prone to envy.” (141)

“If you have a gift for a certain skill, you should make a point of occasionally displaying some weakness in another area, avoiding the great danger of appearing too perfect, too talented.” (142)

“You must be careful not to boast of any success, and if necessary, to ascribe it to just good luck on your part. It is always wise to occasionally reveal your own insecurities, which will humanize you in other people’s eyes. Self-deprecating humor will work wonders as well. You must be particularly careful to never make people feel stupid in your presence. Intelligence is the most sensitive trigger point for envy. In general, it is by standing out too much that you will spark this ugly emotion, and so it is best to maintain a nonthreatening exterior and to blend in well with the group, at least until you are so successful it no longer matters.” (142)

“In your interactions with people, find a way to make the conversations revolve around them and their interests, all of which will go far to winning them to your side.” (144)

“You must never assume that what people say or do in a particular moment is a statement of their permanent desires.” (145)

“To develop your intellectual powers at the expense of the social is to retard your own progress to mastery, and limit the full range of your creative powers.” (146)

“In the course of your life you will be continually encountering fools. There are simply too many to avoid. We can classify people as fools by the following rubric: when it comes to practical life, what should matter is getting long term results, and getting the work done in as efficient and creative a manner as possible. That should be the supreme value that guides people’s action. But fools carry with them a different scale of values. They place more importance on short-term matters – grabbing immediate money, getting attention from the public or media, and looking good. They are ruled by their ego and insecurities. They tend to enjoy drama and political intrigue for their own sake. When they criticize, they always emphasize matters that are irrelevant to the overall picture or argument. They are more interested in their career and position than in the truth. You can distinguish them by how little they get done, or by how hard they make it for others to get results. They lack a certain common sense, getting worked up about things that are not really important while ignoring problems that will spell doom in the long term.” (163)

“All of us have foolish sides, moments in which we lose our heads and think more of our ego or short-term goals. It is human nature. Seeing this foolishness within you, you can then accept it in others.” (163)

“Masters and those who display a high level of creative energy are simply people who manage to retain a sizable portion of their childhood spirit despite the pressures and demands of adulthood.” (176)

“Your emotional commitment to what you are doing will be translated directly into your work. If you go at your work with half a heart, it will show in the lackluster results and in the laggard way in which you reach the end. If you are doing something primarily for money and without a real emotional commitment, it will translate into something that lacks a soul and that has no connection to you. You may not see this, but you can be sure that the public will feel it and that they will receive your work in the same lackluster spiriti it was created in. If you are excited and obsessive in the hunt, it will show in the details. If your work comes from a place deep within, its authenticity will be communicated.” (180)

“The ability to endure and even embrace mysteries and uncertainties is called negative capability. Cultivating Negative Capability will be the single most important factor in your success as a creative thinker… To put Negative capability into practice, you must develop the habit of suspending the need to judge everything that crosses your path. Your consider and even momentarily entertain viewpoints opposite to your own, seeing how they feel. You observe a person or event for a length of time, deliberately holding yourself back form forming an opinion… You do anything to break up your normal train of thinking and your sense that you already know the truth.” (182-183)

“To allow for serendipity 1) widen your search as far as possible 2) maintain an openness and looseness of spirit.” (184-185)

“In business, the natural tendency is to look at what is already out there in the marketplace and to think of how we can make it better or cheaper. The real trick – the equivalent of seeing the negative cue – is to focus our attention on some need that is not currently being met, on what is absent.” (194)

“The emotions we experience at any time have an inordinate influence on how we perceive the world. If we feel afraid, we tend to see more of the potential dangers in some action. If we feel particularly bold, we tend to ignore the potential risks.” (195)

“Masters inevitably possess another quality that complicates the work process: They are not easily satisfied by what they are doing. While able to feel excitement, they also feel doubt about the worthiness of their work. They have high internal standards. As they progress, they being to detect flaws and difficulties in their original idea that they had not foreseen.” (199)

