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MASTERY ALSO BY ROBERT GREENE The 50th Law (with 50 Cent) The 33 Strategies of War (A Joost Elfers Production) The Art of Seduction (A Joost Elfers Production) The 48 Laws of Power (A Joost Elfers Production) ROBERT GREENE MASTERY VIKING VIKING Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. • Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) • Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England First published in 2012 by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © Robert Greene, 2012 All rights reserved Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Greene, Robert. Mastery / Robert Greene. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references (p.) and index. ISBN: 978-1-101-60102-0 1. Successful people. 2. Success. 3. Self-actualization (Psychology) I. Title. BF637.S8G695 2012 158—dc23 2012027195 No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions. To Anna CONTENTS INTRODUCTION THE ULTIMATE POWER Higher intelligence—definition of mastery—the three phases ; of mastery—intuitive intelligence—connecting to reality—the latent power within us all THE EVOLUTION OF MASTERY Our primitive ancestors—evolution of the human brain—the ability to detach and focus—social intelligence of early hominids—mirror neurons—thinking inside—mastery of time—working with the grain of the human brain—connecting to our early roots KEYS TO MASTERY Charles Darwin following his inclination—traits of all great Masters—our uniqueness and primal inclinations—political barriers to mastery crumbling—definition of genius—the concept of mastery denigrated—role of desire in mastery—the danger of passivity—the plasticity of the brain—overview of strategies and biographical figures in the book I. DISCOVER YOUR CALLING: THE LIFE’S TASK You possess an 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. The first move toward mastery is always inward—learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force. Knowing it with clarity, you will find your way to the proper career path and everything else will fall into place. It is never too late to start this process. THE HIDDEN FORCE Leonardo da Vinci KEYS TO MASTERY Examples of Masters guided by a sense of destiny—the seed of your uniqueness—reconnecting with your inclinations—definition of “vocation”—choosing a vocation—finding your niche—the quest for accomplishment—learn who you really are STRATEGIES FOR FINDING YOUR LIFE’S TASK 1. Return to your origins—The primal inclination strategy Albert Einstein—Marie Curie—Ingmar Bergman—Martha Graham—Daniel Everett—John Coltrane 2. Occupy the perfect niche—The Darwinian strategy A. V. S. Ramachandran B. Yoky Matsuoka 3. Avoid the false path—The rebellion strategy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 4. Let go of the past—The adaptation strategy Freddie Roach 5. Find your way back—The life-or-death strategy Buckminster Fuller REVERSAL Temple Grandin II. SUBMIT TO REALITY: THE IDEAL APPRENTICESHIP After your formal education, you enter the most critical phase in your life—a second, practical education known as The Apprenticeship. Before it is too late you must learn the lessons and follow the path established by the greatest Masters, past and present—a kind of Ideal Apprenticeship that transcends all fields. In the process you will master the necessary skills, discipline your mind, and transform yourself into an independent thinker, prepared for the creative challenges on the way to mastery. THE FIRST TRANSFORMATION Charles Darwin KEYS TO MASTERY The Ideal Apprenticeship defined—the goal of apprenticeship as self-transformation The Apprenticeship Phase— The Three Steps or Modes Step One: Deep Observation—The Passive Mode Mute your colors—observe the rules—observe power relationships—interpretation of Charles Darwin story—know your environment Step Two: Skills Acquisition—The Practice Mode Gaining tacit knowledge—the apprenticeship system of the Middle Ages—the cycle of accelerated returns—embracing tedium—the frontal cortex and learning tasks—hard-wiring knowledge—the magical number of 10,000 hours Step Three: Experimentation—The Active Mode Gradual self-assertion and experiment—overcoming fears Skill acquisition in the modern world—relevance of apprenticeship—the hand-eye connection—you are a builder STRATEGIES FOR COMPLETING THE IDEAL APPRENTICESHIP 1. Value learning over money Benjamin Franklin—Albert Einstein—Martha Graham—Freddie Roach 2. Keep expanding your horizons Zora Neale Hurston 3. Revert to a feeling of inferiority Daniel Everett 4. Trust the process Cesar Rodriguez 5. Move toward resistance and pain A. Bill Bradley B. John Keats 6. Apprentice yourself in failure Henry Ford 7. Combine the “how” and the “what” Santiago Calatrava 8. Advance through trial and error Paul Graham Reversal Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—Albert Einstein III. ABSORB THE MASTER’S POWER: THE MENTOR DYNAMIC Life is short, and your time for learning and creativity is limited. Without any guidance, you can waste valuable years trying to gain knowledge and practice from various sources. Instead, you must follow the example set by Masters throughout the ages and find the proper mentor. Choose the mentor who best fits your needs and connects to your Life’s Task. Once you have internalized their knowledge, you must move on and never remain in their shadow. Your goal is always to surpass your mentors in mastery and brilliance. THE ALCHEMY OF KNOWLEDGE Michael Faraday KEYS TO MASTERY The importance of humility—the value of mentors—the mentor-protégé dynamic—learning as alchemy—interpretation of Michael Faraday story—Alexander the Great—the value of personal interaction—finding and attracting a mentor—famous figures or books as mentors—the mentor as father figure—when to cut the Master STRATEGIES FOR DEEPENING THE MENTOR RELATIONSHIP 1. Choose the mentor according to your needs and inclinations Frank Lloyd Wright—Carl Jung—V. S. Ramachandran—Yoky Matsuoka 2. Gaze deep into the mentor’s mirror Hakuin Zenji 3. Transfigure their ideas Glenn Gould 4. Create a back-and-forth dynamic Freddie Roach REVERSAL Thomas Edison IV. SEE PEOPLE AS THEY ARE: SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE Often the greatest obstacle to our pursuit of mastery comes from the emotional drain we experience in dealing with the resistance and manipulations of the people around us. We misread their intentions and react in ways that cause confusion or conflict. Social intelligence is the ability to see people in the most realistic light possible. Navigating smoothly through the social environment, we have more time and energy to focus on learning and acquiring skills. Success attained without this intelligence is not true mastery, and will not last. THINKING INSIDE Benjamin Franklin KEYS TO MASTERY Humans as the preeminent social animal—the Naïve Perspective holding us back—interpretation of Benjamin Franklin story—adjusting your attitude Specific Knowledge—Reading People Nonverbal communication—paying attention to cues—looking for common emotional experiences—reading people intuitively—looking for patterns—the danger of first impressions General Knowledge—The Seven Deadly Realities Envy Conformism Rigidity Self-obsessiveness Laziness Flightiness Passive Aggression Social intelligence and creativity STRATEGIES FOR ACQUIRING SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE 1. Speak through your work A. Ignaz Semmelweis B. William Harvey 2. Craft the appropriate persona Teresita Fernández 3. See yourself as others see you Temple Grandin 4. Suffer fools gladly Johann Wolfgang von Goethe—Josef von Sternberg—Daniel Everett REVERSAL Paul Graham V. AWAKEN THE DIMENSIONAL MIND: THE CREATIVE-ACTIVE As you accumulate more skills and internalize the rules that govern your field, your mind will want to become more active, seeking to use this knowledge in ways that are more suited to your inclinations. Instead of feeling complacent about what you know, you must expand your knowledge to related fields, giving your mind fuel to make new associations between different ideas. In the end, you will turn against the very rules you have internalized, shaping and reforming them to suit your spirit. Such originality will bring you to the heights of power. THE SECOND TRANSFORMATION Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart KEYS TO MASTERY The Original Mind—the Conventional Mind—the Dimensional Mind—interpretation of Mozart story—the three essential steps Step One: The Creative Task Altering your concept of creativity—searching for the Great White Whale—Thomas Edison, Rembrandt, Marcel Proust, and the ultimate creative challenges—The Primary Law of the Creative Dynamic—finding something to rebel against—remaining realistic—letting go of security Step Two: Creative Strategies A. CULTIVATE NEGATIVE CAPABILITY Keats on the creative process—definition of Negative Capability—Mozart and Bach—Einstein and Negative Capability—Shakespeare as ideal—Faraday on humility—Negative Capability as a tool to open the mind B. ALLOW FOR SERENDIPITY The brain as a dual processing system—definition of “serendipity”—William James and mental momentum—maintaining openness of spirit—Louis Pasteur and serendipity—Thomas Edison, serendipity, and the recording of sound—the fluid mind—serendipity strategies of Anthony Burgess and Max Ernst—cultivating serendipity—analogical thinking and Galileo C. ALTERNATE THE MIND THROUGH “THE CURRENT” Charles Darwin and the Current—definition of “the Current”—our primitive ancestors and the Current—short-circuiting the Current—Buckminster Fuller and artifacts—the importance of creating objects—feedback loop D. ALTER YOUR PERSPECTIVE Typical patterns of thinking to alter Looking at the “what” instead of the “how” Avoiding shorthand—focusing on the structure—getting a feel for the whole—the importance of relationships in science Rushing to generalities and ignoring details Shifting from the macro to the micro—Charles Darwin and the micro-study of barnacles—Leonardo da Vinci’s attention to micro-detail in painting—letting details guide you Confirming paradigms and ignoring anomalies Overdependence on paradigms—the value of anomalies—Marie Curie and the anomaly of radioactivity—the founders of Google and anomalies—anomalies fueling evolution Fixating on what is present, ignoring what is absent Sherlock Holmes and negative cues—Gowland Hopkins, negative cues, and scurvy—meeting unfulfilled needs—Henry Ford, negative cues, and the assembly line—reversing your emotional perspective—setbacks as opportunities E. REVERT TO PRIMAL FORMS OF INTELLIGENCE The intelligence of our primitive ancestors—the human brain as a multiuse instrument—grammar as a limitation—thinking beyond language—examples of famous people who thought in images—the limitations of memory—using diagrams and models—Schiller, Einstein, Samuel Johnson, and synesthesia Step Three: The Creative Breakthrough— Tension and Insight The high internal standards of Masters—letting go—Einstein, letting go, and the discovery of relativity—Richard Wagner completing his opera in a dream—how the brain reaches peaks of creativity—blocks that precede enlightenment—Evariste Galois’s sudden burst of genius—the need for tension—manufacturing deadlines—Thomas Edison’s manufacture of pressure Emotional Pitfalls Complacency Conservatism Dependency Impatience Grandiosity Inflexibility STRATEGIES FOR THE CREATIVE-ACTIVE PHASE 1. The Authentic Voice John Coltrane 2. The Fact of Great Yield V. S. Ramachandran 3. Mechanical Intelligence The Wright brothers 4. Natural Powers Santiago Calatrava 5. The Open Field Martha Graham 6. The High End Yoky Matsuoka 7. The Evolutionary Hijack Paul Graham 8. Dimensional Thinking Jean-François Champollion 9. Alchemical Creativity and the Unconscious Teresita Fernández REVERSAL John Coltrane—August Strindberg VI. FUSE