Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

012: Learning the Secret to Mastery: An Interview with Robert Greene [Podcast]

Do you sometimes look at your life and wonder how you got to where you are, why you’re doing what you’re doing? Do you wonder what you’re meant to do?

We were all born to do something important. That’s what Robert Greene believes, anyway. In fact, he’s written a whole book on the subject called Mastery.

Mastery book

Mastery by Robert Greene

Awhile back, I had a chance to sit down (virtually speaking) with Robert and interview him. We talked about the concept of calling, apprenticeship, and how to master your craft.

Greene believes we all have something we intuitively know we were meant to do, and the path to that work — what he calls your “life’s task” — is less glamorous than we’ve been told.

In this episode of the podcast, we talk about finding this life’s task of yours, how to undergo the ideal apprenticeship, and how organization frees us to be more creative.

I also ask Robert, who happens to be an internationally-bestselling author to share a little more of his story about how he became a writer.

Click to listen

To listen to the show, click the player below (if viewing this in email click here).


You can also download it at iTunes or on Stitcher.

Opportunity knocks

Robert always knew he wanted to write. He just didn’t know what he wanted to write about. He tried journalism and then Hollywood, but both the news and the movies left him dissatisfied.

By chance, in his mid-30s, he met a man who worked in the book packaging business. The man asked if Robert had any ideas for books.

After that meeting, Robert instinctively knew that writing nonfiction was his life’s task. In fact, his answer, an improvisation, eventually became The 48 Laws of Power, his first best-seller.

The ideal apprenticeship

There’s a lesson in Robert’s story: You don’t have to know exactly where you are going when you start. It can be a journey, as long as you have general sense of the direction you want to move.

For Robert, his direction was writing. Before he ever wrote a book, he spent time developing the skills he’d need to write one. He didn’t waste his time waiting to be famous.

He did the work he loved because he loved the work. (Tweet that)

Organization frees us to finish

One of the things Robert learned was the importance of organization.

You’ve got to get over the idea that structure is boring. It’s actually incredibly sexy. Part of Napoleon’s genius was knowing how to organize the greatest army on the planet at the time. – Robert Greene

Many projects fail because people run out of energy. Someone has a great idea, but not enough energy to finish it.

Robert argues that we can avert this by doing the hard work of structuring our thoughts and taking that idea all the way to the end.

In this episode of The Portfolio Life, we also covered:

  • Greene’s writing process
  • Why mastery isn’t something you’re born with
  • Why the secret to doing what you love is in your childhood

Listen to the whole episode to get the scoop.

You can find out more about Robert Greene and his writings on his website. His book, Mastery, is available on Amazon (affiliate link).

Download the full transcript of this interview here.

Memorable quotes

  • “It’s not the fact that you’re born a genius, or that you have a larger brain. It’s the level of dedication and persistence and patience.”
  • “The more you learn in this apprenticeship phase, the more you’re prepared for those moments that will eventually come to you.”
  • “You don’t have to find exactly what you want early on in life. It can be a voyage, a journey that takes a few years, as long as you have a general sense of the direction you need to be headed.”
  • “What people don’t realize is that the greatest jazz artist ever, John Coltrane, in a medium known for its spontaneity, was a practice freak.”
  • “The effort and years of practice you put in will let you become much more creative and intuitive.”

Have you started your journey?

Robert’s advice can apply to any calling. Whether you’re passionate about writing or teaching or making the best guacamole ever, mastering it is a journey.

I hope you enjoy the interview. Feel free to download it and share with friends. And I would love for you to take a moment and leave an honest review. And if you’re enjoying the podcast, please tweet about it or share it with your friends on Facebook.

You can also copy and paste this URL into the podcast player of your choice: https://feeds.feedburner.com/ThePortfolioLifeJeffGoins

Also, if you have any questions for future episodes like this one, let me know (just shoot an email to jeff at goinswriter dot com).

See me in Portland next week!

Next week, I’m traveling to Portland for the World Domination Summit, and if you’re going to be one of the thousands attending (or you’re in the area), I’d love to meet you.

I’ll be hosting a meetup with my friend and expert book marketer Tim Grahl in Portland, OR on Friday, July 11, and I’d love to see you there!

Click here to register for this free event.

What would mastery look like for you? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • My interest is perked. Buying now.

  • Great interview. Sounds like a great book, too!

  • Great interview. Mastery. It would mean I keep going, keep writing.

    • Amen. Love it. Keep on writing, Anne!

  • Mastery is to continue.

  • Great Interview, Jeff! This is just what the doctor ordered.

  • I love what Robert says about being great, having mastery being about dedication and persistence and patience.

    • Me too, Shana. It’s about not giving up. 🙂

  • I love every interview with Robert…look forward to listening to this one Jeff!

  • Tracy craft

    Mastery? I would be writing Christian novels, non-fiction books and continuing to blog. I’d be helping others through my writing and blogging especially the mentally ill.