“The feeling that we have endless time to complete our work has an insidious and debilitating effect on our minds.” (201)

“The best way to neutralize our natural impatience is to cultivate a kind of pleasure in pain – like an athlete, you come to enjoy rigorous practice, pushing past your limits, and resisting the easy way out.” (204)

“If we learn to handle criticism well, it can strengthen us and help us become aware of flaws in our work.” (204)

“You must have some perspective. There are always greater geniuses out there than yourself. Luck certainly played a role, as did the help of your mentor and all those in the past who paved the way. What must ultimately motivate you is the work itself and the process. Public attention is actually a nuisance and a distraction. Such an attitude is the only defense against falling into the trap set by our ego.” (204)

“The extreme paradox is that those who impress the most with their individuality – John Coltrane at the top – are the ones who first completely submerge their character in a long apprenticeship.” (209)

“Anyone who would spend ten years absorbing the techniques and conventions of their filed, trying them out, mastering them, exploring and personalizing them, would inevitably find their authentic voice and give birth to something unique and expressive.” (209)

“To combat this, Calatrava would maintain an attitude of constant dissatisfaction. The drawings were never quite right. They had to be continually improved and perfected. By pushing for perfection and holding on to this constant feeling of uncertainty, the project never froze into something rigid and lifeless. It had to feel alive in the moment, as his brush touched the paper. If what he was designing began to feel dead in any way, it was time to start over. This not only required tremendous patience on his part, but a good deal of courage, as he wiped out the work of several months.” (223)

“By creating something new you will create your own audience, and attain the ultimate position of power in culture.” (228)

“Your project or the problem you are solving should always be connected to something larger – a bigger question, an overarching idea, an inspiring goal. Whenever your work begins to feel stale, you must return to the larger purpose and goal that impelled you in the first place.” (231)

“By constantly reminding yourself of your purpose, you will prevent yourself from fetishizing certain techniques or from becoming overly obsessed with trivial details.” (231)

“To create a meaningful work of art or to make a discovery or invention requires great discipline, self-control, and emotional stability. It requires mastering the forms of your field. Drugs and madness only destroy such powers.” (246)

“You must see every setback, failure, or hardship as a trial along the way, as seeds that are being planted for further cultivation, if you know how to grow them. No moment is wasted if you pay attention and learn the lessons contained in every experience.” (261)

“In our journey from apprenticeship to mastery we must patiently learn the various parts and skills that are required, never looking too far ahead.” (265)

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.” -Albert Einstein (269)

“Mastery is not a function of genius or talent. It is a function of time and intense focus applied to a particular field of knowledge.” (269)

“Masters decide to forge their own route, one that others will see as unconventional, but that suits their own spirit and rhythms and leads them closer to discovering the hidden truths of their objects of study. This key choice takes self-confidence and self-awareness-the X factor that is necessary for attaining mastery.” (270)

“A key component in the process is determining your mental and psychological strengths and working with them. To rise to the level of mastery requires many hours of dedicated focus and practice. You cannot get there if your work brings you no joy and you are constantly struggling to overcome your own weaknesses. You must look deep within and come to an understanding of these particular strengths and weaknesses your possess, being as realistic as possible. Knowing your strengths, you can lean on them with utmost intensity. Once you start in this direction, you will gain momentum. You will not be burdened by conventions, and you will not be slowed down by having to deal with skills that go against your inclinations and strengths. N this way, your creative and intuitive powers will be naturally awakened.” (279)

“A character in a novel, for instance, will come to life for the reader if the writer has put great effort into imagining the details of that character. The writer does not need to literally lay out these details; readers will feel it in the work and will intuit the level of research that went into the creation of it.” (294)

“Mastery is not a question of genetics or luck, but of following your natural inclinations and the deep desire that stirs you from within.” (310)

If you liked the quotes, please buy the book here.

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