Robert Greene: How to Master Success

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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Greene. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he’s a New York Times bestselling author of books like “The 48 Laws of Power” and the “ The Art of Seduction.” Robert is not just your typical author though. Unlike many successful people today who like to hide mistakes from their younger years, Robert is very open to telling stories about his drug-fueled past, especially with hallucinogens like Peyote. His work and advice is so relevant that it’s been quoted by the likes of Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes. If that isn’t enough street cred for you, he also wrote a book with 50 Cent, “The 50th Law,” a book which focuses on being fearless and facing tough hardships to succeed.

So if you’re someone who wants to be successful in the future, read our interview as Robert talks about the value of college for aspiring entrepreneurs, his new book “Mastery” which outlines the key to success, and how to avoid getting burned out from working too hard.

What book are you reading right now?

“I’m reading a biography of an eleventh century writer named Abelard; it’s for research for my next book, which right now is called “The Laws of Human Nature.” It’s one of the most famous love stories that’s ever happened. This monk and this woman fell in love in their letters and it illustrates an idea that I have for my next book that has to do with male female relations and the weirdness between men and women. So that’s what I’m reading right now. Just prior to that I was reading a book about the crash of ‘08, I know they seem so totally different, but my next book has a lot of things about the crash of ‘08 because I think of it as sort of an epic story of human stupidity that has just never changed over thousands of years, so I’m heavily researching that subject.”

Are you a morning person or night person?

“Always been a night person ever since college. I could sometimes start working at 7-8 at night when it was quiet and no one was around. I try and try to make myself a morning person. I was just in Europe and with the time difference, I was getting up at 6 a.m. and thought I could finally turn myself into a morning person. Every day it would be 6:30, 6:40, 6:45: I can’t fight nature so I’m not a morning person. Sometimes when I’m writing a book I don’t even start until four o’clock in the afternoon because I just don’t have any mental energy in the morning. It’s getting worse as I get older so I don’t know what I can do about it; I give up.”

How were you able to manage having so many jobs when you were younger?

“Wow, well. My girlfriend and I counted, and I think it was somewhere in the fifties, but I really can’t remember so eighty is just an estimate. I really was never happy with any of the jobs I had; I think the longest I worked at a job I had was eleven months. I got tired of seeing the same people and things got boring for me; basically I wanted to be a writer so I wanted to try a bunch of different things. So I tried Hollywood, I tried journalism, I travelled all over Europe, I did all sorts of weird odd jobs there, and I felt like that’s how you become a writer- you have experiences. It ended up being the right thing because by the time I wrote “The 48 Laws of Power,” I’d seen everything. You know, I’d seen the most manipulative evil power moves in Hollywood and [in] all the other jobs I’d had.”

What was your worst and best job?

“…the worst job, well I had some really bad Hollywood television jobs (I don’t even want to go into that). I worked in a detective agency for a while and that was really depressing because my job was to find people who had skipped town, who hadn’t paid their bills, and it was all on the telephone and it was all about deceiving and manipulating. So they’d give you scripts about how to call people, like relatives in Wisconsin, and trick people into thinking you were a friend of the family. It was so dirty and ugly and I was really good at it. So I hated that job.

My best job… I don’t know. When I was 21 I worked in a hotel in Paris and it was pretty exciting because it was a hotel where all the models would stay when they came to Paris, and I was young and I’d never seen anything like that. It was a totally new world and there’s a whole other story associated with it that I won’t bore you with. It was a really exciting time in my life and I met a lot of weird characters that have subsequently gone into my book that have inspired the “Art of Seduction.”

You studied classical studies back in college. Why did you pick that?

“That’s a good question. I was kind of fumbling around for what I liked. I have a thing for languages, I’m really good at languages, I speak several languages and I’m really interested in ancient cultures. The idea that people back 2500 years ago didn’t think like we do now means their whole world was totally different. You can learn their language! It excited me so much. So it was not a very rational decision because you can’t get a job knowing ancient Greek, so why the hell did I do that? I don’t know, but it really attracted me. It ended up being a great decision because it taught me how to discipline my mind, how to organize my thoughts, and the lessons that I’ve learned I’ve never forgotten. In “Mastery” I talk about how you’re drawn to certain things, you just can’t explain it. I’m sure you have something that since you were a kid, it just excites you and you don’t know why. I just find that the idea of ancient Greece just excites me.”

What is the biggest difference you see between successful and unsuccessful people?

