This Is How You Become A Master

A photographer's reflection on Mastery by Robert Greene

“Too often we make a separation in our lives:

There is work and there is life outside work, where we find real pleasure and fulfillment.

Work is often seen as a means for making money so we can enjoy that second life that we lead.

Even if we derive some satisfaction from our careers we still tend to compartmentalize our lives in this way.

This is a depressing attitude, because in the end we spend a substantial part of our waking life at work.

If we experience this time as something to get through on the way to real pleasure, then our hours at work represent a tragic waste of the short time we have to live.”

Robert Greene, Mastery

As I am currently reading through “Mastery” by Robert Greene, a transformational book on how to find one’s vocation through discipline, hard work, and self-attunement, I figured I would share some of the concepts that stood up for me and how they can apply to you, regardless of where you are in life.

1. Discover Your Calling (Life’s Task)

Greene suggests that everyone has a unique calling or purpose, which he calls the Life's Task.

Discovering this involves identifying your deepest interests and passions and committing to pursuing them.

It means identifying what you are uniquely suited to do which often involves connecting with an inclination or interest that has been present from an early age, or that emerges as a profound interest later in life.

Think of discovering your Life's Task as finding out what really makes you tick.

It's about getting to the heart of what you're genuinely passionate about, which Robert Greene highlights as a key step toward mastery.

This isn't just about choosing a career; it's about connecting with what lights you up inside.

Your Life's Task should resonate with you deeply, often linked to those interests and passions that captivated you as a child.

What were the activities that absorbed you completely, making everything else fade into the background?

Those are big hints about where your true interests lie.

But figuring this out isn’t just about looking back—it’s about actively seeking and experiencing.

Here’s how you can start pinpointing your Life’s Task:

  • Self-Exploration: Engage in varied activities to explore different interests. Pay attention to those tasks that you feel naturally skilled at or that you could do for hours without feeling tired.

  • Documentation and Reflection: Keep a journal to document your experiences and reflections. Over time, review your entries to identify patterns or recurring themes that excite and motivate you.

  • Feedback Gathering: Sometimes, external perspectives can provide insight into your strengths and passions. Ask close friends, family members, or mentors to share what they think you are particularly good at or what they see you being passionate about.

  • Educational Pursuits: If you find an area particularly intriguing, seek formal or informal education in it. Workshops, online courses, books, and seminars can provide deeper insight and affirm or challenge your interest level.

  • Mindful Observation: As you engage in different activities, practice mindfulness to truly understand your emotional and intellectual reactions to the task at hand. This self-awareness can be crucial in recognizing your calling.

Finding your Life’s Task is really about discovering what makes you come alive. It’s not just about making a living but making a life that feels fulfilling and exciting. Once you connect with this, every step you take towards it can bring a sense of joy and purpose.

To give you a more concrete example, if you know a little bit about the work I do and display online (see example below), you may conclude that what drives me has to do mostly with photography.

Maybe with a touch of fantasy to rework images in a way you couldn’t witness in nature as such, but in essence, it seems photography is the main driver.

Although I couldn’t really disagree with that statement, if I look back at key moments or activities that sparked that inner flame in me, in many cases it didn’t have anything to do with the field of photography.

It seems to be something broader than that. Something in the realm of visual aesthetics that plays with light and colours.

I have noticed something happening within me when engaging in the following activities or topics outside of photography:

  • Interior design: I have an odd obsession with colour palettes, contrasting textures and materials, and lighting. Especially lighting. There is something that light can do to a place by playing with infinite colours, warmth, intensity, placement, and direction, that I find fascinating and that truly matters to me.

  • Wrapping & physical object containers: It was common for me to spend as much time if not more on the wrapping of a gift as on the gift itself. Not that the gift didn’t matter, but its delivery was equally important and part of the whole experience. This meant finding the perfect box, ribbon, sealing wax…

  • Designing documents & illustrating information: as strange as it may sound, I have drawn a tremendous amount of joy in the past by designing reports in my previous job and when studying at university. Anything from data sets in Excel, text documents in Word, or simple PowerPoint presentations and reports, I would spend hours without getting bored of it just putting all the content into visually appealing figures. This applied further to web design as well, something I have done privately for clients.

Photography happens to be to this day the best way for me to channel that need for creating visually aesthetic frames or worlds, but it might change in the future when my mind opens up to new things.

2. Submit To Reality (The Ideal Apprenticeship)

The journey to mastery involves a critical phase Greene calls the Ideal Apprenticeship.

This is the time when you roll up your sleeves and get down to the business of serious learning.

It’s all about diving deep into your chosen field and absorbing every bit of knowledge and skill you can. Think of it as laying the groundwork for all your future successes.

During this apprenticeship, it's not just about learning from textbooks or lectures—it's about gaining real, practical experience.

You’re expected to tackle the tasks that might seem mundane but are essential for building a strong foundation.

Here’s how you can make the most of this apprenticeship phase:

  • Seek Out Opportunities: Look for chances to learn through internships, part-time jobs, or volunteer positions. Anywhere you can get hands-on experience in your field is valuable.

    Note: don’t be afraid of accepting things you think you’re not cut out for. Say yes, you’ll figure it out on the way.

  • Learn from Others: Find people who are further along in their journey and learn from them. This could be through formal mentoring or simply by observing and asking questions.

  • Practice Diligently: The more you practice, the better you’ll get. Set aside regular time to hone your skills, even if it’s just practicing on your own. 10’000 hours into something seems to be the general consensus to master something. That means on average 7-10 years of regular practice.

  • Embrace Challenges: When you face difficult tasks, don’t back up. These are opportunities to grow and learn. One of the strategies mentioned in the book even suggests to seek for the things you are trying to avoid and overcoming them.

  • Stay Curious: Keep asking questions and seeking answers. Curiosity will lead you to a deeper understanding and new skills.

This apprenticeship isn't just about learning how to do things—it’s about understanding why things are done a certain way and how you can improve upon them.

It’s not only observing the tasks that are performed in the field, but also understanding how the power dynamics define the social setting you are observing, and acting accordingly.

It's about building a robust set of skills and knowledge that will serve you throughout your career.

The lessons from "Mastery" by Robert Greene are profoundly applicable in the world of photography.

This journey of mastery is not just about improving your technical skills but about nurturing a lifelong passion and continually pushing the boundaries of your art and yourself.

As you continue your journey, remember that mastery in photography, as in life, is about the love of the process and the pursuit of a deeply personal path of creativity and growth.

Everyone who is a master at something was once a beginner.

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

What part of your (photographic) journey are you finding the most challenging?

What does mastery mean to you in the context of your art or vocation?

I would enjoy reading your answers on the topic.

As usual, if you made it that far, thank you for your time.

See you in the next one,