A comprehensive guide to realising your Life's Task. Greene does a great job of shattering the myth of people being destined for success by birth or some wild genius feat.
The first move toward mastery is always inward—learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force.
Just as a well-filled day brings blessed sleep, so a well-employed life brings a blessed death. — Leonardo da Vinci
Let us state it in the following way: At your birth a seed is planted. That seed is your uniqueness. Your Life’s Task is to bring that seed to flower, to express your uniqueness through your work.
The process of realising your Life’s Task comes in three stages:
1. Return to your origins
2. Occupy the perfect niche
3. Avoid the false path
4. Let go of the past
5. Find your way back
When you are faced with deficiencies instead of strengths and inclinations, this is the strategy you must assume: ignore your weaknesses and resist the temptation to be more like others.
Do not envy those who seem to be naturally gifted; it is often a curse, as such types rarely learn the value of diligence and focus, and they pay for this later in life.
You must choose places of work and positions that offer the greatest possibilities for learning. Practical knowledge is the ultimate commodity, and is what will pay you dividends for decades to come.
Observe the rules and procedures that govern success in this environment (“this is how we do things here.”)
Of more interest: the rules that are unstated and are part of the underlying work culture. These concern style and values that are considered important. They are often a reflection of the character of the man or woman on top.
The second reality you will observe is the power relationships that exist within the group: who has real control; through whom do all communications flow; who is on the rise and who is on the decline.
No detail about the people within it is too trivial.
Understand: there are several critical reasons why you must follow this step. First, knowing your environment inside and out will help you in navigating it and avoiding costly mistakes.
You will see in any encounter what most people miss because they are thinking of themselves.
In acquiring any kind of skill, there exists a natural learning process that coincides with the functioning of our brains. This learning process leads to what we shall call tacit knowledge—a feeling for what you are doing that is hard to put into words but easy to demonstrate in action.
We learn best through practice and repetition.
Once you take this far enough, you enter a cycle of accelerated returns in which the practice becomes easier and more interesting, leading to the ability to practice for longer hours, which increases your skill level, which in turn makes practice even more interesting.
First, it is essential that you begin with one skill that you can master, and that serves as a foundation for acquiring others.
Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short-circuits the learning process.
When you start something new, a large number of neurons in the frontal cortex are recruited and become active, helping you in the learning process.
You develop patience. Boredom no longer signals the need for distraction, but rather the need for new challenges to conquer.
You are observing yourself in action and seeing how you respond to the judgments of others.
You will know when your apprenticeship is over by the feeling that you have nothing left to learn in this environment.
The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.
Do not think that what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; and if it is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach. — Marcus Aurelius
1. Value learning over money
2. Keep expanding your horizons
3. Revert to a feeling of inferiority
4. Trust the process
5. Move toward resistance and pain
6. Apprentice yourself in failure
7. Combine the “how” and the “what”
8. Advance through trial and error
The right mentors know where to focus your attention and how to challenge you. Their knowledge and experience become yours.
Understand: all that should concern you in the early stages of your career is acquiring practical knowledge in the most efficient manner possible. For this purpose, during the Apprenticeship Phase you will need mentors whose authority you recognise and to whom you submit.
You can learn what you need through books, your own practice, and occasional advice from others, but the process is hit-and-miss.
Mentors observe you at work and provide real-time feedback, making your practice more time efficient.
Do not shy away from anything menial or secretarial. You want person-to-person access, however you can get it.
If your circumstances limit your contacts, books can serve as temporary mentors.
Your goal is to get as much out of them as possible, but at a certain point you may pay a price if you stay too long and let them subvert your confidence
1. Choose the mentor according to your needs and inclinations
2. Gaze deep into the mentor’s mirror
3. Transfigure their ideas
4. Create a back-and-forth dynamic
If you are forced onto this path, you must follow Edison’s example by developing extreme self-reliance. Under these circumstances, you become your own teacher and mentor. You push yourself to learn from every possible source. You read more books than those who have a formal education, developing this into a lifelong habit.
Social intelligence — the ability to see people in the most realistic light possible. By moving past our usual self-absorption, we can learn to focus deeply on others, reading their behavior in the moment, seeing what motivates them, and discerning any possible manipulative tendencies.
Naïve Perspective — viewing people as we viewed our parent growing up—stronger, more capable, and more selfless than they are in reality. Our view of people becomes saturated with various emotions—worship, admiration, love, need, anger.
We think we understand people, but we are viewing them through a distorted lens.
The most effective attitude to adopt is one of supreme acceptance. The world is full of people with different characters and temperaments. We all have a dark side, a tendency to manipulate, and aggressive desires.
This intelligence consists of two components:
Pay less attention to the words that people say and greater attention to their tone of voice, the look in their eye, their body language.
Resist the temptation to interpret what they say or do as somehow implicitly involving you—this will cause you to turn your thoughts inward and close off the immediacy of the connection.
Try to imagine that you are experiencing the world from their point of view, placing yourself in their circumstances and feeling what they feel.
Actions say much more about their character, about what is going on underneath the surface.
You must avoid the common mistake of making judgments based on your initial impressions of people. People have trained themselves to appear a certain way; they have a persona they use in public that acts like a second skin to protect them.
Keep in mind, however, that people are in a state of continual flux. You are continually observing them and bringing your readings of them up to date.
Most of us have these negative qualities—Envy, Conformism, Rigidity, Self-obsessiveness, Laziness, Flightiness, and Passive Aggression.
Envy: It is our nature to constantly compare ourselves to others.
Conformism: When people form groups of any type, a kind of organisational mind-set inevitably sets in.
Rigidity: Whenever we humans face a situation that seems complicated our response is to resort to a kind of artificial simplicity, to create habits and routines that give us a sense of control.
Self-obsessiveness: In the work environment, we almost inevitably think first and foremost of ourselves.
Laziness: We all have the tendency to want to take the quickest, easiest path to our goals, but we generally manage to control our impatience; we understand the superior value of getting what we want through hard work.
Flightiness: We like to make a show of how much our decisions are based on rational considerations, but the truth is that we are largely governed by our emotions, which continually colour our perceptions.
Passive Aggression: The root cause of all passive aggression is the human fear of direct confrontation—the emotions that a conflict can churn up and the loss of control that ensues.
The following four essential strategies will help you to avoid the Naïve Perspective and maintain the rational mind-set necessary for social intelligence.
1. Speak through your work
2. Craft the appropriate persona
3. See yourself as others see you
4. Suffer fools gladly
The Original Mind — The mind we we're born with, which looked at the world more directly—not through words and received ideas.
The Conventional Mind — As we grow up we become defensive about the world we now take for granted, and we become upset if our beliefs or assumptions are attacked.
The Dimensional Mind — a blend of the original mind and the conventional mind.
The task that you choose to work on must have an obsessive element.
Understand: it is the choice of where to direct his or her creative energy that makes the Master.
Your emotional commitment to what you are doing will be translated directly into your work. If you are excited and obsessive in the hunt, it will show in the details.
We generally prefer to entertain the same thoughts and ways of thinking because they provide us with a sense of consistency and familiarity.
Whenever we work hard at a problem or idea, our minds naturally narrow their focus because of the strain and effort involved.
strategies for developing such flexibility
Develop the habit of suspending the need to judge everything that crosses your path. You consider and even momentarily entertain viewpoints opposite to your own, seeing how they feel.
The brain is constantly searching for similarities, differences, and relationships between what it processes. Your task is to feed this natural inclination, to create the optimal conditions for it to make new and original associations between ideas and experiences.
When we are in a more relaxed state, our attention naturally broadens and we take in more stimuli.
Widen your search as far as possible and maintain an openness and looseness of spirit. The moment any idea or observation comes, you note it down.
The Current is like a mental electrical charge that gains its power through a constant alternation.
By continually cycling between speculation and observation/experiment, we are able to pierce deeper and deeper into reality,
Produce a prototype and see how people respond to it. Based on the assessments you gain, you can redo the work and launch it again, cycling through this process several times until you perfect.
