By analyzing the lives of such past masters as Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Leonard da Vinci, as well as by interviewing nine contemporary masters, including tech guru Paul Graham and animal rights advocate Temple Grandin, in Mastery, Greene debunks our culture’s many myths about genius and distills the wisdom of the ages to reveal the secret to greatness.
[bluebox] The misery that oppresses you lies not in your profession but in yourself! What man in the world would not find his situation intolerable if he chooses a craft, an art, indeed any form of life, without experiencing an inner calling?
Whoever is born with a talent, or to a talent, must surely find in that the most pleasing of occupations! Everything on this earth has its difficult sides! Only some inner drive–pleasure, love–can help us overcome obstacles, prepare a path, and lift us out of the narrow circle in which others tread out their anguished, miserable existences!
~Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.[/bluebox]
Five strategies for finding your life’s task
It might seem that connecting to something as personal as your inclinations and Life’s Task would be relatively simple and natural, once you recognize their importance. But in fact is the opposite. It requires a good deal of planning and strategizing to do it properly, since so many obstacles will present themselves.
The following five strategies, illustrated by stories of Masters, are designed to deal with the main obstacles in your path over time–the voices of others infecting you, fighting over limited resources, choosing false paths, getting stuck in the past, and losing your way.
(1) Return to your origins–The Primal Inclination Strategy
You must understand the following: In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Your interest must trascend the field itself and border on the religious.
For Einstein, it was not physics but a fascination with invisible forces that governed the universe; for Bergman, it was not film but the sensation of creating and animating life; for Coltrane, it was not music but giving voice to powerful emotions.
These childhood attractions are hard to put into words and are like more sensations–that of deep wonder, sensual pleasure, power, and heightened awareness. The importance of recognizing these preverbal inclinations is that they are clear inclinations of an attraction that is not infected by the desires of other people.
—>Look for its traces in visceral reactions to something simple; a desire to repeat an activity that you never tired of; a subject that stimulated an unusual degree of curiosity; feelings of power attached to particular actions. If you reconnect with this core at any age, some element of the primitive attraction will spark back to life, indicating a path that can ultimately become your Life’s Task.
(2) Occupy the perfect niche–The Darwinian Strategy
The career world is like an ecological system: People occupy particular fields within which they must compete for resources and survival. The more people there are crowded into a space, the harder it becomes to thrive there.
The game you want to play is different: to instead find a niche in the ecology that you can dominate. It is never a simple process to find such a niche. It requires patience and a particular strategy.
—>In the beginning you choose a field that roughly corresponds to your interests (medicine, electrical engineering). From there you can go in one of two directions.
The first is the Ramachandran Path. From within your chosen field, you look for side paths that particularly attract you. When it’s possible, you make a move to this narrower field.
The second is the Matsuoka Path. Once you have mastered your first field (robotics), you look for other subjects or skills that you can conquer (neuroscience), on your own time if necessary. You can now combine this added field of knowledge to the original one, perhaps creating a new field, or at least making novel connections between them.
In either direction, you have found a niche that is not crowded with competitors.
(3) Avoid the false path–The Rebellion Strategy
A false path in life is generally something we are attracted to for the wrong reasons–money, fame, attention, and so on. If it is attention we need, we often experience a kind of emptiness inside that we are hoping to fill with the false love of public approval. Because the field we choose does not correspond with our deepest inclinations, we rarely find the fulfillment that we crave.
—> Your strategy must be twofold:
First, to realize as early as possible that you have chosen your career for the wrong reasons, before your confidence takes a hit.
And Second, to actively rebel against those forces that have pushed you away from your true path.
(4) Let go of the past–The Adaptation Strategy
In dealing with your career and its inevitable changes, you must think in the following way: You are not tied to a particular position; your loyalty is not to a career or a company. You are committed to your Life’s Task, to giving it full expression. It is up to you to find it and guide it correctly. It is not up to others to protect or help you. You are on your own.
—> Change is inevitable, particularly in such a revolutionary moment as ours. Since you are on your own, it is up to you to foresee the changes going on right now in your profession. You must adapt your Life’s Task to these circumstances. You do not hold on to past ways of doing things, because that will ensure you will fall behind and suffer for it. You are flexible and always looking to adapt.
(5) Find your way back–The Life-or-Death Strategy
No good can ever come from deviating from the path that you were destined to follow. You will be assailed by varieties of hidden pain. Most often you deviate because of the lure of money, of more immediate prospects of prosperity. You will search for other easy sources of money, moving further and further away from your path. Not seeing clearly ahead of you, you will end up in a dead-end career. Even if your material needs are met, you will feel an emptiness inside that you will need to fill with any kind of belief system, drugs or diversions.
You will recognize how far you have deviated by the depth of your pain and frustration. You must listen to the message of this frustration, this pain, and let it guide you as clearly as Fuller’s voice guided him. It’s a matter of life and death.
—> The way back requires a sacrifice. You cannot have everything in the present. You will have to keep your focus on five or ten years down the road, when you will reap the rewards of your efforts. The process of getting there, however, is full of challenges and pleasures.
Complement Mastery with How to find fulfilling work.