Welcome back to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast!
In today’s podcast we talk to New York Times bestselling author Robert Greene about his new book Mastery. We discuss what it takes to become a master in any domain or field in life and the common path that great men like da Vinci, Darwin, and Mozart tread to achieve greatness.
Highlights from the show:
- How mastery is accessible to everyone
- The six steps to mastery
- Why drudgery is a vital step in the path towards mastery
- How to find a mentor that will guide you along your path to mastery
- How mastery is related to manliness
- And much more!
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Mastery. It’s especially pertinent for young men in their 20s. It’s one of the best books I read in 2012.
Listen to the podcast!
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast, well I am really excited about today’s podcast. On the show today we’ve Robert Greene, The New York Times bestselling author of several books, you have probably heard of some of them, The 48 Laws Of Power, The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies Of War and The 50th Law and his most recent book is called Mastery and in this book Robert Greene explores what it takes to become a master in any domain or field in life and he does this by exploring the lives of great men from history. Men, who achieve Mastery in their lifetime, men like Da Vinci and Darwin and Henry Ford, and more recent one Paul Graham and he talks about what the path of these men followed to become masters in their domain and so listen in, it’s an interesting conversation as Robert Greene and I discuss Mastery. Well, Robert welcome to the show.
Robert Greene: Thank you for having me Brett, my pleasure.
Brett McKay: So let’s talk about Mastery, this book of yours. How did you come about was it the idea for serving AHA inspiration thing or was it more of a slow burn?
Robert Greene: It was both, I have been started in 1996, when I began work on “The 48 Laws of Power” I have been sort of immersed in the world of power researching, you know, the most masterful colorful people in history and then it is my books kind of gain momentum, I started working as a consultant, interacting with very powerful people and somewhere along the line, maybe around 2005, 2006, this idea started brewing in my head, that with these people shared was a quality after so many years of working in a field where there could be work fare strategy or have been the arts of politics that their minds had elevated to this other level, where they had this kind of fingertip feel for what they were doing a sort of what I ended up calling high level intuition and in treat me. Nobody really writes a book about this. It’s almost as if it doesn’t exist, or it’s impossible to sort of explain or describe and I want it to really explain and describe it. The book that comes closet perhaps there is some people point out as the out liars, but it didn’t really, I didn’t find that book satisfying to me as far as rational explanation of why people have this high level creativity and intuition like a Mozart or a Darwin or even today a Steve Jobs and sort of that’s the book was brewing in my head that out way, but the AHA moment occurred as I began research on it and I was delving deeply into the biographies of all of these powerful people and it became clear to me that what they all shared, what was sort of the seed from which all of this grew was the fact they pursued what I had calling the lives tasks, that you can take every single one of these masters, past or contemporary and you could find almost the same narrative that they were deeply in touch with something about themselves, something that makes them unique, some idea or activity or problem they wanted to solve that could be traced back to their earliest years and because there were so clearly about what they wanted to accomplish they were able to go through a process, they were able to be patient to have so much energy and passion for what they were doing that they would spend 10 to 20 years necessary to reach Mastery, discovering that was sort of my AHA.
Brett McKay: We’re talking more about that process in a bit, the thing that struck me about your books, you highlight do you go in biographical sketches of some great individuals from history, you mean Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and I think most people when they look at those types of individuals, I think they were just born or destined for that. They are naturally inclined to gain Mastery, I mean is that something to that is Mastery something genetic or is it accessible to anybody who must take on the task.