THE INTUITIVE WITH THE RATIONAL: MASTERY All of us have access to a higher form of intelligence, one that can allow us to see more of the world, to anticipate trends, to respond with speed and accuracy to any circumstance. This intelligence is cultivated by deeply immersing ourselves in a field of study and staying true to our inclinations, no matter how unconventional our approach might seem to others. This power is what our brains were designed to attain, and we will be naturally led to this type of intelligence if we follow our inclinations to their ultimate ends. THE THIRD TRANSFORMATION Marcel Proust KEYS TO MASTERY Examples of Masters seeing more—the fingertip feel—a power that is mystified— high-level intuition—the Dynamic—gaining an intuitive feel for the whole—Jane Goodall’s feel for chimpanzees—Erwin Rommel’s feel for battle—the fusing of the rational and the intuitive—mastery at 20,000 hours—time as a crucial factor—make study time qualitatively rich—interpretation of Proust story The Roots of Masterly Intuition The Ammophila wasp—intuition and our primitive ancestors—mnemonic networks in the brain—Bobby Fischer and memory traces—engaging with complexity—gaining a tolerance for chaos—increasing memory capacity—examples of high-level intuition and youthfulness The Return to Reality Overview of evolution from the beginning—the interconnectedness of all life—the ultimate reality—our modern Renaissance—returning to the whole—the altered brain of the Master STRATEGIES FOR ATTAINING MASTERY 1. Connect to your environment—Primal Powers The Caroline Islanders 2. Play to your strengths—Supreme Focus A. Albert Einstein B. Temple Grandin 3. Transform yourself through practice— The Fingertip Feel Cesar Rodriguez 4. Internalize the details—The Life Force Leonardo da Vinci 5. Widen your vision—The Global Perspective Freddie Roach 6. Submit to the other—The Inside-out Perspective Daniel Everett 7. Synthesize all forms of knowledge— The Universal Man/Woman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe REVERSAL The false self—the true self—genius demystified—your purpose in life—realizing your potential CONTEMPORARY MASTER BIOGRAPHIES ACKNOWLEDGMENTS SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY INDEX INTRODUCTION THE ULTIMATE POWER 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. —JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE There exists a form of power and intelligence that represents the high point of human potential. It is the source of the greatest achievements and discoveries in history. It is an intelligence that is not taught in our schools nor analyzed by professors, but almost all of us, at some point, have had glimpses of it in our own experience. It often comes to us in a period of tension—facing a deadline, the urgent need to solve a problem, a crisis of sorts. Or it can come as the result of constant work on a project. In any event, pressed by circumstances, we feel unusually energized and focused. Our minds become completely absorbed in the task before us. This intense concentration sparks all kinds of ideas—they come to us as we fall asleep, out of nowhere, as if springing from our unconscious. At these times, other people seem less resistant to our influence; perhaps we are more attentive to them, or we appear to have a special power that inspires their respect. We might normally experience life in a passive mode, constantly reacting to this or that incident, but for these days or weeks we feel like we can determine events and make things happen. We could express this power in the following way: Most of the time we live in an interior world of dreams, desires, and obsessive thoughts. But in this period of exceptional creativity, we are impelled by the need to get something done that has a practical effect. We force ourselves to step outside our inner chamber of habitual thoughts and connect to the world, to other people, to reality. Instead of flitting here and there in a state of perpetual distraction, our minds focus and penetrate to the core of something real. At these moments, it is as if our minds—turned outward—are now flooded with light from the world around us, and suddenly exposed to new details and ideas, we become more inspired and creative. Once the deadline has passed or the crisis is over, this feeling of power and heightened creativity generally fades away. We return to our distracted state and the sense of control is gone. If only we could manufacture this feeling, or somehow keep it alive longer…but it seems so mysterious and elusive. The problem we face is that this form of power and intelligence is either ignored as a subject of study or is surrounded by all kinds of myths and misconceptions, all of which only add to the mystery. We imagine that creativity and brilliance just appear out of nowhere, the fruit of natural talent, or perhaps of a good mood, or an alignment of the stars. It would be an immense help to clear up the mystery—to name this feeling of power, to examine its roots, to define the kind of intelligence that leads to it, and to understand how it can be manufactured and maintained. Let us call this sensation mastery—the feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves. Although it might be something we experience for only a short while, for others—Masters of their field—it becomes their way of life, their way of seeing the world. (Such Masters include Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, and Martha Graham, among many others.) And at the root of this power is a simple process that leads to mastery—one that is accessible to all of us. The process can be illustrated in the following manner: Let us say we are learning the piano, or entering a new job where we must acquire certain skills. In the beginning, we are outsiders. Our initial impressions of the piano or the work environment are based on prejudgments, and often contain an element of fear. When we first study the piano, the keyboard looks rather intimidating—we don’t understand the relationships between the keys, the chords, the pedals, and everything else that goes into creating music. In a new job situation, we are ignorant of the power relationships between people, the psychology of our boss, the rules and procedures that are considered critical for success. We are confused—the knowledge we need in both cases is over our heads. Although we might enter these situations with excitement about what we can learn or do with our new skills, we quickly realize how much hard work there is ahead of us. The great danger is that we give in to feelings of boredom, impatience, fear, and confusion. We stop observing and learning. The process comes to a halt. If, on the other hand, we manage these emotions and allow time to take its course, something remarkable begins to take shape. As we continue to observe and follow the lead of others, we gain clarity, learning the rules and seeing how things work and fit together. If we keep practicing, we gain fluency; basic skills are mastered, allowing us to take on newer and more exciting challenges. We begin to see connections that were invisible to us before. We slowly gain confidence in our ability to solve problems or overcome weaknesses through sheer persistence. At a certain point, we move from student to practitioner. We try out our own ideas, gaining valuable feedback in the process. We use our expanding knowledge in ways that are increasingly creative. Instead of just learning how others do things, we bring our own style and individuality into play. As years go by and we remain faithful to this process, yet another leap takes place—to mastery. The keyboard is no longer something outside of us; it is internalized and becomes part of our nervous system, our fingertips. In our career, we now have a feel for the group dynamic, the current state of business. We can apply this feel to social situations, seeing deeper into other people and anticipating their reactions. We can make decisions that are rapid and highly creative. Ideas come to us. We have learned the rules so well that we can now be the ones to break or rewrite them. In the process leading to this ultimate form of power, we can identify three distinct phases or levels. The first is the Apprenticeship; the second is the Creative-Active; the third, Mastery. In the first phase, we stand on the outside of our field, learning as much as we can of the basic elements and rules. We have only a partial picture of the field and so our powers are limited. In the second phase, through much practice and immersion, we see into the inside of the machinery, how things connect with one another, and thus gain a more comprehensive understanding of the subject. With this comes a new power—the ability to experiment and creatively play with the elements involved. In the third phase, our degree of knowledge, experience, and focus is so deep that we can now see the whole picture with complete clarity. We have access to the heart of life—to human nature and natural phenomena. That is why the artwork of Masters touches us to the core; the artist has captured something of the essence of reality. That is why the brilliant scientist can uncover a new law of physics, and the inventor or entrepreneur can hit upon something no one else has imagined. We can call this power intuition, but intuition is nothing more than a sudden and immediate seizing of what is real, without the need for words or formulas. The words and formulas may come later, but this flash of intuition is what ultimately brings us closer to reality, as our minds suddenly become illuminated by some particle of truth previously hidden to us and to others. An animal has the capacity to learn, but it largely relies on its instincts to connect to its surroundings and save itself from danger. Through instinct, it can act quickly and effectively. The human relies instead on thinking and rationality to understand its environment. But such thinking can be slow, and in its slowness can become ineffective. So much of our obsessive, internal thought process tends to disconnect us from the world. Intuitive powers at the mastery level are a mix of the instinctive and the rational, the conscious and the unconscious, the human and the animal. It is our way of making sudden and powerful connections to the environment, to feeling or thinking inside things. As children we had some of this intuitive power and spontaneity, but it is generally drummed out of us by all of the information that overloads our minds over time. Masters return to this childlike state, their works displaying degrees of spontaneity and access to the unconscious, but at a much higher level than the child. If we move through the process to this endpoint, we activate the intuitive power latent in every human brain, one that we may have briefly experienced when we worked so deeply on a single problem or project. In fact, often in life we have glimpses of this power—for instance, when we have an inkling of what will come next in a particular situation, or when the perfect answer to a problem comes to us out of nowhere. But these moments are ephemeral and not based on enough experience to make them repeatable. When we reach mastery, this intuition is a power at our command, the fruit of working through the lengthier process. And because the world prizes creativity and this ability to uncover new aspects of reality, it brings us tremendous practical power as well. Think of mastery in this way: Throughout history, men and women have felt trapped by the limitations of their consciousness, by their lack of contact with reality and the power to affect the world around them. They have sought all kinds of shortcuts to this expanded consciousness and sense of control, in the form of magic rituals, trances, incantations, and drugs. They have devoted their lives to alchemy, in search of the philosopher’s stone—the elusive substance that transformed all matter into gold. 