“Do not think what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; and if it is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach.” Marcus Aurelius
In my first post discussing the book Mastery by Robert Greene, I analyzed the Discover your Calling Stage. As you may recall, there are three other stages to Mastery. They are the Apprenticeship Stage, the Creative-Active stage, and the Achievement of Mastery. In this post, I’ll examine the Apprenticeship Stage.
Using Charles Darwin as the archetype, Greene develops the necessary requirements one must accomplish to have a successful Apprenticeship. But before doing so, there are a few big ideas Greene mentions you should remain cognizant of throughout your Apprenticeship. Chiefly, that the end goal is the transformation of mind and character—the framework of which is detailed below. Also of significance is finding work that is accommodating to an Apprenticeship; that is, one that offers the greatest possibilities for learning. Moreover, a successful Apprenticeship stage should be one that moves you towards challenges, one that permits you to receive valuable, fair, objective feedback, and one that is outside of your comfort zone. And the final big idea is the necessity of having an objective approach to your Apprenticeship, which helps develop the ability to clearly identify the type of knowledge and skill typical of successful individuals in your law practice.
With those big ideas out of the way, Greene specifies the three requisite steps for a successful Apprenticeship: (1) Deep Observation (The Passive Mode); (2) Skills Acquisition (The Practice Mode) and Experimentation (Active Mode).
In this stage, which should coincide with the initial period of work, you are cautioned to not try and impress your new employer; don’t try seek attention or to prove yourself. Greene Explains that this can work against you by stifling your ability to absorb as much as possible and by putting a target on your back. Instead, observe the attorneys in your firm.
Observation is your most valuable asset in this stage. But don’t merely observe that which makes an attorney successful on an individual level (i.e., he is great in front of a jury, or a fantastic brief writer), but also the attorney’s interpersonal relationships. For example, look at the group dynamics in the office: who has control in this firm or office, who is in charge, who can you model yourself after and work with, who is on the rise and ascending up the professional hierarchy, and, similarly, who is on the decline.
Anybody who worked as a summer associate likely made observations concerning these questions, even if not intentionally. You might recall a partner you identified as calling the shots but still sat second-chair when a bigger fish was present. Or maybe you can remember a monumental figure in the firm, responsible for so much of its success, that you could envision stepping down soon—and did you analyze the implications of this? Greene urges us to ask and ruminate on these types of questions in this passive stage, as they will be instrumental to a successful Apprenticeship.
This is the most critical stage. Here, you must be able to reduce the attorney-skills you have observed to their basic elements. In distilling these skills, make must also make sure they are abilities that can be practiced. Greene explains that the best way to understand these skills is through engaging with your model and watching them. Because humans evolved through watching others, thus developing mirror neurons, we are especially well-suited to this type of learning. Obviously, you are going to utilize the power of mirror neurons more effectively from watching an attorney orally negotiate a complex mandatory settlement conference than watching them write a brief in their office, but the idea remains the same. But to the latter point, to stimulate your mirror neurons to develop your writing skills, I suppose one could go over the brief paragraph by paragraph asking why the attorney wrote, reasoned, and analyzed in such a way.
One you have distilled these skills in a way that makes them cogent—clarity is key in this stage, you move towards practicing those skills. Upon practicing, you will eventually enter a cycle of accelerated returns, Greene says. In this cycle, practice becomes easier and more engaging, and you can practice for longer spans of time. The cycle also augments your ability to spot nuances and previously unidentifiable flaws, issues, and problems in your skills. While practicing, though, Greene warns us not to focus on too many skills at once. Just start with one you can master. I would think brief writing would be a suitable skill to focus on in the early stages of a litigation career, but your first skill might depend on the firm and legal area. In any event, as you continue to develop this skill, the cycle of accelerated returns dictates that you will begin to enjoy practicing more and more, leading to a more interesting work experience.
Here, there is one primarily goal: to take on more responsibility. Most individuals wait too long to take the experimentation step, generally out of fear. But you must push through this initial hesitation and think about ways to take on a significant challenge. You might envision doing this by initiating a project at your firm. This could be a new initiative within your practice group, where, for example, you propose an effort to compile a database of information or analytics that can develop your group’s legal strategy in dealing with certain type of cases. The end result, and goal of this stage, is that you put yourself at the mercy of the criticism and judgment of others. How you handle this judgment is vital to completing your Apprenticeship stage, as your response will reveal whether or not you are done.
Well, those are the three stages. Examine these principles and suggestions and see how you can apply them to your work. But before I leave you, Greene mentions eight strategies for completing the ideal apprenticeship:
- Value learning over money;
- Keep expanding your horizons by looking for new challenges that can redefine the limits of your world and build up your skills;
- Revert to a feeling of inferiority and disregard preconceptions that hinder your ability to absorb as much information as possible;
- Trust the process and don’t look at frustration as a negative, but a sign of progress;
- Move toward resistance and pain by frequently practicing those areas you are weak;
- Apprentice your self in failure and don’t be afraid of it; but make sure to learn from it. “The hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn”;
- Combine the “how” and the “what” by asking how things work in your profession—i..e, how do decisions get made, how does the group interact, don’t just identify the group-dynamic, but ask why it is this way; and
- Advance through trial and error.
I hope you enjoyed this review on a section of a really terrific book. I truly believe it contains valuable insight for any lawyer or knowledge worker and recommend it to anyone looking to better themselves in their field. Find it here on Amazon:
Disclaimer: I am an amazon affiliate and will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you if you decide to purchase the book from the link above.