“…the point I make in “Mastery” is that the difference between people who are successful and not are that those who are successful seemed to know from the age of 7 or 8, maybe older, they’re very in tune with what they love. I compare it to a voice inside their head, not literally a voice but something that says “you really are drawn to this subject” and they hear it throughout their lives. For me it was writing and books, since I was a kid. At any time I deviated from that love and went into something else, I was just so unhappy and I knew that I wasn’t doing the right thing. It’s just this voice that keeps drawing you back to what you really, really love.”

“The best and most innovative business people are always generally in their late 20’s or early 30’s.”

How useful was going to college for you?

“Well, it was a positive experience in that it’s like you’re young and you’re full of energy and you want to learn and you’re around all of these other people and you’re going to parties; for me, I was older, I was taking drugs, I don’t deny that part of my past, it’s like a social thing. That’s the thing I loved about college, is that it’s a social thing. And you were learning and there were some classes that were good, but it has nothing to do with the real world. There is a vague link that I mentioned before between the discipline that languages and classics taught me, and that’s true, but when it comes to politicking and working and dealing with other people, and dealing with pressure and stress and money, college just teaches you nothing really. Even if you go to business school, there are professions where you have to go to college, like if you’re going to be a civil engineer, electrical engineer, etc., so of course that’s different, but dealing with the real world is just so completely different. The set of skills, the whole mentality, and the mind set, you have to make 180 degree shift and I think people go really wrong in making that shift. They think things are just going to be the same kind of environment.

I mention in “Mastery” that college gives you a kind of passive attitude where it’s the professor telling me what to do and I have to write an essay at the last minute. The real world, it’s very active, you’re doing things, you’re practicing, you’re making mistakes, you’re being judged, you’re getting feedback; you have to make a total shift in your mind and if you’re not, if you don’t, you’re in a lot of trouble. So in “Mastery” I focus very deeply in that shift, which I call “the apprenticeship phase” in your life.”

Would you recommend aspiring young entrepreneurs to go to college?

“..if was talking to someone who was 18 or 19 who wanted to go, who felt like he or she was an entrepreneur, I would say well maybe don’t go, maybe don’t waste all that money. Maybe start your business up instead of going to business school. When you’re 20 years old just start your business and in two years you’re going to learn. It will probably fail but you’re going to learn a million times more than in business school. If you want to be a journalist or a writer, write! You don’t need school for those things. Particularly with the amount of debt that people are going into these days. You do have options and in newspapers I read recently that increasingly more young people are reconsidering the whole idea of going to university.”

Can you briefly explain the premise of “Mastery” and who you want reading it?

“Well I want everyone to read it so I can make a lot of money (laughs)… No, that is not the main reason. The people that will benefit the most are between the ages of 18 and 30. The idea is that I’ve been studying the subject of excellence and success for many years and since the books have come out I’ve been a consultant for various powerful people, so I’ve seen a lot and I’ve noticed a particular pattern that powerful, successful people reach- an intelligence that I call “Mastery.” You know something so well that you do not even have to think anymore, it’s at your fingertips. You’ve had so many hours of practice and experience doing something that you reach a whole other level and I just wanted to debunk the idea that it had to do with genetics, talent, education or whether your parents had a lot of money or anything like that. It’s the fact that you love what you’re doing and you go through a process. I wanted to show the reader this process. Anybody can do it, it has nothing to do with where you went to school. As an example in the book, I interviewed nine contemporary masters as well as going into the biographies of great historical masters. One of the contemporary people that I interviewed was Temple Grandin who was born with autism. She has since become a very well-known professor of animal studies and researcher in autism itself. The idea is that if someone born with autism can reach what I consider this level of mastery, then there really is no reason or excuse for anybody out there that says they can’t do it. So, I’m going to delineate for you a very clear process. It’s not easy, it requires going through those “10,000 hours” that a lot of people have heard of, there are no shortcuts, it involves some pain, but pain is good. If you go through this process, something incredible will happen. The earlier you begin the better. The earlier you wake up and realize this, that your parents said “ok you need to go into law or medicine because you can make money,” the earlier that you realize that that is a mistake, that it’s a waste of your life. If it’s not what you love, the earlier that you realize that, you must head in this direction because this is something that you personally feel connected to and can also make a living at, the better you are in life because you’re most creative years are when you’re younger. It pretty much shows in the sciences that after the age of 36, very few people make any great discoveries. The best and most innovative business people are always generally in their late 20’s or early 30’s. You’ve got more energy and you’re more focused, you don’t have the distractions of families, kids, you don’t start getting conservative with your ideas, and you’re more experimental. You’re just so much more alive in so many ways. The earlier you connect with this process that I’m describing, the better off you’ll be. It doesn’t mean that when you are in your 30’s or 40’s that you cannot make a great change and follow the process but it is so much better if you really connect when you’re between 18 to 20- that is the core that I’m really trying to reach.”

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