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. At the same time that so many people lose themselves in these endless fantasies, they ignore the one real power that they actually possess. And unlike magic or simplistic formulas, we can see the material effects of this power in history—the great discoveries and inventions, the magnificent buildings and works of art, the technological prowess we possess, all works of the masterful mind. This power brings to those who possess it the kind of connection to reality and the ability to alter the world that the mystics and magicians of the past could only dream of. Over the centuries, people have placed a wall around such mastery. They have called it genius and have thought of it as inaccessible. They have seen it as the product of privilege, inborn talent, or just the right alignment of the stars. They have made it seem as if it were as elusive as magic. But that wall is imaginary. This is the real secret: the brain that we possess is the work of six million years of development, and more than anything else, this evolution of the brain was designed to lead us to mastery, the latent power within us all. THE EVOLUTION OF MASTERY For three million years we were hunter-gatherers, and it was through the evolutionary pressures of that way of life that a brain so adaptable and creative eventually emerged. Today we stand with the brains of hunter-gatherers in our heads. —RICHARD LEAKEY It is hard for us to imagine now, but our earliest human ancestors who ventured out onto the grasslands of East Africa some six million years ago were remarkably weak and vulnerable creatures. They stood less than five feet tall. They walked upright and could run on their two legs, but nowhere near as fast as the swift predators on four legs that pursued them. They were skinny—their arms could not provide much defense. They had no claws or fangs or poison to resort to if under attack. To gather fruits, nuts, and insects, or to scavenge dead meat, they had to move out into the open savanna where they became easy prey to leopards or packs of hyenas. So weak and small in number, they might have easily become extinct. And yet within the space of a few million years (remarkably short on the time scale of evolution), these rather physically unimpressive ancestors of ours transformed themselves into the most formidable hunters on the planet. What could possibly account for such a miraculous turnaround? Some have speculated that it was their standing on two legs, which freed up the hands to make tools with their opposable thumbs and precision grip. But such physical explanations miss the point. Our dominance, our mastery does not stem from our hands but from our brains, from our fashioning the mind into the most powerful instrument known in nature—far more powerful than any claw. And at the root of this mental transformation are two simple biological traits—the visual and the social—that primitive humans leveraged into power. Our earliest ancestors were descended from primates who thrived for millions of years in a treetop environment, and who in the process had evolved one of the most remarkable visual systems in nature. To move quickly and efficiently in such a world, they developed extremely sophisticated eye and muscle coordination. Their eyes slowly evolved into a full-frontal position on the face, giving them binocular, stereoscopic vision. This system provides the brain a highly accurate three-dimensional and detailed perspective, but is rather narrow. Animals that possess such vision—as opposed to eyes on the side or half side—are generally efficient predators like owls or cats. They use this powerful sight to home in on prey in the distance. Tree-living primates evolved this vision for a different purpose—to navigate branches, and to spot fruits, berries, and insects with greater effectiveness. They also evolved elaborate color vision. When our earliest human ancestors left the trees and moved to the open grasslands of the savanna, they adopted an upright stance. Possessing already this powerful visual system, they could see far into the distance (giraffes and elephants might stand taller, but their eyes are on the sides, giving them instead panoramic vision). This allowed them to spot dangerous predators far away on the horizon and detect their movements even in twilight. Given a few seconds or minutes, they could plot a safe retreat. At the same time, if they focused on what was nearest at hand, they could identify all kinds of important details in their environment—footprints and signs of passing predators, or the colors and shapes of rocks that they could pick up and perhaps use as tools. In the treetops, this powerful vision was built for speed—seeing and reacting quickly. On the open grassland, it was the opposite. Safety and finding food relied upon slow, patient observation of the environment, on the ability to pick out details and focus on what they might mean. Our ancestors’ survival depended on the intensity of their attention. The longer and harder they looked, the more they could distinguish between an opportunity and a danger. If they simply scanned the horizon quickly they could see a lot more, but this would overload the mind with information—too many details for such sharp vision. The human visual system is not built for scanning, as a cow’s is, but for depth of focus. Animals are locked in a perpetual present. They can learn from recent events, but they are easily distracted by what is in front of their eyes. Slowly, over a great period of time, our ancestors overcame this basic animal weakness. By looking long enough at any object and refusing to be distracted—even for a few seconds—they could momentarily detach themselves from their immediate surroundings. In this way they could notice patterns, make generalizations, and think ahead. They had the mental distance to think and reflect, even on the smallest scale. These early humans evolved the ability to detach and think as their primary advantage in the struggle to avoid predators and find food. It connected them to a reality other animals could not access. Thinking on this level was the single greatest turning point in all of evolution—the emergence of the conscious, reasoning mind. The second biological advantage is subtler, but equally powerful in its implications. All primates are essentially social creatures, but because of their intense vulnerability in open areas, our earliest ancestors had a much greater need for group cohesion. They depended on the group for vigilant observation of predators and the gathering of food. In general, these early hominids had many more social interactions than other primates. Over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, this social intelligence became increasingly sophisticated, allowing these ancestors to cooperate with one another on a high level. And as with our understanding of the natural environment, this intelligence depended on deep attention and focus. Misreading the social signs in a tight-knit group could prove highly dangerous. Through the elaboration of these two traits—the visual and the social—our primitive ancestors were able to invent and develop the complex skill of hunting some two to three million years ago. Slowly, they became more creative, refining this complex skill into an art. They became seasonal hunters and spread throughout the Euro-Asian landmass, managing to adapt themselves to all kinds of climates. And in the process of this rapid evolution, their brains grew to virtually modern human size, some 200,000 years ago. In the 1990s a group of Italian neuroscientists discovered something that could help explain this increasing hunting prowess of our primitive ancestors, and in turn something about mastery as it exists today. In studying the brains of monkeys, they found that particular motor-command neurons will not only fire when they execute a very specific action—such as pulling a lever to get a peanut or taking hold of a banana—but that these neurons will also fire when monkeys observe another performing the same actions. These were soon dubbed mirror neurons. This neuronal firing meant that these primates would experience a similar sensation in both doing and observing the same deed, allowing them to put themselves in the place of another and perceive its movements as if they were doing them. It would account for the ability of many primates to imitate others, and for the pronounced abilities of chimpanzees to anticipate the plans and actions of a rival. Such neurons, it is speculated, evolved because of the social nature of primate life. Recent experiments have demonstrated the existence of such neurons in humans, but on a much higher level of sophistication. A monkey or primate can see an action from the point of view of the performer and imagine its intentions, but we can take this further. Without any visual cues or any action on the part of others, we can place ourselves inside their minds and imagine what they might be thinking. For our ancestors, the elaboration of mirror neurons would allow them to read each other’s desires from the subtlest of signs and thus elevate their social skills. It would also serve as a critical component in toolmaking—one could learn to fashion a tool by imitating the actions of an expert. But perhaps most important of all, it would give them the ability to think inside everything around them. After years of studying particular animals, they could identify with and think like them, anticipating behavioral patterns and heightening their ability to track and kill prey. This thinking inside could be applied to the inorganic as well. In fashioning a stone tool, expert toolmakers would feel as one with their instruments. The stone or wood they cut with became an extension of their hand. They could feel it as if it were their own flesh, permitting much greater control of the tools themselves, both in making and in using them. This power of the mind could be unleashed only after years of experience. Having mastered a particular skill—tracking prey, fashioning a tool—it was now automatic, and so while practicing the skill the mind no longer had to focus on the specific actions involved but instead could concentrate on something higher—what the prey might be thinking, how the tool could be felt as part of the hand. This thinking inside would be a preverbal version of third-level intelligence—the primitive equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci’s intuitive feel for anatomy and landscape or Michael Faraday’s for electromagnetism. Mastery at this level meant our ancestors could make decisions rapidly and effectively, having gained a complete understanding of their environment and their prey. If this power had not evolved, the minds of our ancestors would have become easily overwhelmed by the mass of information they had to process for a successful hunt. They had developed this intuitive power hundreds of thousands of years before the invention of language, and that is why when we experience this intelligence it seems like something preverbal, a power that transcends our ability to put it into words. Understand: This long stretch of time played a critical, elemental role in our mental development. It fundamentally altered our relationship to time. For animals, time is their great enemy. If they are potential prey, wandering too long in a space can spell instant death. If they are predators, waiting too long will only mean the escape of their prey. Time for them also represents physical decay. To a remarkable extent, our hunting ancestors reversed this process. The longer they spent observing something, the deeper their understanding and connection to reality. With experience, their hunting skills would progress. With continued practice, their ability to make effective tools would improve. The body could decay but the mind would continue to learn and adapt. Using time for such effect is the essential ingredient of mastery. In fact, we can say that this revolutionary relationship to time fundamentally altered the human mind itself and gave it a particular quality or grain. When we take our time and focus in depth, when we trust that going through a process of months or years will bring us mastery, we work with the grain of this marvelous instrument that developed over so many millions of years. We infallibly move to higher and higher levels of intelligence. We see more deeply and realistically. We practice and make things with skill. We learn to think for ourselves. We become capable of handling complex situations without being overwhelmed. In following this path we become Homo magister, man or woman the Master. To the extent that we believe we can skip steps, avoid the process, magically gain power through political connections or easy formulas, or depend on our natural talents, we move against this grain and reverse our natural powers. We become slaves to time—as it passes, we grow weaker, less capable, trapped in some dead-end career. We become captive to the opinions and fears of others. Rather than the mind connecting us to reality, we become disconnected and locked in a narrow chamber of thought. The human that depended on focused attention for its survival now becomes the distracted scanning animal, unable to think in depth, yet unable to depend on instincts. It is the height of stupidity to believe that in the course of your short life, your few decades of consciousness, you can somehow rewire the configurations of your brain through technology and wishful thinking, overcoming the effect of six million years of development. To go against the grain might bring temporary distraction, but time will mercilessly expose your weakness and impatience. The great salvation for all of us is that we have inherited an instrument that is remarkably plastic. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors, over the course of time, managed to craft the brain into its present shape by creating a culture that could learn, change, and adapt to circumstances, that wasn’t a prisoner to the incredibly slow march of natural evolution. As modern individuals, our brains have the same power, the same plasticity. At any moment we can choose to shift our relationship to time and work with the grain, knowing of its existence and power. With the element of time working for us, we can reverse the bad habits and passivity, and move up the ladder of intelligence. Think of this shift as a return to your radical, deep past as a human, connecting to and maintaining a magnificent continuity with your hunter-gatherer ancestors in a modern form. The environment we operate in may be different, but the brain is essentially the same, and its power to learn, adapt, and master time is universal. KEYS TO MASTERY 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 If all of us are born with an essentially similar brain, with more or less the same configuration and potential for mastery, why is it then that in history only a limited number of people seem to truly excel and realize this potential power? Certainly, in a practical sense, this is the most important question for us to answer. The common explanations for a Mozart or a Leonardo da Vinci revolve around natural talent and brilliance. How else to account for their uncanny achievements except in terms of something they were born with? But thousands upon thousands of children display exceptional skill and talent in some field, yet relatively few of them ever amount to anything, whereas those who are less brilliant in their youth can often attain much more. Natural talent or a high IQ cannot explain future achievement. As a classic example, compare the lives of Sir Francis Galton and his older cousin, Charles Darwin. By all accounts, Galton was a super-genius with an exceptionally high IQ, quite a bit higher than Darwin’s (these are estimates done by experts years after the invention of the measurement). Galton was a boy wonder who went on to have an illustrious scientific career, but he never quite mastered any of the fields he went into. He was notoriously restless, as is often the case with child prodigies. Darwin, by contrast, is rightly celebrated as the superior scientist, one of the few who has forever changed our view of life. As Darwin himself admitted, he was “a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect…. I have no great quickness of apprehension…. My power to follow a long and purely abstract train of thought is very limited.” Darwin, however, must have possessed something that Galton lacked. In many ways, a look at the early life of Darwin himself can supply an answer to this mystery. As a child Darwin had one overriding passion—collecting biological specimens. His father, a doctor, wanted him to follow in his footsteps and study medicine, enrolling him at the University of Edinburgh. Darwin did not take to this subject and was a mediocre student. His father, despairing that his son would ever amount to anything, chose for him a career in the church. As Darwin was preparing for this, a former professor of his told him that the HMS Beagle was to leave port soon to sail around the world, and that it needed a ship’s biologist to accompany the crew in order to collect specimens that could be sent back to England. Despite his father’s protests, Darwin took the job. Something in him was drawn to the voyage. Suddenly, his passion for collecting found its perfect outlet. In South America he could collect the most astounding array of specimens, as well as fossils and bones. He could connect his interest in the variety of life on the planet with something larger—major questions about the origins of species. He poured all of his energy into this enterprise, accumulating so many specimens that a theory began to take shape in his mind. After five years at sea, he returned to England and devoted the rest of his life to the single task of elaborating his theory of evolution. In the process he had to deal with a tremendous amount of drudgery—for instance, eight years exclusively studying barnacles to establish his credentials as a biologist. He had to develop highly refined political and social skills to handle all the prejudice against such a theory in Victorian England. And what sustained him throughout this lengthy process was his intense love of and connection to the subject. The basic elements of this story are repeated in the lives of all of the great Masters in history: a youthful passion or predilection, a chance encounter that allows them to discover how to apply it, an apprenticeship in which they come alive with energy and focus. They excel by their ability to practice harder and move faster through the process, all of this stemming from the intensity of their desire to learn and from the deep connection they feel to their field of study. And at the core of this intensity of effort is in fact a quality that is genetic and inborn—not talent or brilliance, which is something that must be developed, but rather a deep and powerful inclination toward a particular subject. This inclination is a reflection of a person’s uniqueness. 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. With those who stand out by their later mastery, they experience this inclination more deeply and clearly than others. They experience it as an inner calling. It tends to dominate their thoughts and dreams. They find their way, by accident or sheer effort, to a career path in which this inclination can flourish. 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. In our culture we tend to equate thinking and intellectual powers with success and achievement. In many ways, however, it is an emotional quality that separates those who master a field from the many who simply work at a job. 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. Feeling bored and restless, our minds shut off and we become increasingly passive. In the past, only elites or those with an almost superhuman amount of energy and drive could pursue a career of their choice and master it. A man was born into the military, or groomed for the government, chosen among those of the right class. If he happened to display a talent and desire for such work it was mostly a coincidence. Millions of people who were not part of the right social class, gender, and ethnic group were rigidly excluded from the possibility of pursuing their calling. Even if people wanted to follow their inclinations, access to the information and knowledge pertaining to that particular field was controlled by elites. That is why there are relatively few Masters in the past and why they stand out so much. These social and political barriers, however, have mostly disappeared. Today we have the kind of access to information and knowledge that past Masters could only dream about. Now more than ever, we have the capacity and freedom to move toward the inclination that all of us possess as part of our genetic uniqueness. It is time that the word “genius” becomes demystified and de-rarefied. We are all closer than we think to such intelligence. (The word “genius” comes from the Latin, and originally referred to a guardian spirit that watched over the birth of each person; it later came to refer to the innate qualities that make each person uniquely gifted.) Although we may find ourselves at a historical moment rich in possibilities for mastery, in which more and more people can move toward their inclinations, we in fact face one last obstacle in attaining such power, one that is cultural and insidiously dangerous: The very concept of mastery has become denigrated, associated with something old-fashioned and even unpleasant. It is generally not seen as something to aspire to. This shift in value is rather recent, and can be traced to circumstances peculiar to our times. We live in a world that seems increasingly beyond our control. Our livelihoods are at the whim of globalized forces. The problems that we face—economic, environmental, and so on—cannot be solved by our individual actions. Our politicians are distant and unresponsive to our desires. A natural response when people feel overwhelmed is to retreat into various forms of passivity. If we don’t try too much in life, if we limit our circle of action, we can give ourselves the illusion of control. The less we attempt, the less chances of failure. If we can make it look like we are not really responsible for our fate, for what happens to us in life, then our apparent powerlessness is more palatable. For this reason we become attracted to certain narratives: it is genetics that determines much of what we do; we are just products of our times; the individual is just a myth; human behavior can be reduced to statistical trends. Many take this change in value a step further, giving their passivity a positive veneer. They romanticize the self-destructive artist who loses control of him-or herself. Anything that smacks of discipline or effort seems fussy and passé: what matters is the feeling behind the artwork, and any hint of craftsmanship or work violates this principle. They come to accept things that are made cheaply and quickly. The idea that they might have to expend much effort to get what they want has been eroded by the proliferation of devices that do so much of the work for them, fostering the idea that they deserve all of this—that it is their inherent right to have and to consume what they want. “Why bother working for years to attain mastery when we can have so much power with very little effort? Technology will solve everything.” This passivity has even assumed a moral stance: “mastery and power are evil; they are the domain of patriarchal elites who oppress us; power