Clearly, experts exist. Experts, in my mind, are the people who are at the top of their game; the ones who are most successful in their line of work, whether that be gaming, art, sports, comedy, what-have-you, we can all think of people who are “experts” at their jobs (all examples of expertise, feat. some of my favorite experts). Because if you’re an expert at something, it probably means you’re doing “that thing” for a living. People love experts. People love to watch people do things they can’t do, but…
When I think of why I like to watch experts, especially in areas I’m most interested in, like the ones I listed above, it’s for two things: 1) I find it extremely entertaining/inspiring/hilarious and 2) I want to learn from them. There’s a saying that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in any given area (thanks Malcolm Gladwell). That translates into roughly 90 minutes of practice every day for 20 years. There are many, many people who disagree with this (see: here, here, here…) I tend to agree with them. There are faster ways to become an expert. Without a doubt, it takes time and dedication. Tim Ferris says it takes 6 months of focused time and dedication in order to master something. Of course, it all depends. Some things are harder to master than others. The first thing that comes to mind is teaching–because that’s what I want to do for a living. You don’t reach the stage of mastery in 6 months of teaching–I mean, even if you poured every spare minute you had into becoming a master teacher it wouldn’t happen. You simply need the experience. A lot of experience. In this regard, the 10,000 hour rule seems to make more sense. Unless you aren’t doing it right. You can be a 20+ year veteran teacher and still be a novice. I’m sure most people can attest to having had such a teacher, unfortunately.
This is where it gets tricky.
So, how do you maximize the time in which it takes to become an expert? The easiest solution: Learn from the pros. It’s that simple. Watch them, listen to them, ask them. Try out things that they are doing; if it doesn’t work, innovate, or move on to the next one. Don’t just focus on one “expert,” find different ones in the same field. I cannot tell you how much easier it is to do this. I love podcasts, especially Tim Ferris’s, because his entire podcast is about getting the juicy tidbits out of the best of the best. Another favorite is Jess Lively’s (although lately she hasn’t been interviewing anyone; check the archives).
To go on a slight tangent, I should say that I have a fear of mediocrity. Not in interests that are hobbies (ex. swimming, gaming, editing, learning languages, etc.–reaching mastery would simply be icing on the cake so to say), but in areas I want to succeed in most (ex. teaching, writing, creativity). Those areas are meaningful to me. When I hear mediocrity, I think laziness. At the same time, I think talentless, boring, unsuccessful. It is one of the harshest words in the English language in my opinion. The truth is, sometimes I am lazy when it comes to my so-called passions. I think having passion in life is very important, but also potentially damaging. We are expected to always be alight with passion, but the truth is…
Is that even possible? To always, constantly, be on fire? No, eventually we burn out. It doesn’t mean the flame can’t be rebuilt, but just because the fire went out doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It’s natural. I think humans tend to think linearly rather than cyclically, which isn’t the right way to think in the slightest. We think we go from rags-to-riches, and if we fall away, that’s it for us, or we see a “comeback” as rare and difficult to achieve. We think we need to keep achieving, achieving, achieving or our lives lose all meaning. The truth is, everything is cyclical. Just look at history, look at life. “Ups and downs” are normal in life; they are normal when it comes to things we are passionate about. It doesn’t mean we won’t regain that passion. Sometimes it goes out because we become passionate about something else, other times we may simply get tired or even bored. And that’s okay.
What I’m trying to get at is that if you’re like me and have moments where you feel mediocre–you get lazy, making you feel talentless, boring, unsuccessful–remember that this too shall pass. Dare I even say that it’s okay to be lazy every once in a while. Slow your roll. Over the course of the past decade, my passions have stayed the same, even though I’ve gone through ups and downs. To put it simply, passions are like the phoenix Fawkes from Harry Potter; they’ll be reborn. In the meantime, grab a Cinnabon and veg on the couch binging Stranger Things; you’re just going through the cycles.