Picture of Stephan van Rooden

Stephan van Rooden

Mastery – and the story of work


It felt a bit like listening to a fairy tale at a warm fire on a autumn afternoon. This afternoon, when Laurens Knoop, founder of The School of Life Amsterdam, walked his audience of about 40 people  through the ancient wisdoms of Mastery, Parcifal, Darwin, Michelangelo, Aristoteles and the titan fight of martial arts-fighter Conor McGregor and boxer Floyd Mayweather, which by the way was won by the latter.

Future of work

In exactly 25 minutes Knoop lead us through what all of these people have in common and how they have come to be a master. During this session, that was one of the gems on a day about The Future of Work, organized amongst others by The School of Life. As for what the steps towards mastery have to do with work, we’ll get to that later. After the steps, taken from the book of Robert Greene and interpreted by Knoop:

What we do

First we take the step of finding out what it is that we do naturally. Which activities do we have an inclination of doing first, easiest and without a sense of time. This tendency is often hidden when we are adults, and is found in what we loved doing as a child.

Then we go into the phase of being an apprentice, the pupil. Practicing our skills, discipline and making as many mistakes as possible.


Then there is the step of seeking a mentor to cross into the next phase of growth. Often times the great masters like Faraday, Mozart, Franklin, Nietzsche all had to break up with their mentors in a nasty way. Breaking bad from the guidance then brought on the next step:

Shadow work. Or getting to know your own harshness, diving into what isn’t so great about you and coming to terms with that. Then being able to deal with those of your own. Learning to deal with what your surrounding ecosystem has to say and interaction with them.

Next stop Mastery

Then – right after this step – heading into the domain of creativity and intuitive behavior. That combines the new with existing materials and ideas.

And finally the master finds his domain where they are able to tap into the memories, impressions and solves issues of the past to re-use them for others.

Discipline and creativity

I am sure Parcifal would have agreed that consciously taking the road of mastery is a bold decision. And how does it connect to work, then?  Well….somehow we’ve lost this mastery focus at work al together. We find we must be a master at once at what we’ve worked with once or twice. We forget that practice is needed before mastering a skill or a domain. Becoming an apprentice first, and be guided by mentors. Under influence of customer pressure and of each other, we tend to forget how important it is to have a mentor and be taught as an apprentice. We deny ourselves the discipline of steady work pace to create a finesse. We must succeed at once.

Daniel Pink

So how then, will we tap into creativity? That much needed place of wonder, where new ideas, news ways of collaboration and old ways of doing business are connected. And how then will we feel the greatest of all motivators that mastery really is? Just like Dan Pink gave us: mastery, autonomy and purpose. Or just like a lot of the other speakers at this event found variations on Pink’s research: motivation of life and work for that matter is not in the money alone, it lies hidden in the steps to mastery.

So: the Future of Work hopefully is that people tend to give themselves that gift of mastery, as a motivator, not only as a target in the school of life.

PS: it was actually 26 degrees celsius out there in Amsterdam on a sunny bright day….

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