What is an expert? Merriam Webster’s definition:
1 obsolete : experienced
2 : having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience
What do you think about the obsolete definition of expert being experienced? Merriam-Webster defines experienced as: made skillful and wise through experience, or : practiced. My take, our society values experience. We go about experiencing many things but do not devote ourselves to become a master at anything.
We can look to the trades and technical fields for some good examples: welder, plumber, electrician, web designer, computer repair technician, and the list goes on. I’ve experienced unclogging my bathroom sink. I’ve even taken apart the pipe to get an earring from the trap. I’m an experienced plummer! Do you want me messing with your plumbing?
Simply having experience does not an expert make. What does it take to be an expert? Malcolm Gladwell states, in his book, “Outliers“ (with a lot of evidence to support the argument) that it takes 10,000 hours of involvement and practice to become an expert at something.
Wow! That’s 10 to 20 years! Does that mean we can’t become experts? No! There is a caveat here. We must decide at what we want to become expert! We need to pick one thing we want to master. That something we want to have special skill.
How do you know what it is? Maybe it’s that thing you’ve dabbled in all your life. Maybe it’s something you took a class in years ago and you’ve been continually going back to that topic for more. Whatever it is, it’s probably a passion inside you. It might even be something you’ve never shared with anyone! There might be many ideas coming to mind right now. Be sure and write them down. I don’t need to see your list. You don’t have to share it with anyone. It’s yours.
Now, review that list and focus on one thing you want to really get good at, expert even. I’m interested in many things and am always seeking to learn. Sometimes that creates a problem. My mind gets full of too many things that my focus becomes distracted, disoriented, and fragmented. I’ve set myself up to fail! I’m learning, but just bits and pieces of many topics. I’m not investing in being expert.
This really means, I’m not investing in myself. I’ve actually returned to that list I mentioned. Just so you know, it’s easy to get distracted and discouraged. We often want to become experts overnight. Sorry, it isn’t going to happen. Get back to that one thing!
Finally, practice! Yes, I said the dreaded word. I heard it many times in reference to the piano when I was a kid. Practice makes perfect is a saying you hear often. I’ve heard it restated as, “Perfect practice makes perfect.”
Does that mean you aren’t going to make mistakes on this journey to expert? Of course not, but you must put your best self forward. You can’t become an expert if you just dabble. I’m not saying dabbling is bad. Dabbling helps you learn what you love. But if you want to be expert, you must focus.
There is another aspect of practice. It’s intentionality. To become expert, pick a time each day you are going to devote to your pursuit of expert. Don’t let anything come between you and this time. Treat it as sacred time. If you are single, no problem. If you are married, maybe a problem.
- Sit down with your family and talk about what you want to do
- Ask for the support you need to achieve your dream
- Celebrate milestones with your family
I I had a dream of finishing my undergrad studies and going on to become an attorney. We talked about the sacrifice this would take as a family. The kids bought in and my entire family was supportive. I studied for hours behind a closed door. Could they interrupt? Yes. I left the door partially open when complete privacy was optional. My husband and kids would come and go as they pleased. I would take phone calls and answer messages.
What about if the door was closed? Well, the standard was a little different. You can laugh, I do. I told the kids:
When the door is closed, you may interrupt. However, someone must be bleeding from their eyeballs or the house is on fire.”
Oh, by the way, I didn’t go to law school. I earned a Masters in Psychology instead. But that’s a story for another day.
Check out the article, The Making of an Expert in Harvard Business Review. The article is a bit long, but if you are truly searching for advice on becoming expert, it’s an essential read. We often think that experts are born. They have within them from birth something that cannot be learned and we stand in awe.
Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born.
Ericsson, K. A., Prietula, M. J., and Cokely, E. T. The Making of an Expert, HBR.COM, July 2007.
Get going! You can do it! Need more ideas on how to get started? I’d love to chat!