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Myths about genius and what it really means to be great

By Robert Greene
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Mastery by Robert Greene

In Mastery (2012), author Robert Greene argues and illustrates that everybody can achieve mastery of a skill or field if they follow the established steps of historical and present-day masters. Based on interviews and studies of some of the best in their respective fields, Greene provides a diverse array of tips and strategies on how to become a master.

Key idea 1 of 8

You don’t need inborn talent to become a master; just follow the steps of masters before you.

Most people think that the extraordinary accomplishments of great masters like Da Vinci and Mozart stemmed from natural talent and inherent genius.  

But it’s not true. There is, in fact, no natural link between inborn talent and the mastery of a skill or field.

As one study showed, while many young children display blazing talent, relatively few of them ever go on to remarkable achievement. On the other hand, those who show little sign of brilliance in school often later accomplish far more than their gifted peers.

For example, consider Charles Darwin’s younger cousin, Sir Francis Galton. Whereas Darwin was an ordinary boy who showed no sign of exceptional intellect, Galton had a higher IQ and was considered a prodigious genius. Yet today, it’s Darwin who’s regarded as the superior scientist and one of the century’s brightest minds.

Clearly, mastery does not depend on whether you’re gifted or “ordinary.” So what steps do both a maverick genius and a regular person take to become masters? 

The answer is: exactly those steps taken by every great master throughout history. Each discovered their field, engaged in some kind of apprenticeship, developed a creative and open mind, then went on to achieve mastery. Edison, Mozart, Einstein, Goethe – the most celebrated masters throughout history all followed a similar path to success.

Modern masters, too, take the same steps. For example, professional boxer Freddie Roach dreamed of becoming a boxer, apprenticed with the great trainer Eddie Futch, and created a unique fighting style. Roach is now considered one of the best boxing trainers of his generation.

You don’t need inherited gifts, early talent or a high IQ to become a master. Just find your field or subject and follow the steps of the great masters before you.

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