Becoming a Master

Bruce Lee Quotable

I often think of myself as a jack of all trades, but a master of none. I don’t consider myself a real hacker since I spend much of my spare time volunteering. I am not really an expert people person since my day job is about computers and I certainly won’t be starting my own dojo anytime soon.

For quite some time, I was quite satisfied with this state of affairs because I loved trying new things and experiencing the vast range of possible human experiences. At the least, it has kept me busy and engaged.

Lately though, I have been doubting my perspective. If I wanted to make a difference… a real difference, what kind of mastery would I actually need to do it? Could I even achieve the mastery levels of Bruce Lee or Louis Pasteur or Ghandi? Or am I not talented enough?
Fortunately, talent doesn’t appear to be the main obstacle according to this article from Scientific American.

Click here for Scientific American article on expertise

Here is one excerpt from the article:

“The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.”

I wonder… for what would I be willing to dedicate ten years of my life? Here in Canada, I feel fortunate to have a choice in the direction of my life. If I wanted, I could have it! Given of course that I would be willing to work hard at it.

The article continues to say that it isn’t about ten years of any kind of study… it is ten years of “effortful study”.

“…what matters is not experience per se but “effortful study,” which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time. It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player’s progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study. Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance–for instance, keeping up with one’s golf buddies or passing a driver’s exam–most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind’s box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.”

It is little wonder then that few people achieve this high level of discipline. Furthermore, becoming an expert at something physical is one thing. What about becoming an expert in our own thinking? What kinds of ways can we push the envelope on our own thinking and test that against reality?

What about you? What is your dream for “making a difference”? How will you become push yourself to the limit of your capacities?

2 Replies to “Becoming a Master”

  1. I wonder though, if using the example of golf (since I play), that becoming the “expert” in that sport would actually ruin the social nature of the game for me. Not saying that I don’t want to improve, because I do, but I would not want to become so good as to surpass those whom I enjoy spending 4 hours on a course with… Not that I have any worry about that.

    I think rather, if we are wanting to gain expertise in any area, it would be on communicating with one another. To become the expert computer programmer might land you a dream job that you would want to spend 10-12 hours at, but that might also prevent you from experiencing other things in life like love, the outdoors and interactions… I think the guys who designed U-Tube (?) were on to something, where they had their dream job, they created an outlet not only for amazing creativity but also for social consciousness raising and were bought out by Google, another socially conscious company.

    My observation is that to be a “level 5” in one area means that you are probably going to be sacrificing something in another area. Whether it is family, or political positioning, or your dream job. So, to get back to your initial question, if I were to push myself to the limit of my capacities, it would be to be a better communicator and listener, as that in turn might help me achieve a higher level in other areas of life. But I will be quite happy playing a mediocre game of golf, if anything so there is something to drink about in the clubhouse after!


  2. Gena you hit upon something in your comment that struck me. You say that pursuing expertise in your golf would mean leaving behind the people you now play the game with and whose company you enjoy. I think part of the struggle in trying to achieve any expertise is that process of isolation (not to mention the ten years of deicated study to simply master the discilpine). The better you become at anything the more it separates you from a group of people; not only in the time you are dedicating to it’s study but also in having to leave those you started with in the journey. Since belonging is a huge part of our world, the act of willingly leaving the group to venture out alone is a major hurdle. It is not so bad when there are existing groups of individuals with whom you can join (I am thinking of sports where there is a hieracrchy of levels you can access as you move up in mastery) but if you are in a thinly populated area of mastery it can be intimidating.

    So as we pioneer mastery in areas that are outside the range of normal activities what internal resources do we need to develop to face the lack of contact with others?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *