“Your Life’s Task is a living, breathing organism. The moment you rigidly follow a plan set in youth, you lock yourself into a position, and the times will ruthlessly pass you by.”
In this blog post, I’ll highlight some principles of Robert Greene’s book, Mastery, and discuss their applicability to legal professionals. Greene’s book is most definitely not a legal book. It is categorized as a Motivational, Self-Help book on Amazon and has met critical acclaim, becoming a New York Times bestseller.
The book follows a similar structure throughout, which consists of discussing the stories of various historical figures—Leonardo da Vinci to Darwin—and how their stories are emblematic of the path to Mastery Greene advocates. Greene then elucidates the principles discovered within the stories of these “Masters” more concretely.
Basically, Mastery consists of four stages. You must: (1) Discover Your Calling; (2) Complete the Apprenticeship Phase; (3) Complete the Creative-Active Stage; and (4) Achieve Mastery—which is also a process, Mastery is not merely something you reach, but instead, something you continue to develop. This post will focus on the first stage—Discovering Your Calling. I will note that one thing is very apparent after reading this book: Most people never achieve Mastery.
A reader who is a law student or legal practitioner may point out the following: well I already know my calling, I’m in law school to become a lawyer, or I’m already a lawyer. While this is true, Greene highlights the importance of understanding why Law is our path to mastery. To do so, we might want to clamp down on something more specific to explain our choice to become a lawyer. We might ask ourselves: Why did we want to become a lawyer? Is it to be the best litigator possible; winning cases at an extraordinarily high winning percentage? Or is it to provide the most effective counsel—directing the client towards a result that they find satisfying? Is it to merge companies or restructure businesses to increase the social utility for each?
To aid in answering these questions, Greene says we might look at an underlying pattern in our lives to confirm that Law is our life’s calling. We might identify a core to our character, and see if our path to becoming a lawyer is aligned with such values inherent in our core. We might ask if we want to become a lawyer because we felt inexplicably drawn towards it since a child? Did we have a chance encounter with helping someone in an advocate type-role that left no doubt in our mind that a lawyer was the right profession? Were you a client at one point, and personally felt the power of being advocate and wanted to achieve that for yourself? Greene would posit that these are all appropriate signposts to determine if we are on the right path.
Once we decide what values led us to this path, we must see if the job we either have, or will have, is congruent with those values. For example, is taking that Big-Law job and doing the work typically assigned in those firms concordant with why we wanted to become an attorney? If it is to do high-stakes litigation for Fortune Five Hundred Companies (saving them millions of dollars in the process), then the answer might be yes!
Alternatively, is taking that job a means to an end? Perhaps a tool to achieve a sum of money that we find worthwhile; or maybe we took it to pay off our student loans? Greene counsels against choosing a job for these reasons, and calls it the “False Path.” He explains the eventual disappointment that follows from choosing a job incongruent with our values: “A false path in life is generally something we are attracted to for the wrong reasons—money, fame, attention, and so on. . . . Because the field we choose does not correspond with our deepest inclinations, we rarely find the fulfillment that we crave.”
Once your values are aligned with your job, thus confirming that the career path that you are already on or about to begin is the right one, we must begin the next stage in Discovering Our Calling. This simply entails enlarging your concept of work itself. Most people separate work from life outside of work—which is the place where we find real pleasure and fulfillment. Greene says doing so is not advisable and an experience I had pre-law school was emblematic of the negative effects of this separation.
Back when I was a file clerk at a mid-size litigation firm, I remember hearing a disgruntled lawyer proclaim, after asking him if he liked being a lawyer, that “It’s just a job.” There was no passion in his sentiment and I could see this when he strolled through the office. This was a man who clearly didn’t like being a lawyer, and he even admitted this on a different occasion. I now wonder if it was attitude that caused his disdain for the legal field or the other way around; either way, Greene argues for a different perspective when treading on your Path to Mastery. “[Y]ou want to see your work as something more inspiring, as part of your vocation.” Greene doesn’t mean vocation in the traditional sense of the word; instead, it refers to the older Latin meaning: to call or to be called. It is the ability to turn your work into something deeply connected to who you are; not something separate and compartmentalized.
Well that’s all I’ll get into for this post. But the two takeaways are this: (1) Make sure your pursuing your job for the right reasons—don’t do it for money or attention because these reasons never prove to be deeply satisfying; and (2) Develop the connectedness between your job and your life, think about how your other pursuits feed into being an attorney and vice-versa. This type of bi-directional relationship between work and your time outside of work will help you achieve the deepness and fulfillment we all desire.
My next post will apply principles in the next stage of Mastery: The Apprenticeship Phase.
If you’d like to check out the book for yourself, please click here: