Many of us have or had an avocation, maybe a few, in which over time we became pretty dang proficient. Ah, that pesky concept — over time. Gaining truly high level expertise in anything we value, not only demands time, it demands time well spent. A lot of it — doin’ the same things over and over and over. Then rinsing and repeating ad nauseam. In my observation most folks never spend the time nor have the desire to do what it takes to gain standout expertise in anything — their job or otherwise. Yeah, that reads a bit harsh, but it’s not meant to be. To gain genuine mastery in anything we like doing, requires years of dedicated learning, practice (read: repetition), and teachers/mentors not only willing, but able to bring us up to their level. I’m not sure if the now famous book talkin’ about needing 10,000 hours to become an ‘expert’ is universally applicable. I do know my own experience, which appears to illustrate that postulate.
The OldSchool group of men who mentored me spent years as young men workin’ for peanuts. Why? Cuz back in their day (the youngest was born in 1929) when you entered into what was widely considered a profession, you came in as a de facto indentured servant of sorts. They schlepped coffee, got dry cleaning, and whatever else was needed. But in return, they were given the virtual key to the vault. One mentor, born in 1899 and long since passed, once told me his boss/mentor had him learn the forms not by filling them out, but by recreating them on blank paper. No, really.
I have a few of those stories myself, but will leave them for another time. Thing is, becoming a bona fide expert in anything requires a willing student and a teacher. This whole self-taught nonsense is just that. What happens is the self taught experts are also, generally speaking, self proclaimed. They realize this the first time they go mano a mano with a real master. It’s not that they haven’t made themselves into impressively proficient practitioners of the craft they’ve chosen. It might even mean they’ve become far better than average. It doesn’t mean they’re playin’ in the rarified air of the expert.
Experts aren’t born. They’re made — over many years and tremendously consistent effort and what often can be described as mind numbing repetition. More on this at another time. But suffice to say, the true meaning of the phrase ‘real expertise’ has been bastardized to the point of losing credibility.
Photo: Ian Sane