Even though I’m an avid reader, I don’t make a dent in my reading backlog because new books arrive faster than I can read existing ones. I often ask people for recommendations or informal reviews when trying to decide what to read next. For that reason, I’ve never read ‘Mastery‘ by Robert Greene – too many reviews were decidedly mixed. Here’s one example:
the dense 360-page result, with its vast quantities of research and effort much in evidence, makes one yearn for something snappier and less labored.
‘Mastery’ might have never made it to the top of my reading list if it hadn’t been spotted in my office by a candidate I interviewed last week. She wondered what I thought about Greene’s claim that failure toughens a person up and therefore it is bad luck to have never failed. No doubt she was trying to impress me by showing she had read my post on encouraging failure – and I was pleasantly surprised.
I admitted I had not yet read the book and later found the passage she was referring to:
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. 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.
I couldn’t agree more.
Encouraged by her recommendation and fortified by this passage, I read ‘Mastery’ – or rather, I skimmed it. Greene claims everyone can become a master at something. The key is to figure out what you truly love doing, and practice it over and over (think Gladwell’s Outliers). You must embrace criticism in order to improve – just not from those who don’t know what they are talking about. It’s a guaranteed roadmap to success.
While the book is entertaining, I’m not convinced of the basic premise – we all can’t be masters. That feels a bit like the ‘everyone gets a trophy’ philosophy. And there definitely isn’t a guaranteed roadmap for success.
What do you think: Can everyone really become a master?