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Mastery: Discover Your Life’s Task

“Everyone holds his fortune in his own hands, like a sculptor the raw material he will fashion into a figure. But it’s the same with that type of artistic activity as with all others: We are merely born with the capability to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated.” – Goethe

The purpose of life is to contribute to the lives of those around us.  The more we benefit humanity as a whole, the better off we are.

We achieve our goals and help others by learning useful skills that make an impact.  The better we get at these skills, the more we make and the bigger impact we are able to have.

This process of skill development is detailed in Robert Greene’s book Mastery.  He uses real life examples to show how one goes from novice to master.  Below are the first few steps on the road to mastering any skill.

There Is No Shortcut To Mastery

“This hunger for the magical shortcut has survived to our day in the form of simple formulas for success, ancient secrets finally revealed in which a mere change of attitude will attract the right energy. There is a grain of truth and practicality in all of these efforts—for instance, the emphasis in magic on deep focus. But in the end all of this searching is centered on something that doesn’t exist—the effortless path to practical power, the quick and easy solution, the El Dorado of the mind.” – Robert Greene

The only way to master a skill is by doing the work.  It takes years of consistent effort to master a skill.  Sometimes decades.

We can accelerate our path to mastery by pursuing it the correct way.  For example, learning from someone who’s already mastered the skill can help guide our work.  That’s known as apprenticeship.

This path also requires that we keep challenging ourselves.  Pay attention to your skill, notice areas that you’re weak and work to strengthen them.  Once that’s done, find other aspects of the skill to improve.  As we keep getting better, we have to take on more challenging work.  Otherwise our skill level will stagnate.

Select Your Skill

“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Choosing the right skill is the first, and most crucial, step on the path toward mastery.  It doesn’t matter how high you climb the ladder if it’s leaning on the wrong wall.

When picking a skill to develop, think back to your childhood.  Try to remember any dreams you had or things you really enjoyed doing.  Those might be a clue towards what your path ultimately becomes.

Also consider what you’re naturally suited for.  We all have a unique set of skills and aptitudes.  You can learn some trades easily that others would find much more difficult, and vice versa.  Try and connect these three attributes:

  • what you have an aptitude for
  • what you find meaning in
  • what the world needs.

“This uniqueness is not something merely poetic or philosophical—it is a scientific fact that genetically, every one of us is unique; our exact genetic makeup has never happened before and will never be repeated. This uniqueness is revealed to us through the preferences we innately feel for particular activities or subjects of study. Such inclinations can be toward music or mathematics, certain sports or games, solving puzzle-like problems, tinkering and building, or playing with words.” – Robert Greene

Choose Your Life’s Task

“You possess a kind of inner force that seeks to guide you toward your Life’s Task—what you are meant to accomplish in the time that you have to live. In childhood this force was clear to you. It directed you toward activities and subjects that fit your natural inclinations, that sparked a curiosity that was deep and primal. In the intervening years, the force tends to fade in and out as you listen more to parents and peers, to the daily anxieties that wear away at you.” – Robert Greene

We all want to do something great with our lives.  Most of us give up on that dream at some point, settling for what we assume are the limitations of life.  There is always an opportunity to start fresh with a new dream.

Greene talks about your ‘Life’s Task’.  Something only you can do, that you’re suited for accomplishing.  This is not something we discover.  It’s something we decide.  You choose what your Life’s Task will be,

If you’re an architect, it could be to design buildings that house a million people in total.  As a writer, it could be to write numerous books which make a positive impact on the lives of readers.

Our Life’s Task shifts and morphs over time.  The only requirement is to decide what your Life’s Task is at this moment.  Or even to choose to pursue it. That doesn’t mean it won’t change.  Everything does.

“Let us state it in the following way: At your birth a seed is planted. That seed is your uniqueness. It wants to grow, transform itself, and flower to its full potential. It has a natural, assertive energy to it. Your Life’s Task is to bring that seed to flower, to express your uniqueness through your work. You have a destiny to fulfill. The stronger you feel and maintain it—as a force, a voice, or in whatever form—the greater your chance for fulfilling this Life’s Task and achieving mastery.” – Robert Greene

Work On Your Life’s Task

“This intense connection and desire allows them to withstand the pain of the process—the self-doubts, the tedious hours of practice and study, the inevitable setbacks, the endless barbs from the envious. They develop a resiliency and confidence that others lack.” – Robert Greene

The reason we choose to work on our Life’s Task instead of tasks given us by others is that it’s difficult.  Pursuing our unique goals and achieving our true potential takes work.  Working toward Mastery, year after year, decade after decade, takes an almost inhuman level of persistence and drive.

That’s why it has to come from within.  We have to choose what we’re willing to put that level of focused work into.  Then we have to get started. That’s where it gets interesting. 

The beginning is the hardest part.  Early on, you might have no supporters, only doubters.  You’ll even doubt yourself.  That’s why you have to put your head down and keep pressing forward.

Eventually, your work will get good enough that you start seeing results.  They could be financial, or just positive feedback from the people your work impacts.  These results will increase your level of motivation and cause you to keep moving forward.  

This starts a feedback loop.  Once you’re in the feedback loop, your work keeps improving, and the results keep getting better.  As a result, your motivation and drive increases along with your skill.  When you’re in this feedback loop, achieving Mastery is simply a matter of time.

“Our levels of desire, patience, persistence, and confidence end up playing a much larger role in success than sheer reasoning powers. Feeling motivated and energized, we can overcome almost anything.” – Robert Greene

Joel Smith

Author and writing coach at The Fit Writer.

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