reading notes

Mastery, by Robert Greene

This is another one where instead of taking quotes from the book, I’m just writing my paraphrase of each concept. I think the way I’ll use these notes is that every once in a while, if I’m in need of some direction, I’ll mine these strategies for something new to try.

I. Finding your life’s task


  1. Return to your origins–the primal inclination strategy
    What were you drawn to as a child?
  2. Occupy the perfect niche–the Darwinian strategy
    Find a niche that’s less crowded with competitors by either going narrower and specializing, OR by combining multiple fields.
  3. Avoid the false path–the rebellion strategy
    Know when you are in a field for the wrong reasons (money, fame, approval, or other things), and rebel against that.
  4. Let go of the past–the adaptation strategy
    If circumstances force you to change your field, find a way to adapt that still lets you apply the experience you have.
  5. Find your way back–the life-or-death strategy
    If you’ve deviated far from your life’s task and are depressed because of it, stop what you’re doing.

Reversal: Your life’s task can also come out of what you’re naturally bad at and have to work really hard to get good at; not just out of what you’re naturally gifted at.

II. Apprenticeship

The three steps or modes:

  1. Deep observation–the passive mode
  2. Skills acquisition–the practice mode
  3. Experimentation–the active mode


  1. Value learning over money
  2. Keep expanding your horizons
  3. Revert to a feeling of inferiority
  4. Trust the process
    Don’t give up when you feel frustration, boredom, panic, or insecurity.
  5. Move toward resistance and pain
  6. Apprentice yourself in failure
  7. Combine the “how” and the “what”
    Know how things work in your field.
  8. Advance through trial and error
    Try different stuff, don’t follow one rigid career path that you set in advance.

Reversal: There is none.

III. Mentorship


  1. Choose the mentor according to your needs and inclinations
  2. Gaze deep into the mentor’s mirror
    Look for one who can provide tough love.
  3. Transfigure their ideas
  4. Create a back-and-forth dynamic
    You can have input on the process and adjust some of your mentor’s approaches to teach them how to work better with you.

Reversal: Educate yourself.

IV. Social intelligence


  1. Speak through your work
    Don’t call more attention to your person than to your work.
  2. Craft the appropriate persona
  3. See yourself as others see you
  4. Suffer fools gladly

Reversal: Just don’t work with large groups of people.

V. The creative-active


  1. Cultivate negative capability
    aka. a tolerance for not-knowing
  2. Allow for serendipity
  3. Alternate the mind through “the current”
    aka. the back-and-forth between observations/experiments/reality, and thoughts/speculations/explanations/theories.
  4. Alter your perspective
    Avoid the following lazy thinking patterns: looking at the “what” instead of the “how”; rushing to generalities and ignoring details; confirming paradigms and ignoring anomalies; fixating on what is present, ignoring what is absent
  5. Revert to primal forms of intelligence
    Non-linguistic forms like visual/spatial, kinesthetic, and anything using the other senses.

Strategies (why are there two lists of strategies in this chapter? Dunno):

  1. The authentic voice
    Find your voice… by first mastering what has already been done.
  2. The fact of great yield
    To discover something new, instead of starting with an ambition or goal and trying to work backwards from that, you can look for intriguing anomalies and see where they lead.
  3. Mechanical intelligence
    Instead of relying on abstract reasoning, try stuff out, see what works and what doesn’t.
  4. Natural powers
    Embrace slowness.
  5. The open field
    Create your own space, don’t just blindly imitate conventions.
  6. The high end
    Don’t get caught up in the details and forget the actual purpose of the work.
  7. The evolutionary hijack
    Be adaptable and open to learning from accidents.
  8. Dimensional thinking
    Don’t assume that something is simple, or try to reduce the complexity out of it, purely because you’re impatient to feel like you understand how it works. Stay humble.
  9. Alchemical creativity and the unconscious
    Pay attention to the often contradictory ideas found in the unconscious.

Reversal: Drugs and mental illness are not a shortcut to creativity. (How is that a reversal? Maybe he’s trying to say that there is none.)

VI. Mastery


  1. Connect to your environment–primal powers
  2. Play to your strengths–supreme focus
  3. Transform yourself through practice–the fingertip feel
  4. Internalize the details–the life force
  5. Widen your vision–the global perspective
  6. Submit to the other–the inside-out perspective
  7. Synthesize all forms of knowledge–the universal man/woman