  • I absolutely love this interview! I so agree with the idea that we have a life purpose, that we’re all unique and made for something unique. “…that there is something in there.” I also think there is much to be said for developing throughout life in a way that leads you to be able to take advantage of an awesome opportunity when it comes. That mastery takes work and passion…I am reminded of when I first met my husband, a poet. I saw a stack of papers about four inches high and was stunned when he explained that pile represented just one short poem. As Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration.”

    • That’s awesome Elise! I think you nailed it… As working hard and passionate at work worth doing; most definitely is Mastery…

  • Love this… Mastery to me is about having, living, loving and doing everything with purpose, as though every moment mattered. Even through the challenges, always feeling compelled to move through mountains no matter what and putting all our emphasis on what’s possible right NOW….

    • Yes, Rob. That’s it: EVERYTHING matters. 🙂

  • Im glad i live in a country where i can pursue my life task rather than have one delegated to me for the “good” of the people. At least for now ….

  • Robn Patrick

    When I was growing up my big brother used to tell me that I must have been behind the door when they handed out the brains! Well, from this interview, I have more confidence that even if I’m not a genius my focus and hard work will move me down the road to mastery.

    I’m guessing that writing is probably like mountain climbing and soon after reaching the top of the peak you see the other mountains waiting to be conquered. Once I have thought that would be deflating but now I think if you decide ahead of time that making the effort to hone your skills, develop discipline, and stay true to your style of the craft, then it’s all good and that mastery is reachable.

    I appreciated the questions Jeff asked in this interview and that Robert Greene was honest without crushing our psyches.


  • Kelly Marshall

    I needed to read this. I stress about sales and getting it “right.” I just want to write and feel good about it. Loved the article. Jeff, I can count on you to offer great material.

    • Thanks, Kelly. I’m honored. Glad you liked it. 🙂

  • guest

    just a random question gnawing at me as I was listening.

    what if you want to write, but english is your second language you learned it when you came to america at 11. you feel you have so much to write about and that you have sort of a writer’s mind, but instead pursue a path in science because you can get better grades in those classes. at some point is trying to distinguishing yourself in (or “mastering”) writing in competition with native speaker just going against the odds too much

    • I think what Robert would say is that if you persist, if you learn and grow, looking for opportunities along the way, you will establish yourself as the master you are. I think he would also say that mastery isn’t about finding one skill but combining a few. Create your own niche by connecting people or ideas that often don’t go together.

  • Tracy

    Loved this post. I feel like I am in the apprentice stage. For me, mastery would (will?) be when I am writing books both creative nonfiction and fiction. Even the thought of doing this excites me.

  • Kirsten Joy Torrado

    Jeff, I loved this interview. It was insightful and encouraging. I find myself this year transitioning into blogging/writing from another field and it’s intimidating…but, looking at my life until now I find it all good preparation : ) Thanks for continuing to put good stuff “out there” and encourage the writer in all of us!!

  • Cherry Odelberg

    “When you’re a kid, it was there. And you felt it.” You’ve got to take the skills that you’ve been acquiring and maybe something that wasn’t suited to you, and find a way to adapt them.”

    I cannot say it any better.

  • It is an interesting interview, huh, what is written here can be quite a lot of information and details that make the reader curious about what is mentioned.

  • wow! articles very mean

  • thank so much! i think , i need

  • “When you’re a kid, it was there. And you felt it.” How true! In my post today entitled “Why Finding Your Passion Is Difficult,” I talk about the role of conformity in displacing our passion. When we stop being what others expect and rediscover our unique design, we will get to live a life we never imagined possible. Be you because you are a terrible replica of someone else. https://wp.me/p36il6-cp

    • Terry: ^^^ Exactly this. However it’s quite difficult to do because we have so much invested in that wrong path; perhaps years of education and family pressure and maybe even pride. One has to look back with humility and say “I chose wrong, I need to correct my course.”

      But when one does get back on their path with the correct “True North” they can’t help but be pulled along in the right direction.

  • i think the articles very mean

  • Pingback: No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links | No Wasted Ink()

  • “Whether you’re passionate about writing or teaching or making the best guacamole ever, mastering it is a journey.”

    I couldn’t agree more with this statement!

    It’s also important to remember how you need to feed your passion everyday (or as much as you can). Just like motivation, your passion can also run out.

    Thank you for sharing your interview with Robert. Got TONS of value from it. 🙂

    Jimmy R. – Freelance Writer
    Founder of the https://guildofbloggers.com

    • As for me, I’m trying to master the art of mashing avocados. 🙂

  • Great book, great interview.

    • Agreed. Thanks for the comment, David! Hope you are well.

  • I love his idea of the apprenticeship phase, where the only focus is on acquiring skills (as oppose to money, fame, etc.). It’s tempting to want all of that right away, but he makes a good case for playing the long game. Thanks for another great interview, Jeff.