is inherently bad; better to opt out of the system altogether,” or at least make it look that way. If you are not careful, you will find this attitude infecting you in subtle ways. You will unconsciously lower your sights as to what you can accomplish in life. This can diminish your levels of effort and discipline below the point of effectiveness. Conforming to social norms, you will listen more to others than to your own voice. You may choose a career path based on what peers and parents tell you, or on what seems lucrative. If you lose contact with this inner calling, you can have some success in life, but eventually your lack of true desire catches up with you. Your work becomes mechanical. You come to live for leisure and immediate pleasures. In this way you become increasingly passive, and never move past the first phase. You may grow frustrated and depressed, never realizing that the source of it is your alienation from your own creative potential. Before it is too late you must find your way to your inclination, exploiting the incredible opportunities of the age that you have been born into. Knowing the critical importance of desire and of your emotional connection to your work, which are the keys to mastery, you can in fact make the passivity of these times work in your favor and serve as a motivating device in two important ways. First, you must see your attempt at attaining mastery as something extremely necessary and positive. The world is teeming with problems, many of them of our own creation. To solve them will require a tremendous amount of effort and creativity. Relying on genetics, technology, magic, or being nice and natural will not save us. We require the energy not only to address practical matters, but also to forge new institutions and orders that fit our changed circumstances. We must create our own world or we will die from inaction. We need to find our way back to the concept of mastery that defined us as a species so many millions of years ago. This is not mastery for the purpose of dominating nature or other people, but for determining our fate. The passive ironic attitude is not cool or romantic, but pathetic and destructive. You are setting an example of what can be achieved as a Master in the modern world. You are contributing to the most important cause of all—the survival and prosperity of the human race, in a time of stagnation. Second, you must convince yourself of the following: people get the mind and quality of brain that they deserve through their actions in life. Despite the popularity of genetic explanations for our behavior, recent discoveries in neuroscience are overturning long-held beliefs that the brain is genetically hardwired. Scientists are demonstrating the degree to which the brain is actually quite plastic—how our thoughts determine our mental landscape. They are exploring the relationship of willpower to physiology, how profoundly the mind can affect our health and functionality. It is possible that more and more will be discovered about how deeply we create the various patterns of our lives through certain mental operations—how we are truly responsible for so much of what happens to us. People who are passive create a mental landscape that is rather barren. Because of their limited experiences and action, all kinds of connections in the brain die off from lack of use. Pushing against the passive trend of these times, you must work to see how far you can extend control of your circumstances and create the kind of mind you desire—not through drugs but through action. Unleashing the masterful mind within, you will be at the vanguard of those who are exploring the extended limits of human willpower. In many ways, the movement from one level of intelligence to another can be considered as a kind of ritual of transformation. As you progress, old ideas and perspectives die off; as new powers are unleashed, you are initiated into higher levels of seeing the world. Consider Mastery as an invaluable tool in guiding you through this transformative process. The book is designed to lead you from the lowest levels to the highest. It will help to initiate you into the first step—discovering your Life’s Task, or vocation, and how to carve out a path that will lead you to its fulfillment on various levels. It will advise you how to exploit to the fullest your apprenticeship—the various strategies of observation and learning that will serve you best in this phase; how to find the perfect mentors; how to decipher the unwritten codes on political behavior; how to cultivate social intelligence; and finally, how to recognize when it is time to leave the apprenticeship nest and strike out for yourself, entering the active, creative phase. It will show you how to continue the learning process on a higher level. It will reveal timeless strategies for creative problem solving, for keeping your mind fluid and adaptable. It will show you how to access more unconscious and primitive layers of intelligence, and how to endure the inevitable barbs of envy that will come your way. It will spell out the powers that will come to you through mastery, pointing you in the direction of that intuitive, inside feel for your field. Finally, it will initiate you into a philosophy, a way of thinking that will make it easier to follow this path. The ideas in the book are based on extensive research in the fields of neuro-and cognitive science, studies on creativity, as well as the biographies of the greatest Masters in history. These include Leonardo da Vinci, the Zen Master Hakuin, Benjamin Franklin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the poet John Keats, the scientist Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, the writer Marcel Proust, the dancer Martha Graham, the inventor Buckminster Fuller, the jazz artist John Coltrane, and the pianist Glenn Gould. To make it clear how this form of intelligence can be applied to the modern world, nine contemporary Masters have been interviewed at length as well. They are neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran; anthropologist-linguist Daniel Everett; computer engineer, writer, and tech-startup mastermind Paul Graham; architect-engineer Santiago Calatrava; former boxer and now trainer Freddie Roach; robotics engineer and green technology designer Yoky Matsuoka; visual artist Teresita Fernández; professor of animal husbandry and industrial designer Temple Grandin; and U.S. Air Force fighter pilot ace Cesar Rodriguez. The life stories of these various contemporary figures dispel the notion that mastery is somehow passé or elitist. They come from all different backgrounds, social classes, and ethnicities. The power they have achieved is clearly the result of effort and process, not genetics or privilege. Their stories also reveal how such mastery can be adapted to our times, and the tremendous power it can bring us. The structure of Mastery is simple. There are six chapters, moving sequentially through the process. Chapter 1 is the starting point—discovering your calling, your Life’s Task. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 discuss different elements of the Apprenticeship Phase (learning skills, working with mentors, acquiring social intelligence). Chapter 5 is devoted to the Creative-Active Phase, and chapter 6 to the ultimate goal—Mastery. Each chapter begins with the story of an iconic historical figure who exemplifies the chapter’s overall concept. The section that follows, Keys to Mastery, gives you a detailed analysis of the phase involved, concrete ideas on how to apply this knowledge to your circumstances, and the mind-set that is necessary to fully exploit these ideas. Following the Keys is a section detailing the strategies of Masters—contemporary and historical—who have used various methods to advance them through the process. These strategies are designed to give you an even greater sense of the practical application of the ideas in the book, and to inspire you to follow in the footsteps of these Masters, showing how their power is eminently attainable. For all of the contemporary Masters and some of the historical ones, their stories will continue over several chapters. In such cases there may be a slight repetition of biographical information in order to recap what happened in the previous phase of their lives. Hyperlinks in parentheses will refer back to these earlier narrations. Finally, you must not see this process of moving through levels of intelligence as merely linear, heading toward some kind of ultimate destination known as mastery. Your whole life is a kind of apprenticeship to which you apply your learning skills. Everything that happens to you is a form of instruction if you pay attention. The creativity that you gain in learning a skill so deeply must be constantly refreshed, as you keep forcing your mind back to a state of openness. Even knowledge of your vocation must be revisited throughout the course of your life as changes in circumstance force you to adapt its direction. In moving toward mastery, you are bringing your mind closer to reality and to life itself. Anything that is alive is in a continual state of change and movement. The moment that you rest, thinking that you have attained the level you desire, a part of your mind enters a phase of decay. You lose your hard-earned creativity and others begin to sense it. This is a power and intelligence that must be continually renewed or it will die. Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. They acquired greatness, became “geniuses” (as we put it), through qualities the lack of which no one who knew what they were would boast of: they all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole. —FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE I DISCOVER YOUR CALLING: THE 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. This can be the source of your unhappiness—your lack of connection to who you are and what makes you unique. The first move toward mastery is always inward—learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force. Knowing it with clarity, you will find your way to the proper career path and everything else will fall into place. It is never too late to start this process. THE HIDDEN FORCE Toward the end of April 1519, after months of illness, the artist Leonardo da Vinci felt certain that his death was only a few days away. For the past two years Leonardo had been living in the château of Cloux in France, the personal guest of the French king, François I. The king had showered him with money and honors, considering him the living embodiment of the Italian Renaissance, which he had wanted to import to France. Leonardo had been most useful to the king, advising him on all kinds of important matters. But now, at the age of sixty-seven, his life was about to end and his thoughts turned toward other things. He made out his will, received the holy sacrament in church, and then returned to his bed, waiting for the end to come. As he lay there, several of his friends—including the king—visited him. They noticed that Leonardo was in a particularly reflective mood. He was not someone who usually liked to talk about himself, but now he shared memories from his childhood and youth, dwelling on the strange and improbable course of his life. Leonardo had always had a strong sense of fate, and for years he had been haunted by one particular question: is there some kind of force from within that makes all living things grow and transform themselves? If such a force in nature existed, he wanted to discover it, and he looked for signs of it in every thing he examined. It was an obsession. Now, in his final hours, after his friends had left him alone, Leonardo would have almost certainly applied this question in some form or another to the riddle of his own life, searching for signs of a force or a fate that had brought