Robert Greene: Well, it’s such an irritating concept to me this idea that people are born that way. We’re living in a very scientific world, a very rational world in which we try to explain things, we try to quantify them and when you reduce it to an argument like people are born that way, it just becomes something purely mystical. How can I, how can anybody argue that way. There is something you can verify, but in fact when you look at the stories of these people, as I did deeply and other people have, its not just my research alone you can trace a very, very definite process that leads to the ten thousand hours, twenty thousand hours and a genuine change in the level of thinking and consciousness, which we would, I would call Mastery, so there is nothing it’s not a fact that a Mozart is born that way. I worked very hard in the book to completely debunk that. If you come away from my book still believing in that then you haven’t read it, I should know you very clearly. Our genius like Mozart went through a process and how intensely he studied and how his incredible work at an early age came through years of practice. The genetic component, and there is a genetic component and some extremely important genetic component, is that every one of us is physiologically, biologically, neurologically born unique. Our DNA is unique, the way our brains are configured is completely unique and this shows itself in a very early age and I believed in everyone by the fact that were drawn to particular activities in a way that is completely ourselves, completely individual and that could be sports, math, science, whatever it is. It’s not something obvious when you are four or five years old and I make it very clear in the book that it’s not like you have a piffany and when you are five that you are going to be a fireman or a writer whatever. Its lot wager than, it is preverbal, but these when I call primal inclinations exists in every single individual. They are like a genetic marker that this is what makes you unique, our culture thrives on people who sort of mind this uniqueness and become highly creative, I believe there is actually a purpose for this uniqueness and so that’s the genetic component and masters, geniuses, highly created people are just simply more in touch with that genetic component, with that uniqueness. They are aware early on that they have this incredible love for music or I like recently the example of Tiger Woods. He is eleven months or fourteen months old and he is in the garage of his father who is hitting golf balls, plastic golf balls in garage and the babies eyes are lighting up like I have got to do this, this is so exciting to me. I believe everybody has those moments, but separate a genius and a master from others, is we lose touch with it, we start hearing what our parents say, what other people say, we lose touch with what makes us different or an individual and that’s the dividing line between genius and not genius.
Brett McKay: So, Mastery is accessible to everybody. It’s democratic, it’s accessible to all. Not everyone is going to reach it, because not everyone is going to the steps, but let’s talk about kind of overarching steps, what’s the big picture of gaining Mastery, what’s this process that you discover with all these individuals?
Robert Greene: Well, the process is actually relatively simple, but it’s going to take years to get there and it starts with what I already laid out and it’s the most important step, if you don’t take this first step there is no Mastery that will come and it has been very clear about what makes you different, what excites you in the world and creating a career path at an early age or even later it happens people later in life, that even happened to me later in life. Carving a career path that meshes with something deeply personal, something you want to do, something you want to accomplish, from there you enter an apprenticeship phase, generally its equivalent to your twenties, but it can, you know, blend into later ages depends or can start earlier and it’s a five to ten year process, it’s been demonstrated in all kinds of interesting studies, it was sort of encapsulated in the middle ages in an actual apprenticeship phase that young men usually would go through generally around seven years and it basically means the period in which you learned the skills, the rules of the game and everything else that is involved in selling in a particular craft or profession and I explain a great depth, the kind of attitude and mindset that a real master has in this apprenticeship phase. We all go through apprenticeship phase, but some people maximize if they really exploit it. They learn more deeply, they cumulate a high number of skills. They learn how to fit in and work in a group environment, etcetera, etcetera so, there is good apprenticeship and there is a bad apprenticeship and I want to show you how to go through the right one. As part of that apprenticeship you want to attach yourself to a mentor if possible, and I mean have a chapter on that subject the reason I go into that is, it’s the one thing that will help you shorten the process if we are talking about ten to twenty thousand hours, ten to twenty years of working at something, having a person there who can watch you in real-time and say this is what you are good at, this is what you are bad out, these are the mistakes I made so how to avoid them, it’s just absolutely invaluable and I demonstrate in the book how the human brain is designed from the learning in that kind of particular relationship. As part of the apprenticeship I also talk about social intelligence learning how to work with other people it’s not just being technically profession in your field and having a lot of knowledge. We are self-animals and you have how to learn, how to work with people. Those are the three components of that apprenticeship phase I go into very, very detail in that and at a certain point in phase you start moving towards the next phase. it’s kind of a transitional thing where you begin to experiment with your knowledge that you have gained and become a little more creative with it entering what I call the creative active phase, which could be anywhere from after ten years of this apprenticeship or little bit less and in that phase you start taking the knowledge you be cumulated and experimenting with the trying things out starting your own project and bringing that individual, that unique quality that you have in the play, which was sort of like dormant to a new apprenticeship phase and I give many examples and stories of how people have used, have maximized this phase because there is a lot of dangerous, a lot of people never become creative or experimental of what they have learned, they just become conservative with it so, I go into detail about what I call creative strategies and if you stick with this long enough if you retain that kind of youthful, playful attitude towards where you are studying, but you remained disciplined after enough time you enter the final phase of Mastery where you have this intuitive feel and I describe in detail where that comes from, why it happen and how it feels, so that’s pretty much the overview of the process that I describe.
Brett McKay: Very good. The part that really stuck out to me, resonate with me the most in the book was the apprenticeship phase because the process you layout in the apprenticeship phase you get great details, give great examples, its seems so contrary to what you see in popular success literature today, you know, today it’s all about, you know, how you can hack the system, and how you can get success as faster as you can, but the apprenticeship is a slow process where it’s filled with lots of observation, it’s sort of in a lot of ways sometimes passive, you know, you had to do the learning and reading, I mean why is it so important that you don’t take a short cut. Is it possible to get to the next step without going through to the apprenticeship phase?
Robert Greene: No. It’s absolutely 150% impossible and the idea that you think you can have a shortcut means you never going to reach the Mastery, you’ve got a problem, and there are the case that the human brain involved over, we can make it its arbitrary where we begin the process, but five million years ago our earliest ancestors and it involved in the particular way and it involved in the direction of the more you focus on something the longer you spend learning something, the higher level of skill that you have, the more you understand the reality of what you are studying and that brain evolved that way through also its of twists and turns, the invention of language, civilization, etcetera, and the idea that because of technology, because of the internet in the last 10, 20 years you could somehow bypass five million years of evolution is just laughable and anybody who believes that I am sorry to say, but they are losers and you are moving against what the science, the evolution, the biology everything else you are not in touch with reality and there are lot of people who are not simply in touch with reality and the point that it is that the apprenticeship phase, okay it’s going to take time, okay its slow, but it’s also deeply pleasurable, the sense that you are slowly conquering or moving faster on limitations is deeply empowering so, just take a simple example, let just say you are learning to play the piano and obviously in our world today what we are learning is going to be little bit more complex or different, but you are learning the piano and the beginning its kind of boring your kind of having to repeat the same exercises over and over again and what you are playing is not that interesting and if you stick with it after six months you start to play things that are more interesting and because they are more interesting you practice a little bit harder because you practice a little bit harder, you learn faster and you start entering what I call a cycle of accelerated returns where you are starting to see more and more quickly the rewards for your work and your discipline, so not only that only you are learning the piano, but you are mastering yourself, you are overcoming your impatience your own weaknesses, you are gaining discipline, patience, the ability to persists at something, you are learning the piano and you are mastering yourself and you feel that, you feel it inside, you feel like you are overcoming this limitation, one barrier after another barrier, after another barrier, so that five ten years of what some people might say oh my God how boring, I just want to, you know, learn how to do something in six months, its actually really pleasurable, and its actually deeply satisfying process and I want to get people because human beings don’t do things that are painful, we shy away from things that like just seem to involve too much pain and people are not going to go through the process unless they see a reward and there is a reward and it’s something that people have been experiencing for thousands of years, there are incredible rewards, but that is also a lot of drudgery involved as well, so I want to get people pass the idea that everything has to be immediately pleasurable. The fulfilment that you have takes time, but the rewards are much deeper than the reward that you would get from taking the drug or playing a video game.
Brett McKay: It seems like many of the people that you highlighted in the book, you mentioned few Mozart are Tiger Woods, they got their start on the path towards Mastery at a very young age, Tiger Woods as young as 14 months, Mozart was two or three years old when you would began composing music. What about people who don’t begin their path towards Mastery later in life because it is the long process, the apprenticeship phase last from five to ten years then you have that phase when you kind of becoming being creative of what you have learned. People who get started later in life you mentioned you got certain later in life, how does that process lay play out, you know life is fledgy how do you take advantage of this process you laid out when you get started later?
Robert Greene: Well, what happened with me a little bit, I knew early on in life that I wanted to be a writer, so it’s not quite that I was totally at loss and see here but I stood you know what I would like to write so I struggled and had a lot of ups and downs so, I began in journalism I didn’t like it, I went in other thing, I tried to write friction then I went into Hollywood and so it was until I was 35, 36 then I was given an opportunity and its suddenly became cleared to me that what I was meant to do was to write the kind of books that I ended up writing, so, you know, I didn’t finish “The 48 Laws Of Power”, my first book when I was about 38 so, that’s a pretty bit much of a later start. Everybody is different, everybody is unique and everybody has a different sort of path, so there is one extreme they are Mozarts of four years old in the Tiger Woods. There are other people who in their college years, it starts to become clear that this is what they love and they go into that profession. Other people that I highlighted in the book go through their twenties and they are really not very clear about it at all, and there is different type and there is different ways to approach that. I highlighted a man one of the masters, Paul Graham, who is the genius behind the company called “Y Combinator” which is an apprenticeship system for people who want to do a tech startup, massively successful and Paul Graham was a total hacker, heavily into computers and throughout his twenties, he didn’t really know what it is he wanted to do, he knew he had a love of computers, but what was he going to do with that, so he kept learning, he kept trying different things, he actually went into art, and then finally opportunity came for him to develop something for Netscape in the‘90s that turned into $50 million business, but the lesson from him and lesson for me is that in those early years in the twenties, your cumulating skills, you are not wasting your time, you are not playing games or trying all sorts of different things that have no connection to you, have to be aware to some extent of what it is that you love, but you are not exactly sure how to apply it and that’s what you wanted to be doing on your twenties, you don’t have to exactly decide on the nature of your career path, if you are in your 30s or 40s, and you still haven’t figure it out you are in different position it’s a little trickier and I talk about it in interviews and in the book about how to get back to what it was you are meant to do. You lost your way is basically what we have to say here, you ended up in law for instance because your parents said that because it is in lucrative, you are now 38 and your burned out, it doesn’t connect to you any personal way and you are struggling, you’ve got to find your way back to what it is that you are meant to do and I tell people if you are in your late 30s or early 40s you never won like a 180 degree change in your career, you don’t want to suddenly stop law and pick up the guitar and become the rock star because what is meant to do that’s ridiculous, it’s not the real world, you want to take the skills you’ve accumulated in law or whatever it is and now begin to apply them in a way that’s more suited towards your path, you want carve a very realistic path and it’s heading in other direction and I tell people story, told it several times already of a woman I met who had that scenario. She went into law, it wasn’t right for her. She knew she wanted to be a writer, she realize that in her 30s so, she got out of the legal practice that she was in and she started to become a legal journalist writing about legal affairs and from that point, she was now able to slowly move into the direction of becoming a writer writing about anything that she loves, that’s the kind of thing I am talking about slow, simple, realistic steps towards getting back to what you were meant to be do.
Brett McKay: Very good. So, you mentioned earlier that finding the mentors an important part of gaining Mastery and you get some great examples of individuals who basically had to work their tails off in order to get the attention and time of a mentor any advice to folks out there who are looking to find a mentor, what they can do to successfully get that attention in that time because, typically from my experience, people who you seek out to be your mentor, their time and resource knowledge is valuable, so how do you, I guess, convince them or persuade them to spend that time and share their knowledge with you?
Robert Greene: Well, there is a lot of things to go over there. I mean I tell people that you don’t want to look for a mentor until you are little bit ready, its kind be a situation where both sides have something to give obviously the mentor has a lot to give, but you have something to give. It can’t be completely one sided and in other words you can be someone fresh out of a college with no skills, no background no real discipline nothing but your charm and your smile that’s not enough, the mentor has his or her self-interest and they are not going to simply take the time to work in that relationship if you have nothing to offer and so you want at least if you are aiming at somebody that you would like to be your mentor, you have maybe at least have couples of some experience under your belt, you have to be able to come to them and show that you have the track record that you are discipline, that you have a good work ethic that you have references, that you have some skills to offer them that could save them time, everybody wants have time save for them that’s the number one thing in this world today, if someone like I had a mentor apprentice Ryan Holiday who is now, as you know, has known to become a very successful writer, etcetera. Ryan approached me, he was a fan of my books and it became very clear, very early on that he had real skills, he fixed my Wikipedia page, I could see that he loved books and he could read and research and stuff and so I said yes sure, you’re going to save me time, you’re going to look better and it turned into a great relationship. So, you want to be able to show someone before you even attempt it that you have some skills that mesh with them and that’s going to be mutually beneficial, so that’s number one right off the bag. Number two, don’t be afraid of contacting people that you think are powerful, I could never mark I could never be apprentice you will be surprised, that’s not necessarily good example, but you’ll be surprised that people who are in position of power are actually interested in having an apprentice or disciple or whatever you want to call it, it’s a very satisfying relationship if it works out well, so don’t be afraid of pursuing these people if you have something to offer, but the other thing I tell people is don’t look for the biggest name out there, let’s say, let’s take for an example you want to be writer and you are looking for someone to apprentice under don’t go for the biggest name or somebody that’s a celebrity, go for the person that meshes you say five or ten years down the road that’s who I want it be, I want be like that person. They are doing something that appeals to me as an individual, I show in the book a woman, Yoky Matsuoka who is a robotics engineer, who finds herself suddenly at MIT a very weird conservative environment and there is one professor there who is a rebel Rodney Brooks, he is like the bad boy in the department and she has always been the bad girl, she is always been a rebel in entire territory that’s who she said he going to be my mentor, because he fits my spirit and I want to be like Rodney Brooks and so it ended up being a great relationship. So those are few important tips wait until you have something to offer don’t be afraid of people that you think are too powerful, you will be surprised and find a good fit it’s almost like your second parent, so they have to fit you physiologically and emotionally and they have to be someone that you really true admire and want to be like in five or ten years.
Brett McKay: That’s great advice. Here is the question I just remembered I was going to ask, so you talk a lot how passion is sort of the fuel that drives this whole process, but I know you read the blogs and stuff on being successful and it’s all about finding your passion, finding your passion and doing what your passion about, but I know lots of people who are passionate about what they do, but they never seem to take the productive actually, they never seem to get anywhere with that passion and what are they doing wrong and how do you hornist that passion you have so its productive?
Robert Greene: Well, I have to hear what the basic scenario is, you know, some people will say to me, well, let’s say you love basketball, which you are born in 5 feet 6, what you are going to do you have a passion for basketball, but you don’t have the physical capability or you have a passion for music, but you’re not born a Mozart and maybe that’s the little bit of what you are talking about their, they are trying it, their passionate but they are spinning their wheels they are not getting anywhere and the thing is it’s not a direct one and one correlation like, I love basketball, I have got to be a basketball player. There are people like Jeff and Gundy who is very short and obviously not physically capable, he became a coach and that’s the area that he ended up channeling his great love of basketball, other people may not end up becoming a Mozart, but they could become a very good teacher, instructor or something there is some other way of applying it. So if you are spinning your wheels, you are passionate, but you are not getting anywhere there is probably a bad fit going on, you probably doing something that you love, but you don’t necessarily have the right material for doing it exactly the way that you want. I really do maintain that if you are deeply engaged in something and you are really committed to it and you are putting in the time and you are practicing with focus. This is almost nothing that’s going to stop you, there is almost nothing that is going to derail you, and what you find with a lot of people is that there daily times they get passionate about something for a year and they do it and then they had a wall and they don’t move passed up wall and so they try something else and they passionate and they head another wall and you look after ten years and you see the zigzagging path that they followed, but what makes somebody move pass the wall, is that they really, really love with their doing they have a good fit and they are able to move past the frustration and the bad moments and the criticism because they really are committed they have to get, they want to become professional at it, they want to discover something about the world and they’ll put in, they’ll move past and go to two, three, four, five years of working at it, so I really think that if we boiled it down, we could find that these people who aren’t getting anywhere they’re either avoiding the problem, they’re afraid of moving past the wall, they’re afraid of really being successful and they’re being dilettantes, they’re putting their feet in the water just a little bit here and over there and over there and then they can say well, I never really made it life, I didn’t, you know, this stopped me or that stopped me, no you weren’t serious enough you don’t know yourself well enough to figure out exactly what you need to be doing.
Brett McKay: Is there an individual, you highlight a whole bunch of individuals in your book, a lot of biographical sketches, is there one in particular that stuck out to you the most, as I don’t know best representing the path towards the Mastery of the journey towards Mastery?
Robert Greene: Well, they’re all greats for me, but let’s say to pick one out that I think is exemplary is Michael Faraday perhaps the greatest experimental scientists of the 19th century, but what is so interesting about him he was English, was that he was born in poverty, the son of a blacksmith in London that turned in 19th century somebody like that had literally zero percent chance of making it, well we can’t say zero, but we can 0.00001 percent chance of making in England at that time because you couldn’t become a scientist in England unless you had gone to a university, which wouldn’t then allow you to have access to laboratories and other scientist and libraries and somebody born as a son of a blacksmith can’t even go to, he never even had formal schooling at all, so there is no chance that he could become a scientist, but he felt like he was destined for something great in that field from very early on and he…. Well, so Michael Faraday got an apprenticeship at a bookbinding store that allowed him to have access to the kind of books that nobody else could have access to and that allowed him to read all about science and develop real discipline and skill completely on his own, which then lead to getting contactable, access to the lectures and scientist on and on I describe the chain of events that eventually lead him to become apprentice for one of the great scientists in England at that time, but the idea is that there is nothing genetic, he is the son of a very poor blacksmith in a family where nobody else excelled, you can’t possibly give me a genetic explanation for the genius of Michael Faraday. His inventions by the way were some of the most important in the 19th century that lead to play the foundation for Albert Einstein discoveries for the inventions for the first motor electric motor, etcetera. There is no way you can take Michael Faraday and say oh, its genetic, he was born with the larger brain, he was destine for this, etcetera, it’s an absolutely 100 percent impossible because the guy was born the son of a blacksmith, it was sheer persistent and clarity of what he wanted in clarity of how to get there and sheer drive and will power and so that’s what I love of that example and he has all of the steps incredible apprenticeship had the perfect mentor had very high social intelligence and then it became very creative and in true master.
Brett McKay: Very cool, so last question Robert before I let you go, besides buying your book what can a man do today to begin his path towards Mastery?
Robert Greene: Well, it all begins with that ultimate most important step of clarity about yourself, there is a couple of things I would say about that, generally I have been consulting for years and I work with people now also since the book came out and I will say that often times men have a harder time with that introspective process of knowing who they are. A lot of guys that I talked to they are in their twenties and thirties I really don’t know, have any idea about what it was I was meant to accomplish almost its doubting the truth what I am talking about, but the truth is it become very distinct from themselves, they are very alienated from who they are and it’s not some touchy feely new age kind of crap that I am peddling here it’s actually really, really important, it’s what makes you powerful and successful. If you really want power don’t think that it is something spiritual, think it is very practical and realistic and there is a process you can go through to getting more touch in yourself for that could means starting a journal and thinking about what it was when you’re child that you were drawn to thinking about field and subjective that excite you when you open in newspaper, thinking about what you hate in life, it’s going to take three months, four months of some thinking. It doesn’t come overnight you want some and wake up and say God this is what I was meant to do, you have to go through a process, but if the process is very important and very rewarding. The other thing I would say is think about like you are connecting to the past, masters are somebody, are people in history whom we celebrate for being highly creative. A thousand years ago these were mostly men who worked with their hands, these were the people who built great cafeteros, these were the masons and architect and designers they were also in other fields building things and sometime they were building a religion or a book or whatever it was and they ended up becoming incredibly worst and masters of their field, well that’s the tradition the past you are going to who as a man we like to make things, we like to build things, we used to like to build things with our hands and we don’t live in that kind of world anymore, but that’s what makes you great, that’s when you are tapping in to something very deep physiological about what makes us men and it’s the fact that we like to make things, we like to make things well and that pertains to the business, to a book, to a political party whatever it is you are building something and to build something you have to know how to build it well, and to build it well you have to go through the process like I describe so think of yourself in that way and think of yourself connecting to this deep tradition of Mastery that I described in the book.
Brett McKay: Well, this has been a fascinating discussion. Robert Greene, thank you so much for your time.
Robert Greene: Thank you Brett, I enjoyed it, thank you.
Brett McKay: Our guest day was The New York Times bestselling author Robert Greene, he is the author of the book Mastery and you can find that on amazon.com. Well that wraps of another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast for manly tips and advice make sure to check out at Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com until next time stay manly.
Last updated: October 1, 2015