“Can you recommend a book for…?”
“What are you reading right now?”
“What are your favorite books?”
I get asked those types of questions a lot and, as an avid reader and all-around bibliophile, I’m always happy to oblige.
I also like to encourage people to read as much as possible because knowledge benefits you much like compound interest. The more you learn, the more you know; the more you know, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more opportunities you have to succeed.
On the flip side, I also believe there’s little hope for people who aren’t perpetual learners. Life is overwhelmingly complex and chaotic, and it slowly suffocates and devours the lazy and ignorant.
So, if you’re a bookworm on the lookout for good reads, or if you’d like to get into the habit of reading, this book club for you.
The idea here is simple: Every week, I’ll share a book that I’ve particularly liked, why I liked it, and several of my key takeaways from it.
I’ll also keep things short and sweet so you can quickly decide whether the book is likely to be up your alley or not.
If you’ve already read a book that I recommend or have a recommendation of your own to share, don’t be shy! Drop a comment down below and let me–and the rest of us “book clubbers”–know!
Lastly, if you want to be notified when new recommendations go live, hop on my email list and you’ll get each new installment delivered directly to your inbox.
Okay, let’s get to this week’s book: Mastery by Robert Greene.
If you want to know how to create more purpose, meaning, and satisfaction in your life, and how to find more material and interpersonal success while you’re at it, then you want to read this book.
This is one of my all-time favorite success/self-development books and one that I regularly gift and recommend to others because I attribute much of my own success in business and other areas of my life to the lessons found in Mastery—lessons that I believe can transform anyone’s life for the better if they’re truly taken to heart.
The premise of the book is simple: any one of us can become an elite performer in a skill or field if we simply embrace and embody established attitudes and behaviors that have produced past and current champions, and more importantly, that every one of us should strive toward greatness if we want to lead fulfilling lives.
I think these messages are sorely needed because they’re in stark contrast to much of our mainstream culture, which is producing more and more people who are less and less interested in self-actualization than worshipping and pursuing meaningless materialism, entertainment, and distractions, and who are then dismayed when they realize that their lives feel hollow and insignificant.
This philosophical argument was explored in another book that I recommend called All Things Shining, wherein philosophy professors Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly argue that throughout history, we’ve placed tremendous importance and value in notions of sacredness and meaning, but since the Enlightenment, we’ve moved away from these concepts as a consequence of the radical political changes that saw individual autonomy rise above the social order imposed by a God or king. In short, when we abandoned religious and royal dogmas, we tasked ourselves to identify what’s meaningful and what isn’t, and quite frankly, we haven’t done a very good job of it. Hence, the creeping nihilism and widespread malaise of modern life.
There’s a pragmatic argument for choosing mastery over mediocrity as well, as our current economy pays a huge premium to people who are willing to do the hard, deep work necessary to demonstrate mastery–if you want to make a lot of money, get so good at something that people can’t ignore you and you’re halfway home–and tomorrow’s economy is going to demand mastery, as more and more simple, shallow, redundant work will be passed off to machines.
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People who do not practice and learn new skills never gain a proper sense of proportion or self-criticism. They think they can achieve anything without effort and have little contact with reality. Trying something over and over again grounds you in reality, making you deeply aware of your inadequacies and of what you can accomplish with more work and effort.
Confidence is important, but if it’s not based on a realistic appraisal of who you are and what you can do, it’s mere smugness and delusion. Self-esteem is a hot topic these days, especially with children, and I don’t think we can just conjure it up in ourselves by thinking the right thoughts or saying the right words or give it to kids through coddling or osmosis. The only way any of us, young or old, can develop self-esteem is by working hard at things that we can’t do until we can do them and repeat the process.
The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways. And the process of learning skills, no matter how virtual, remains the same.
In the future, the great division will be between those who have trained themselves to handle these complexities and those who are overwhelmed by them—those who can acquire skills and discipline their minds and those who are irrevocably distracted by all the media around them and can never focus enough to learn.
In the industrial economy of old, people were paid to crank widgets for a few decades until they retired. Those days are long gone. In today’s information economy, more and more of the rewards are being reserved for people that can quickly learn how to do complicated things.
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.
Many people mistakenly think that masters rely mainly on inborn talent and genius to produce extraordinary works, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Research shows that there’s little connection between natural aptitude and mastery, and that with enough “deep” or “deliberate” practice, even the most modest beginner can become a virtuoso.
Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short-circuits the learning process. The pain is a kind of challenge your mind presents— will you learn how to focus and move past the boredom, or like a child will you succumb to the need for immediate pleasure and distraction? Much as with physical exercise, you can even get a kind of perverse pleasure out of this pain, knowing the benefits it will bring you. In any event, you must meet any boredom head-on and not try to avoid or repress it. Throughout your life you will encounter tedious situations, and you must cultivate the ability to handle them with discipline.
Our culture no longer promotes the development of discipline through seeking out challenging situations, enduring the initial wave of confusion, frustration, and boredom they produce, and continually sacrificing our present lives for the benefit of our future lives.
Instead, we actively avoid whatever is difficult and uncomfortable and decry life’s challenges as unfair and people’s criticisms as hurtful. Even our self-help books speak in soft tones, telling us what we want to hear instead of showing us how far we still have to go if we’re going to have any hope of living a good life.
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 spirit it was created in.
Every line of work has its share of drudgery, but if you can’t get fired up about the essence of your work–the writing, programming, selling, personal training, whatever–it’s going to show in the details. The best work in every field is always produced by people that are absolutely obsessed with their crafts, and every one of us can find something valuable that we can be obsessed with doing, too.