about his own development and guided him to the present. Leonardo would have begun such a search by first thinking back to his childhood in the village of Vinci, some twenty miles outside Florence. His father, Ser Piero da Vinci, was a notary and staunch member of the powerful bourgeoisie, but since Leonardo had been born out of wedlock, he was barred from attending the university or practicing any of the noble professions. His schooling therefore was minimal, and so as a child Leonardo was left mostly to himself. He liked most of all to wander through the olive groves around Vinci or to follow a particular path that led to a much different part of the landscape—dense forests full of wild boar, waterfalls cascading over fast-moving streams, swans gliding through pools, strange wildflowers growing out of the sides of cliffs. The intense variety of life in these forests enthralled him. One day, sneaking into his father’s office, he grabbed some sheets of paper—a rather rare commodity in those days, but as a notary his father had a large supply. He took the sheets on his walk into the forest, and sitting upon a rock he began to sketch the various sights around him. He kept returning day after day to do more of the same; even when the weather was bad, he would sit under some kind of shelter and sketch. He had no teachers, no paintings to look at; he did everything by eye, with nature as the model. He noticed that in drawing things he had to observe them much more closely and catch the details that made them come to life. Once he sketched a white iris, and in observing it so closely he was struck by its peculiar shape. The iris begins as a seed, and then it proceeds through various stages, all of which he had drawn over the past few years. What makes this plant develop through its stages and culminate in this magnificent flower, so unlike any other? Perhaps it possesses a force that pushes it through these various transformations. He would wonder about the metamorphosis of flowers for years to come. Alone on his deathbed, Leonardo would have thought back to his earliest years as an apprentice in the studio of the Florentine artist Andrea del Verrocchio. He had been admitted there at the age of fourteen because of the remarkable quality of his drawings. Verrocchio instructed his apprentices in all of the sciences that were necessary to produce the work of his studio—engineering, mechanics, chemistry, and metallurgy. Leonardo was eager to learn all of these skills, but soon he discovered in himself something else: he could not simply do an assignment; he needed to make it something of his own, to invent rather than imitate the Master. One time, as part of his studio work, he was asked to paint an angel in a larger biblical scene designed by Verrocchio. He had decided that he would make his portion of the scene come to life in his own way. In the foreground in front of the angel he painted a flowerbed, but instead of the usual generalized renderings of plants, Leonardo depicted the flower specimens that he had studied in such detail as a child, with a kind of scientific rigor no one had seen before. For the angel’s face, he experimented with his paints and mixed a new blend that gave it a kind of soft radiance that expressed the angel’s sublime mood. (To help capture this mood, Leonardo had spent time in the local church observing those in fervent prayer, the expression of one young man serving as the model for the angel.) And finally, he determined that he would be the first artist to create realistic angelic wings. For this purpose, he went to the marketplace and purchased several birds. He spent hours sketching their wings, how exactly they merged into their bodies. He wanted to create the sensation that these wings had organically grown from the angel’s shoulders and would bring it natural flight. As usual, Leonardo could not stop there. After his work was completed he became obsessed with birds, and the idea brewed in his mind that perhaps a human could really fly, if Leonardo could figure out the science behind avian flight. Now, several hours every week, he read and studied everything he could about birds. This was how his mind naturally worked—one idea flowed into another. Leonardo would certainly have recalled the lowest point in his life—the year 1481. The Pope asked Lorenzo de’ Medici to recommend to him the finest artists in Florence to decorate a chapel he just had built, the Sistine Chapel. Lorenzo complied and sent to Rome all of the best Florentine artists, excluding Leonardo. They had never really gotten along. Lorenzo was a literary type, steeped in the classics. Leonardo could not read Latin and had little knowledge of the ancients. He had a more scientific bent to his nature. But at the root of Leonardo’s bitterness at this snub was something else—he had come to hate the dependence forced upon artists to gain royal favor, to live from commission to commission. He had grown tired of Florence and the court politics that reigned there. He made a decision that would change everything in his life: He would establish himself in Milan, and he would devise a new strategy for his livelihood. He would be more than an artist. He would pursue all of the crafts and sciences that interested him—architecture, military engineering, hydraulics, anatomy, sculpture. For any prince or patron that wanted him, he could serve as an overall adviser and artist, for a nice stipend. His mind, he decided, worked best when he had several different projects at hand, allowing him to build all kinds of connections between them. Continuing his self-examination, Leonardo would have thought back to the one great commission that he accepted during this new phase of his life—an enormous bronze equestrian statue in memory of Francesco Sforza, the father of the current duke of Milan. The challenge for him was too irresistible. It would be of a scale no one had seen since the days of ancient Rome, and to cast something so large in bronze would require an engineering feat that had baffled all of the artists of his time. Leonardo worked on the design for months, and to test it out he built a clay replica of the statue and displayed it in the most expansive square in Milan. It was gigantic, the size of a large building. The crowds that gathered to look at it were awestruck—its size, the impetuous stance of the horse that the artist had captured, its terrifying aspect. Word spread throughout Italy of this marvel and people anxiously awaited its realization in bronze. For this purpose, Leonardo invented a totally new way of casting. Instead of breaking up the mold for the horse into sections, Leonardo would construct the mold as one seamless piece (using an unusual mix of materials he had concocted) and cast it as a whole, which would give the horse a much more organic, natural appearance. A few months later, however, war broke out and the duke needed every bit of bronze he could lay his hands on for artillery. Eventually, the clay statue was taken down and the horse was never built. Other artists had scoffed at Leonardo’s folly—he had taken so long to find the perfect solution that naturally, events had conspired against him. One time even Michelangelo himself taunted Leonardo: “You who made a model of a horse you could never cast in bronze and which you gave up, to your shame. And the stupid people of Milan had faith in you?” He had become used to such insults about his slowness at work, but in fact he regretted nothing from this experience. He had been able to test out his ideas on how to engineer large-scale projects; he would apply this knowledge elsewhere. Anyway, he didn’t care so much about the finished product; it was the search and process in creating something that had always excited him. Reflecting on his life in this way, he would have clearly detected the workings of some kind of hidden force within him. As a child this force had drawn him to the wildest part of the landscape, where he could observe the most intense and dramatic variety of life. This same force compelled him to steal paper from his father and devote his time to sketching. It pushed him to experiment while working for Verrocchio. It guided him away from the courts of Florence and the insecure egos that flourished among artists. It compelled him to an extreme of boldness—the gigantic sculptures, the attempt to fly, the dissection of hundreds of corpses for his anatomical studies—all to discover the essence of life itself. Seen from this vantage point, everything in his life made sense. It was in fact a blessing to have been born illegitimate—it allowed him to develop in his own way. Even the paper in his house seemed to indicate some kind of destiny. What if he had rebelled against this force? What if, after the Sistine Chapel rejection, he had insisted on going to Rome with the others and forced his way into the Pope’s good graces instead of seeking his own path? He was capable of that. What if he had devoted himself to mostly painting in order to make a good living? What if he had been more like the others, finishing his works as fast as possible? He would have done well, but he would not have been Leonardo da Vinci. His life would have lacked the purpose that it had, and inevitably things would have gone wrong. This hidden force within him, like that within the iris he had sketched so many years before, had led to the full flowering of his capacities. He had faithfully followed its guidance to the very end and, having completed his course, now it was time to die. Perhaps his own words, written years before in his notebook, would have come back to him in such a moment: “Just as a well-filled day brings blessed sleep, so a well-employed life brings a blessed death.” KEYS TO MASTERY Among his various possible beings each man always finds one which is his genuine and authentic being. The voice which calls him to that authentic being is what we call “vocation.” But the majority of men devote themselves to silencing that voice of the vocation and refusing to hear it. They manage to make a noise within themselves…to distract their own attention in order not to hear it; and they defraud themselves by substituting for their genuine selves a false course of life. —JOSÉ ORTEGA Y GASSET Many of the greatest Masters in history have confessed to experiencing some kind of force or voice or sense of destiny that has guided them forward. For Napoleon Bonaparte it was his “star” that he always felt in ascendance when he made the right move. For Socrates, it was his daemon, a voice that he heard, perhaps from the gods, which inevitably spoke to him in the negative—telling him what to avoid. For Goethe, he also called it a daemon—a kind of spirit that dwelled within him and compelled him to fulfill his destiny. In more modern times, Albert Einstein talked of a kind of inner voice that shaped the direction of his speculations. All of these are variations on what Leonardo da Vinci experienced with his own sense of fate. Such feelings can be seen as purely mystical, beyond explanation, or as hallucinations and delusions. But there is another way to see them—as eminently real, practical, and explicable. It can be explained in the following way: All of us are born unique. This uniqueness is marked genetically in our DNA. We are a one-time phenomenon in the universe—our exact genetic makeup has never occurred before nor will it ever be repeated. For all of us, this uniqueness first expresses itself in childhood through certain primal inclinations. For Leonardo it was exploring the natural world around his village and bringing it to life on paper in his own way. For others, it can be an early attraction to visual patterns—often an indication of a future interest in mathematics. Or it can be an attraction to particular physical movements or spatial arrangements. How can we explain such inclinations? They are forces within us that come from a deeper place than conscious words can express. They draw us to certain experiences and away from others. As these forces move us here or there, they influence the development of our minds in very particular ways. This primal uniqueness naturally wants to assert and express itself, but some experience it more strongly than others. With Masters it is so strong that it feels like something that has its own external reality—a force, a voice, destiny. In moments when we engage in an activity that corresponds to our deepest inclinations, we might experience a touch of this: We feel as if the words we write or the physical movements we perform come so quickly and easily that they are coming from outside us. We are literally “inspired,” the Latin word meaning something from the outside breathing within us. 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. What weakens this force, what makes you not feel it or even doubt its existence, is the degree to which you have succumbed to another force in life—social pressures to conform. This counterforce can be very powerful. You want to fit into a group. Unconsciously, you might feel that what makes you different is embarrassing or painful. Your parents often act as a counter-force as well. They may seek to direct you to a career path that is lucrative and comfortable. If these counterforces become strong enough, you can lose complete contact with your uniqueness, with who you really are. Your inclinations and desires become modeled on those of others. This can set you off on a very dangerous path. You end up choosing a career that does not really suit you. Your desire and interest slowly wane and your work suffers for it. You come to see pleasure and fulfillment as something that comes from outside your work. Because you are increasingly less engaged in your career, you fail to pay attention to changes going on in the field—you fall behind the times and pay a price for this. At moments when you must make important decisions, you flounder or follow what others are doing because you have no sense of inner direction or radar to guide you. You have broken contact with your destiny as formed at birth. At all cost you must avoid such a fate. The process of following your Life’s Task all the way to mastery can essentially begin at any point in life. The hidden force within you is always there and ready to be engaged. The process of realizing your Life’s Task comes in three stages: First, you must connect or reconnect with your inclinations, that sense of uniqueness. The first step then is always inward. You search the past for signs of that inner voice or force. You clear away the other voices that might confuse you—parents and peers. You look for an underlying pattern, a core to your character that you must understand as deeply as possible. Second, with this connection established, you must look at the career path you are already on or are about to begin. The choice of this path—or redirection of it—is critical. To help in this stage you will need to enlarge your concept of work itself. 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. Instead you want to see your work as something more inspiring, as part of your vocation. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin meaning to call or to be called. Its use in relation to work began in early Christianity—certain people were called to a life in the church; that was their vocation. They could recognize this literally by hearing a voice from God, who had chosen them for this profession. Over time, the word became secularized, referring to any work or study that a person felt was suited to his or her interests, particularly a manual craft. It is time, however, that we return to the original meaning of the word, for it comes much closer to the idea of a Life’s Task and mastery. The voice in this case that is calling you is not necessarily coming from God, but from deep within. It emanates from your individuality. It tells you which activities suit your character. And at a certain point, it calls you to a particular form of work or career. Your work then is something connected deeply to who you are, not a separate compartment in your life. You develop then a sense of your vocation. Finally, you must see your career or vocational path more as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straight line. You begin by choosing a field or position that roughly corresponds to your inclinations. This initial position offers you room to maneuver and important skills to learn. You don’t want to start with something too lofty, too ambitious—you need to make a living and establish some confidence. Once on this path you discover certain side routes that attract you, while other aspects of this field leave you cold. You adjust and perhaps move to a related field, continuing to learn more about yourself, but always expanding off your skill base. Like Leonardo, you take what you do for others and make it your own. Eventually, you will hit upon a particular field, niche, or opportunity that suits you perfectly. You will recognize it when you find it because it will spark that childlike sense of wonder and excitement; it will feel right. Once found, everything will fall into place. You will learn more quickly and more deeply. Your skill level will reach a point where you will be able to claim your independence from within the group you work for and move out on your own. In a world in which there is so much we cannot control, this will bring you the ultimate form of power. You will determine your circumstances. As your own Master, you will no longer be subject to the whims of tyrannical bosses or scheming peers. This emphasis on your uniqueness and a Life’s Task might seem a poetic conceit without any bearing on practical realities, but in fact it is extremely relevant to the times that we live in. We are entering a world in which we can rely less and less upon the state, the corporation, or family or friends to help and protect us. It is a globalized, harshly competitive environment. We must learn to develop ourselves. At the same time, it is a world teeming with critical problems and opportunities, best solved and seized by entrepreneurs—individuals or small groups who think independently, adapt quickly, and possess unique perspectives. Your individualized, creative skills will be at a premium. Think of it this way: What we lack most in the modern world is a sense of a larger purpose to our lives. In the past, it was organized religion that often supplied this. But most of us now live in a secularized world. We human animals are unique—we must build our own world. We do not simply react to events out of biological scripting. But without a sense of direction provided to us, we tend to flounder. We don’t how to fill up and structure our time. There seems to be no defining purpose to our lives. We are perhaps not conscious of this emptiness, but it infects us in all kinds of ways. Feeling that we are called to accomplish something is the most positive way for us to supply this sense of purpose and direction. It is a religious-like quest for each of us. This quest should not be seen as selfish or antisocial. It is in fact connected to something much larger than our individual lives. Our evolution as a species has depended on the creation of a tremendous diversity of skills and ways of thinking. We thrive by the collective activity of people supplying their individual talents. Without such diversity, a culture dies. Your uniqueness at birth is a marker of this necessary diversity. To the degree you cultivate and express it you are fulfilling a vital role. Our times might emphasize equality, which we then mistake for the need for everyone to be the same, but what we really mean by this is the equal chance for people to express their differences, to let a thousand flowers bloom. Your vocation is more than the work that you do. It is intimately connected to the deepest part of your being and is a manifestation of the intense diversity in nature and within human culture. In this sense, you must see your vocation as eminently poetic and inspiring. Some 2,600 years ago the ancient Greek poet Pindar wrote, “Become who you are by learning who you are.” What he meant is the following: You are born with a particular makeup and tendencies that mark you as a piece of fate. It is who you are to the core. Some people never become who they are; they stop trusting in themselves; they conform to the tastes of others, and they end up wearing a mask that hides their true nature. If you allow yourself to learn who you really are by paying attention to that voice and force within you, then you can become what you were fated to become—an individual, a Master. STRATEGIES FOR FINDING YOUR LIFE’S TASK 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 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 it 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. Pay attention to all of them because you will almost inevitably encounter each one in some form. 1. Return to your origins—The primal inclination strategy For Masters, their inclination often presents itself to them with remarkable clarity in childhood. Sometimes it comes in the form of a simple object that triggers a deep response. When Albert Einstein (1879–1955) was five, his father gave him a compass as a present. Instantly, the boy was transfixed by the needle, which changed direction as he moved the compass about. The idea that there was some kind of magnetic force that operated on this needle, invisible to the eyes, touched him to the core. What if there were other forces in the world equally invisible yet equally powerful—ones that were undiscovered or not understood? For the rest of his life all of his interests and ideas would revolve around this simple question of hidden forces and fields, and he would often think back to the compass that had sparked the initial fascination. When Marie Curie (1867–1934), the future discoverer of radium, was four years old she wandered into her father’s study and stood transfixed before a glass case that contained all kinds of laboratory instruments for chemistry and physics experiments. She would return to that room again and again to stare at the instruments, imagining all sorts of experiments she could conduct with these tubes and measuring devices. Years later, when she entered a real laboratory for the first time and did some experiments herself, she reconnected immediately with her childhood obsession; she knew she had found her vocation. When the future film director Ingmar Bergman (1918–2007) was nine years old his parents gave his brother for Christmas a cinematograph—a moving picture machine with strips of film that projected simple scenes. He had to have it for himself. He traded his own toys to get it and once it was in his possession, he hurried into a large closet and watched the flickering images it projected on the wall. It seemed like something had magically come to life each time he turned it on. To produce such magic would become his lifelong obsession. Sometimes this inclination becomes clear through a particular activity that brings with it a feeling of heightened power. As a child, Martha Graham (1894–1991) felt intensely frustrated by her inability to make others understand her in a deep way; words seemed inadequate. Then one day, she saw her first dance performance. The lead dancer had a way of expressing certain emotions through movement; it was visceral, not verbal. She started dance lessons soon thereafter and immediately understood her vocation. Only when dancing could she feel alive and expressive. Years later she would go on to invent a whole new form of dance and revolutionize the genre. Sometimes it is not an object or activity but rather something in culture that sparks a deep connection. The contemporary anthropologist-linguist Daniel Everett (b. 1951) grew up on the California-Mexico border, in a cowboy town. From a very early age, he found himself drawn to the Mexican culture around him. Everything about it fascinated him—the sound of the words spoken by the migrant workers, the food, the manners that were so different from the Anglo world. He immersed himself as much as he could in their language and culture. This would transform into a lifelong interest in the Other—the diversity of cultures on the planet and what that means about our evolution. And sometimes one’s true inclinations can be revealed through an encounter with an actual Master. As a young boy growing up in North Carolina, John Coltrane (1926–67) felt different and strange. He was much more serious than his schoolmates; he experienced emotional and spiritual longings he did not know how to verbalize. He drifted into music more as a hobby, taking up the saxophone and playing in his high school band. Then a few years later he saw the great jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker perform live, and the sounds Parker produced touched Coltrane to the core. Something primal and personal came through Parker’s saxophone, a voice from deep within. Coltrane suddenly saw the means for expressing his uniqueness and giving a voice to his own spiritual longings. He began to practice the instrument with such intensity that within a decade he transformed himself into perhaps the greatest jazz artist of his era. 