  • Hey Jeff, Recently, Mastery is the only book which I read cover to cover. I was born in
    India where I endured a difficult childhood. Until recently, I was a real estate
    entrepreneur with my business operations based in Dubai and Singapore.
    Everything changed when I diagnosed with a brain tumor recently and undergo surgery. After that I left dealing in properties. . I began the quest to find the real meaning of my existence, the real purpose of my life! This book really helped me. After that I initiated my blog http://www.abbeyvohra.com. This book is so Inspiring.. Infact I read 2 times already. I literally throw robert greene first book “The 48 laws of Power” in dustbin. It was so unethical. “Mastery” is the book where robert really changed his world view and thereby created a Masterpiece.

    • Interesting, Abbey. I loved the stories in Mastery. They were unforgettable. I haven’t read 48 Laws of Power yet but hear mixed reviews. I wonder if Greene’s worldview has evolved or if we’re just seeing another side of him. I do like the idea that you pursue a skill not for fame or riches but because the craft deserves your best. That’s a compelling idea to me.

  • Great interview.
    Just wanted to thank you for including full transcripts. This makes it so easy to take notes and make highlights on the PDF for later reference. I use these notes and references for my classes.
    Thanks again.

    • You’re welcome, sir. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • “It’s not the fact that you’re born a genius, or that you have a larger brain. It’s the level of dedication and persistence and patience.”
    When I was young I thought I could not do anything because I was not as intelligent as others. Then I realized that they were not more intelligent but had a bigger belief in themselves. I have the determination and have just gotten to the place where I can take the actions that I need to. I am a writer and speaker, and I know that many people “do it better”. This piece helped to affirm that I am at the Mastery state because I have the faith that my calling is to write and speak, therefore no one can do what I am called to do, better than me.

    • I still sometimes feel this way, Diane. This is definitely good news for me.

      • I just registered for the meet-up in Portland. Looking forward to meeting you in person. I am finalizing a new website (hope it is up by July 11). I am creating a live-book by organizing my blog like a book. I want a product that people can read organically and for the information to provide value as soon as possible. I am trying not to wait until my platform is big enough or someone decides to publish me. See you soon!

        • Awesome!

        • Diane. Though bit different than your plan. I am blogging my book topics and then will compile a book from it and publish. Pls be in touch 🙂

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    Love this: “Be motivated by the love of your work.” I can truly say that I absolutely LOVE what I do as a Leadership Coach and Purpose Strategist. Nothing gives me greater joy than seeing other people succeed. http://www.jevonnahellison.com

  • Great episode and enjoy WDS!

  • Malinda Fuller

    Favorite quote: “You don’t have to know exactly where you are going when you start.” I think thats what held me back for so long – not exactly knowing where I was heading as a “writer” (I can say that now, even though I’m just beginning this part of my journey). Great interview!

  • Yep, that quote “You don’t have to know exactly where you are going when you start” resonated with me too. Heck, even if you think you know where you’re going, if you don’t START, you’ll never get there. I’ve found there will be refinements along the way, a few failures, but then some splendid successes. Thanks, Jeff.

  • This piece resonated with me too. I guess being passionate about something is half the journey- the rest is as Greene notes the ‘mastering journey.’ I love the idea of ‘doing what you love and the rewards will follow.’

  • Me and my co-workers used to make fun of the 40 Laws of Power book at the library where I work…I was hesitant about listening. But he actually made some great points. Insightful stuff.

    • Really? Interesting. I thought it was good.

  • This is really awesome. And what a score to get Robert Greene! Bought the book.

    • Awesome, George! I really enjoyed it.

  • chrissie21

    A really great interview and a feeder and spark for all sorts of connections. Thank you Jeff and Robert Greene for your encouragement. It is the greatest gift we human beings can give one another, along with our time. So many ‘ahas’. It is reassuring to realise and fully appreciate that nothing we ever do in our lives is ‘wasted’. I really go along with that. A philosophy I have always embraced is always to do that which I love doing. Not for the love of the money, or the rewards, but simply because it is something I love doing. I have never stayed in a job that I have not really loved. That does not mean that there have been aspects of it I haven’t enjoyed, but that overall, there were more reasons for staying than there were for leaving. Work is a relationship. A relationship not only with yourself, but with others. Choose wisely. Just like any close relationship, it is a journey of faith, a pathway for growth and a vehicle for love. I have never believed that life is merely a game of survival, an endurance test or a battlefield. Life is for living, loving and having fun with and definitely for going beyond ourselves with (and our egos). If we are working solely for the purpose of ‘getting by’, we are totally missing the point. So much to explore! I love Robert’s quote about ‘organisation being sexy’. I had never thought of it that way before. Looking forward to setting and building new structures and reorganising my life:)

  • Hey Jeff, I just wanted to say thanks for such a thought provoking interview with Greene. I just bought Mastery, and I have a great sense that it will help me focus on the right things in my life/career.