Mastery by Robert Greene [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book Mastery by Robert Greene. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

In Mastery, Robert Greene explains in great detail why talent is not everything. How even if you’re born with a lack of obvious skills and higher intelligence you can still excel in certain fields and amaze the people around you. To do so, however, you need to understand that life is a kind of continuous apprenticeship where you must endlessly improve in your craft.

The Core Idea:

Life is too short to figure out how things work on your own. Your task in life should be to find a mentor who has most of the answers in the specific area you wish to improve. Consume and upgrade what they teach. Keep practicing till you’re one with the task. After mastering the basic skills you’ll start taking on bigger projects and tackling bigger problems, which will eventually make you an expert in your field.


  • Mastering a field always starts inwards. You first need to figure out what you want to master.
  • Achieving proficiency in a specific area takes around 10,000 hours of hard focused work.
  • Don’t try to be like others. Find your niche state and continuously get better.

5 Key Lessons from Mastery:

Lesson #1: Discover Your Life’s Task, ASAP

The sooner you realize what your main goal in life is, the sooner you will start going in the right direction.

Imagine the following scene for a moment: You’re driving but you don’t know where you’re going. How will you understand when you have arrived? The answer: You won’t! If you don’t know where you’re going you will never reach the right place.

If you still don’t know where you should be heading, remember your childhood years. Often we abandoned our childish dreams because of our parents or our peer group. With our desire to “fit in,” we desert our most sacred tasks which eventually leads to an unfulfilling life. As the author puts it, “The first move toward mastery is always inward—learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force.”

Once you figure out with certainty what you want to do, everything else will fall into place. Even though it’s never too late to find your north star, it might be too late to become better at it and master it. So, start searching today if you’re still lost in your life.

Lesson #2: Find a Niche Which You Can Dominate

The more people there are in a certain field the harder it becomes to thrive there. Tougher to grow and to master the specific subject because most of the time you’ll be working on stealing attention from others, not working on your craft.

We tend to like popular trends and fashionable ideas because we see a lot of people thriving there. A lot of people succeeding.

Nowadays is harder to ignore these trends and to stay indifferent to them. Our social media profiles are bombarded with messages and images of people who seemingly have it all by traveling the world or by taking pictures all day. Naturally, by seeing all this fluff, we begin to desire their lifestyle and their success. Because, as you most probably know, the mind wants what the eye sees. By exposing yourself to more travelers who explore the world, or by creators who build apps for phones, you’ll instinctively want to try these things. Beware though, the most popular trends are never easy to master. You need to find a specific niche where you can grow.

Even though finding a niche is hard and often takes years, it’s worth it. It’s best to be known as an expert at something that’s not that common – for example, calligraphy – instead of being of the many who can only share pictures online.

What you can do is the following: Once you choose a field that attracts your interest, say medicine, proceed and dig deeper. Narrow the area to find a field that’s not so crowded with competitors but still has opportunities for progress and success.

Lesson #3: Understand The 3 Apprenticeship Phases To Master a Field

Robert Greene outlines three apprenticeships models that will guide you along the way of mastering a certain set of tasks. And here we’re not talking about going to school. We’re talking about models that will allow you to level up your knowledge in an area of your choosing:

  • The Observation Mode: During this phase, you should primarily look at how others get things done in a particular field. What are the rules, the procedures, and the social dynamics in the group? This is of extreme importance regardless of whether you’re starting a business or starting a new position in a company. Don’t worry about impressing others or proving yourself. What you need to worry about is getting to know the new environment and especially the relationships inside the organization. The knowledge you’ll gain is going to be of real importance in the events to come.
  • The Practice Mode: How do you learn to ride a bike? By failing on the ground at least dozen of times, right? Well, the same should happen in this phase. But you can at least reduce the errors. When you’re observing and practicing, always learn from the best. The best person around. Don’t compare yourself with the average performers or copy techniques from them. Find the best salesperson in the company and “steal” from him. Imitate their actions and the words they use, over and over again. At least nowadays is easier than ever to repeat what others are doing – the best in the business. You can simply buy their books.
  • The Active Move: Basically, this phase means going public. Exposing your work in front of others, receiving feedback and trying not to cry or harm yourself (too much) when waves of negativity reach the shore. The point of this is to gauge your progress and fill the gaps in your knowledge. Try to accept criticism and learn from it. Don’t let it ruin your life.

If you don’t let fear slow you down and you continue to create-improve-repeat you’ll, at some point, understand that you have nothing left to learn in this environment. At this moment, you’ve mastered the field. Congrats. Now share your experience with others.

Lesson #4: Time Is The Magic Ingredient When It Comes To Mastering A Skill

What do you think separates ordinary basketball players from true superstars? A lot of people will argue that the best in the field are born to be great athletes. But the autobiographies of the best say otherwise. Both Michael Jordan and LeBron James are famous for their insane workout regimens. For their not-gonna-give-up attitude. And often that’s the secret ingredient for success in any field.

Of course, it’s not a real secret. Simply what the best are doing is hard to be executed by the ordinary person. Since most of us aren’t ready to train for years till we see some sort of progress and results *cough* cash *cough*, we quit. Basically, we say farewell to money and fame so we can spend one more hour scrolling on social media. We – and by we I mean the majority of the people on the planet – can’t postpone short-term pleasures for long-term success. We want fun now. At this moment.

The real obstacles on your way towards financial independence or true mastery are the following: boredom, panic, frustration, insecurity, impatience.

If you can master these emotions, you’ll master yourself and a field of your choosing.

Lesson #5: Don’t Allow Details, Boredom, Lack of Progress To Slow You Down or Make You Quit. Remind Yourself Constantly Why You Started

When the boredom train hits you – don’t worry this will happen for sure – you must be prepared. In Mastery, Robert Greene often mentions that in order for someone to reach a state of proficiency in a specific task, he needs to put in around 10,000 hours of hard focused work. If we divide this by 40, the average working hours we work at our jobs per week, this will mean that we need to spend a bit over a year and two months to master a specific task. A year doesn’t sound like a lot, right?

Well, even though it doesn’t, finding time to grind over a task of your choosing is actually harder than the actual work. Then, even if you squeeze a few more hours out of your busy schedule to do some writing, painting, or whatever you want to master, after a while you’ll be facing another issue. That is, a way to figure out how to handle the emerging problems along the way, the lack of progress and fun in your life. Since you’ll be spending most of your time working on your task, you won’t have time for watching Netflix and goofing around social media. Both things we highly “need” to exist nowadays.

After a few months, the initial excitement that originally brought you here will quickly drown in the pile of tasks that require your attention. At this moment you have two options: a) To quit and blame the universe for your slow progress; b) To take a break and to remember why you started in the first place.

To endure the 10,000 hours of work and beyond, to keep going when things really hit the shit fan, you need to constantly remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Write down your purpose and put it somewhere where you can see it. The bigger the goal, the stronger your desire will be to continue.

Love taking notes? Download the worksheet:

Actionable Notes:

  • The rebellion strategy: We often end up doing something, working a job, for the wrong reasons – money, fame, attention, and so on. Even though it feels good when people are liking our work, in time we start to feel discomfort if satisfying others was our only goal. If you’re doing something only to please others, your parents included, quickly find a way out. Rebel against their dictatorship so you can establish your own identity.
  • Focus on the things you’re good at: Ignore your weaknesses and resist the temptation to be more like others. Instead, direct yourself toward the smallest things you are good at. The ones few people dare to do.
  • Seek new challenges: As humans, we tend to follow paths that will give us comfort and stability. We strive to get secure jobs and low-risk investments. However, this rarely leads to satisfaction. We know that we’re truly alive only when there is something that feels uncomfortable, exciting. Look for more challenges and “danger.” This will fuel your future progress.

Commentary And My Personal Takeaway

A true masterpiece. If you read some of the other books written by Robert Greene (see here, here, and here), you know his style. He proves his points with long detailed anecdotes from history. You not only learn how to improve yourself, but you also learn some interesting facts about the Renaissance, about noble knights, well-known generals, inventors, and more.

I truly adore the work he did in Mastery. Besides helping us nail a certain field and becoming really good at something, he’s also talking about contributing to society. Putting aside your personal goals and adopting values that will aid the world.

Do not let the size of the book scare you. Yes, it’s a long read. But I believe this is for a reason. I believe Robert Greene wants to upload his suggestions so deep into the reader’s mind so that we can ruminate sufficiently and really understand what he is trying to say.

My book summary covers the key ideas of the book and I’m sure that if you follow them you’ll reach better results in your life. Still, if you want to dive deeper into the field of becoming a true master, I’ll definitely suggest getting the book.

Notable Quotes:

“Think of it this way: There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from 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.” Robert Greene

“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.” Robert Greene

“No one is really going to help you or give you direction. In fact, the odds are against you. If you desire an apprenticeship, if you want to learn and set yourself up for mastery, you have to do it yourself, and with great energy.” Robert Greene

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