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 transcend 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 more like sensations—that of deep wonder, sensual pleasure, power, and heightened awareness. The importance of recognizing these preverbal inclinations is that they are clear indications of an attraction that is not infected by the desires of other people. They are not something embedded in you by your parents, which come with a more superficial connection, something more verbal and conscious. Coming instead from somewhere deeper, they can only be your own, reflections of your unique chemistry. As you become more sophisticated, you often lose touch with these signals from your primal core. They can be buried beneath all of the other subjects you have studied. Your power and future can depend on reconnecting with this core and returning to your origins. You must dig for signs of such inclinations in your earliest years. 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. It is already there within you. You have nothing to create; you merely need to dig and refind what has been buried inside of you all along. If you reconnect with this core at any age, some element of that 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 A. As a child growing up in Madras, India, in the late 1950s, V. S. Ramachandran knew he was different. He was not interested in sports or the other usual pursuits of boys his age; he loved to read about science. In his loneliness he would often wander along the beach, and soon he became fascinated by the incredible variety of seashells that washed up on shore. He began to collect them and study the subject in detail. It gave him a feeling of power—here was a field he had all to himself; nobody in school could ever know as much as he did about shells. Soon he was drawn to the strangest varieties of seashells, such as the Xenophora, an organism that collects discarded shells and uses them for camouflage. In a way, he was like the Xenophora—an anomaly. In nature, these anomalies often serve a larger evolutionary purpose—they can lead to the occupation of new ecological niches, offering a greater chance of survival. Could Ramachandran say the same about his own strangeness? Over the years, he transferred this boyhood interest into other subjects—human anatomical abnormalities, peculiar phenomena in chemistry, and so on. His father, fearing that the young man would end up in some esoteric field of research, convinced him to enroll in medical school. There he would be exposed to all sides of science and he would come out of it with a practical skill. Ramachandran complied. Although the studies in medical school interested him, after a while he grew restless. He disliked all of the rote learning. He wanted to experiment and discover, not memorize. He began to read all kinds of science journals and books that were not on the reading list. One such book was Eye and Brain, by the visual neuroscientist Richard Gregory. What particularly intrigued him were experiments on optical illusions and blind spots—anomalies in the visual system that could explain something about how the brain itself functioned. Stimulated by this book, he conducted his own experiments, the results of which he managed to get published in a prestigious journal, which in turn led to an invitation to study visual neuroscience in the graduate department at Cambridge University. Excited by this chance to pursue something more suited to his interests, Ramachandran accepted the invitation. After a few months at Cambridge, however, he realized that he did not fit in this environment. In his boyhood dreams, science was a great romantic adventure, an almost religious-like quest for the truth. But at Cambridge, for the students and faculty, it seemed to be more like a job; you put in your hours, you contributed some small piece to a statistical analysis, and that was that. He soldiered on, finding his own interests within the department, and completed his degree. A few years later he was hired as an assistant professor in visual psychology at the University of California at San Diego. As had happened so many times before, after a few years his mind began to drift to yet another subject—this time to the study of the brain itself. He became intrigued by the phenomenon of phantom limbs—people who have had an arm or leg amputated and yet still feel a paralyzing pain in the missing limb. He proceeded to conduct experiments on phantom limb subjects. These experiments led to some exciting discoveries about the brain itself, as well as a novel way to relieve such patients of their pain. Suddenly the feeling of not fitting in, of restlessness, was gone. Studying anomalous neurological disorders would be the subject to which he could devote the rest of his life. It opened up questions that fascinated him about the evolution of consciousness, the origin of language, and so on. It was as if he had come full circle to the days of collecting the rarest forms of seashells. This was a niche he had all to himself, one he could command for years to come, that corresponded to his deepest inclinations and would serve best the cause of scientific advancement. B. For Yoky Matsuoka, childhood was a period of confusion and blur. Growing up in Japan in the 1970s, everything seemed laid out for her in advance. The school system would funnel her into a field that was appropriate for girls, and the possibilities were rather narrow. Her parents, believing in the importance of sports in her development, pushed her into competitive swimming at a very early age. They also had her take up the piano. For other children in Japan it may have been comforting to have their lives directed in such a fashion, but for Yoky it was painful. She was interested in all kinds of subjects—particularly math and science. She liked sports but not swimming. She had no idea what she wanted to become or how she could possibly fit into such a regimented world. At the age of eleven she finally asserted herself. She had had enough of swimming and wanted to take up tennis. Her parents agreed to her wishes. Being intensely competitive, she had great dreams for herself as a tennis player, but she was starting out in the sport rather late in life. To make up for lost time she would have to undergo an almost impossibly rigorous practice schedule. She traveled outside Tokyo for training and so would do her homework on the ride back at night. Often having to stand up in the crowded car, she would crack open her math and physics books and work out the equations. She loved solving puzzles, and in doing this homework her mind would become so completely absorbed in the problems that she was barely aware of the time passing. In a strange way, it was similar to the sensation she felt on the tennis court—a deep focus where nothing could distract her. In the few free moments on the train Yoky would think about her future. Science and sports were the two great interests in her life. In them she could express all of the different sides of her character—her love of competing, working with her hands, moving gracefully, analyzing and solving problems. In Japan you had to choose a career that was generally quite specialized. Whatever she chose would require sacrificing her other interests, which depressed her to no end. One day she daydreamed about inventing a robot that could play tennis with her. Inventing and playing against such a robot would satisfy all of the different sides of her character, but it was only a dream. Although she had risen through the ranks to become one of the top tennis prospects in Japan, she quickly realized that this was not to be her future. In practice, no one could beat her, but in competition she would often freeze up, overthink the situation, and lose to inferior players. She also suffered some debilitating injuries. She would have to focus on academics and not on sports. After attending a tennis academy in Florida, she convinced her parents to let her stay in the States and apply to the University of California at Berkeley. At Berkeley she could not decide on a major—nothing seemed to quite fit her wide-ranging interests. For lack of anything better, she settled on electrical engineering. One day she confided to a professor in her department about her youthful dream to build a robot to play tennis with her. Much to her surprise the professor did not laugh, but instead invited her to join his graduate lab for robotics. Her work there showed so much promise that she was later admitted to graduate school at MIT, where she joined the artificial-intelligence lab of robotics pioneer Rodney Brooks. They were developing a robot with artificial intelligence, and Matsuoka volunteered to design the hand and arms. Ever since she was a child she had pondered her own hands while she was playing tennis or the piano or while scribbling out math equations. The human hand was a miracle of design. Although this was not exactly sports, she would be working with her hands to construct the hand. Finding at last something that suited a larger range of her interests, she worked night and day on building a new kind of robotic limb, one that possessed as much as possible the delicate grasping power of the human hand. Her design dazzled Brooks—it was years ahead of anything anyone had ever developed. Feeling that there was a critical lack in her knowledge, she decided to gain an additional degree in neuroscience. If she could better understand the connection between the hand and the brain, she could design a prosthetic limb that would feel and respond like a human hand. She continued this process, adding new fields of science to her résumé, culminating in the creation of a completely new field, one that she would dub neurobotics—the design of robots that possessed simulated versions of human neurology, bringing them closer to life itself. Forging this field would bring her great success in science and put her in the ultimate position of power—the ability to freely combine all of her interests. 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. Working in such a field will tend to wear you out as you struggle to get attention, to play the political games, to win scarce resources for yourself. You spend so much time at these games that you have little time left over for true mastery. You are seduced into such fields because you see others there m