There is no such thing as a free lunch and neither is there such a thing as becoming a master at something overnight. Even if you have incredible natural raw talent and can learn something ten times faster than anyone else, without hours, days and months of practice and honing your skills, you will not become a master at your chosen art/craft/skill.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that an initial success means that they are really good at something. I have had the same problem in the past, an egotistical flair or the arrogance of thinking I could be better at something than someone who has been doing it for years while I have only done it for a few weeks. Foolish youth I guess.
I have learnt from my mistakes though and I have some to the conclusion that it takes 2-4 years to get a good basic understanding about something (whatever that something is, I think that the principle applies to pretty much every skill or craft). After those first 2-4 years it has taken you to get a good basic understanding, its going to take you another 2-4 years before you can consider yourself advanced. When you are at this advanced level you are still far from being a master. This can take anything from 4-15 years after you reach the advanced stage, and even a master will always be open to learning more.
I think that becoming a master at anything can be divided into 4 stages. ( I heard about these 4 stages long ago. I can’t remember the source, but it made a lasting impression on me.)
The 4 Stages Of Mastery
This is the stage that many people live in perpetually. The are unaware that they actually suck at a lot of things even though they think that they are doing alright. This is the worst and most dangerous stage to be in. It is the stage where initial successes cause the egotistical and arrogant thinking of superiority and mastery while in reality the person doesn’t know the first thing about what he is doing.
When a person reaches the stage of conscious incompetence they are making good progess. They realize that they are not good at whatever they are doing and thus do not pretend to know what they are doing. This results in two things:
Either they accept their incompetence,outsource the task and they stop attempting to get better at whatever it is they are incompetent at or they are inspired to learn and get their hands on any resource that is going to get them to the next stage of conscious competence.
This is the stage where the seeds of a person’s hard labor starts to bear fruit. They may have spent weeks, months or years studying, learning and practising their skills and finally have come to a stage where they are actually pretty good at what they do. They are far from being the best in their field but they have some good authority and are a lot further than the majority of people who are still starting out.
This is the stage before mastery. Once the unconscious competence stage of a skill/art/craft is reached it is a matter of time before that person becomes a master at what they do. To reach this stage usually takes a couple of years.
A Practical Example of The 4 Stages of Mastery
An example of how these 4 stages that lead up to mastery apply to the real world would be driving a car. I think this is something that everyone can relate to.
Initially you are at the stange of unconscious incompetence. You have sat next to people who drive you around for 16 years and it seems so effortless and easy. You think that it cannot be hard to drive and in fact you are pretty confident that if you were to get behind the wheel that you could get from A to B in one piece.
After attempting to get behind the wheel (with or without permission), you realize it is not so easy. You may stall a couple of times or crash into something. This is when you become aware of the fact that you actually suck at driving and you are going to take steps to become better. You are now at the stage of unconscious incompetence.
After taking lessons, reading books and lots of practise you finally become better at driving and are ready to drive on the public road. Everything still feels a little uneasy and you really need to focus on every action you do while driving (accellerator,break,clutch,shift gears). You are now at the stage of conscious competence.
As you continue to drive and spend more time behind the wheel you begin to feel more comfortable with the action of driving. You start to give less active focus on things like shifting gears, accelerating, indicating and breaking because these actions have started to become a habit. In other words, you automatically do them without thinking about it. This is the stage where you have good driving skills and you don’t need to focus actively on the mechanical actions of your skills. You are now at the stage of unconscious competence.
However, you are still far from mastery. You do not yet have the neccessary reaction ability and experience to be a true master and practice your skill under the most difficult and dangerous circumstances. This takes many years, but day by day you grow towards mastery once you have obtained the level of conscious competence.
This is also the exact reason why black belt karate experts can kick your butt in a dojo under simulated circumstances, but when it comes to a real street fight they are often numb with fear and immobilised by the adrenaline. While they have obtained unconscious competence in an environment they are comfortable with, they are not yet masters who can apply their skill perfectly under any circumstance or condition.
The 10000 Hour Rule
The emerging scientific picture is that 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything. In countless studies of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals and many other professions, the number of 10000 hours comes up again and again.
Now how long is a period of ten thousand hours? It equates to around 3 hours of practice a day (or twenty hours a week) of practice for ten years. There are also people who never reach true mastery in spite of their 10000 hours, which is not really explainable yet. However, no one has found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It appears that it takes our brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.
If you are interested in finding out more about the 10000 hour rule then you should get a copy of ‘Outliers- Malcom Gladwell’.
I hope that I have broken the concept of mastery of a skill down into very clear stages that you are able to understand and identify with. You should be able to take any skill or any area of your life and fit it somewhere into one of the 4 stages of mastery, and now it may just be easier for you to take appropriate action to where you want to be.
Some words of wisdom that I want to leave with you are that it takes many months and years to truly become good and many more to become a master at anything you do. If things go tough and you get knocked down many times without seeing much progress, don’t give up. Anyone who is truly good at something has gone through this entire process and has had their share of setbacks and failures. If you continue to work hard, practice, learn and not give up then the rewards of your efforts will be great.