Such feedback will help make visible what is generally invisible to your eyes—the objective reality of your work and its flaws.
When an event occurs or when we meet a new person, we do not stop to consider all aspects or details, but instead we see an outline or pattern that fits into our expectations and past experiences.
Those who are truly creative have developed the ability to think beyond language, to access the lower chambers of consciousness, to revert to those primal forms of intelligence that served us for millions of years.
At a particular high point of tension, masters let go for a moment (e.g. stopping work and going to sleep, deciding to take a break, temporarily working on something else). What almost inevitably happens in such moments is that the solution, the perfect idea for completing the work comes to them.
The feeling that we have endless time to complete our work has an insidious and debilitating effect on our minds.
Emotional pitfalls of the creative-active:
1. The Authentic Voice
2. The Fact of Great Yield
3. Mechanical Intelligence
4. Natural Powers
5. The High End
6. The Evolutionary Hijack
7. Dimensional Thinking
8. Alchemical Creativity and the Unconscious
Humans have come to recognise only one form of thinking and intelligence—rationality.
But the types of intuitions discussed by various Masters cannot be reduced to a formula, and the steps they took to arrive at them cannot be reconstructed.
The problem we are facing here is that high-level intuition, the ultimate sign of mastery, involves a process that is qualitatively different from rationality, but is even more accurate and perceptive. In understanding this intelligence, we can begin to see that such power is not miraculous, but intrinsically human and accessible to us all.
Masters have a sense of how everything interacts organically, and they can intuit patterns or solutions in an instant.
The key to attaining this higher level of intelligence is to make our years of study qualitatively rich. We don’t simply absorb information—we internalise it and make it our own by finding some way to put this knowledge to practical use.
Marcel Proust did not simply read books—he took them apart, rigorously analysed them, and learned valuable lessons to apply to his own life. He did not merely socialise—he strained to understand people at their core and to uncover their secret motivations.
Maintain a sense of destiny and feel continuously connected to it. You are unique, and there is a purpose to your uniqueness.
By constantly applying yourself to the subject that suits your inclinations and attacking it from many different angles, you are simply enriching the ground for these seeds to take root.
Learn how to quiet the anxiety you feel confronted with anything that seems complex or chaotic. In our journey from apprenticeship to mastery we must patiently learn the various parts and skills that are required, never looking too far ahead.
If the situation is complex and others are reaching for simple black-and-white answers, or for the usual conventional responses, we must make a point of resisting such a temptation.
Do whatever you can to cultivate a greater memory capacity—one of the most important skills in our technologically oriented environment.
Do not simply look for entertainment and distractions. Take up hobbies—a game, a musical instrument, a foreign language—that bring pleasure but also offers the chance to strengthen memory capacities and the flexibility of the brain.
The mind tends to move away from interconnectedness and focus instead on the distinctions between things, taking objects out of their contexts and analysing them as separate entities.
On the other hand, there is the opposing tendency of the brain to want to make connections between everything.
Taoism: the Way, and in Stoicism: the Logos (the ordering principle of the universe that connects all living things).
“Keep reminding yourself of the way things are connected, of their relatedness. All things are implicated in one another and in sympathy with each other. This event is the consequence of some other one. Things push and pull on each other, and breathe together, and are one.” — Marcus Aurelius
We can define intelligence as moving toward thinking that is more contextual, more sensitive to the relationships between things.
1. Connect to your environment
2. Play to your strengths
3. Transform yourself through practice
5. Widen your vision
6. Submit to the other
7. Synthesise all forms of knowledge
This reversal leads to enslavement to what we shall call the false self.
Your false self is the accumulation of all the voices you have internalized from other people—parents and friends who want you to conform to their ideas of what you should be like and what you should do, as well as societal pressures to adhere to certain values that can easily seduce you.
It is in fact the height of selfishness to merely consume what others create and to retreat into a shell of limited goals and immediate pleasures.