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BJS Bookshelf: Mastery

Authors: Recommendation and Article by Dr Ameera AlHasan, Specialist General and Colorectal Surgeon, Jaber Al-Ahmad Hospital, Kuwait, @A160186
Dr Ameera AlHasan

One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.

                                   -Leonardo da Vinci

Robert Greene’s book titled Mastery is a comprehensive guide on how one can set out to attain brilliance in their chosen field. It starts by reflecting on the evolution of the human brain, and exploring the traits of great masters in history. It then takes the reader on a journey along the path to mastery, all the way from discovering one’s true calling in life, to making the most out of apprenticeship and mentoring, and then harnessing the mind’s powers of creativity to go beyond learning. It also helps readers troubleshoot through some difficult but probable situations such as being on the plateau phase of skill acquisition and dealing with conflict with mentors when it arises. To better demonstrate concepts, the author cites stories from the lives of different masters across various disciplines. These include Leondardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and Mozart among others. 

Robert Greene is better known for his famous book The 48 Laws of Power, but the quest for power might not resonate with all surgeons. The desire for mastery, on the other hand, is shared by surgeons universally as they seek to hone their skills and build their careers. That is why I recommend that surgeons read this book. 

A surgical career, like that of many other disciplines, follows the path scripted in the book. It begins with passion and the recognition that surgery is one’s calling. It then follows a journey of rigorous learning and training akin to an apprenticeship. Greene writes in detail on how to make the most of an apprenticeship, expanding one’s horizons, trusting the process, and learning from failure along the way. He also addresses key concepts in mentorship such as choosing mentors who meet one’s needs, maintaining a healthy dynamic with them as one’s abilities grow, and then finally and inevitably breaking away from them when the need arises. These are all principles that are relevant and integral to surgical training. Finally, master surgeons must connect to their environment, play to their own strengths and make the most of their professional intuition. By being creative, they go beyond their formal education, and give back to the field, eventually becoming mentors themselves.

This book is insightful and ridden with details, examples and advice. I recommend that surgeons take their time reading it carefully and conscientiously. If there is indeed a formula to becoming a master of one’s craft, this book certainly provides an exemplary rendition of it. 


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