Years ago, there was a great guy that used to sit next to me at work, and we used to laugh a lot when people called themselves “experts”. Sometimes it was really true (and then we didn’t laugh), but it often was not true. It seems like our fast-paced culture breeds this mentality. Many individuals think that if they do something once or twice, then they are an expert in that area.
Our media definitely breeds this mentality: become an expert in 6 weeks, 30 days, or even 3 days! Some people think that if you can do one or two reports well or come out of school with a degree, then they are an expert. Often these people believe that these “experts” can produce the same quality work as someone who has been performing a similar type of work for 30 years! This is especially true in fields such as science and engineering, where knowledge builds upon previous knowledge.
Obtaining a Ph.D. makes you knowledgeable in only a very specific topic or area. However, I have to admit, one of the lessons learned during a PhD program is the fact that you realize how long it takes to become an expert in a particular topic. Even after obtaining a PhD, you may not be an expert in that area!
Many young people may say (or think), “yeah, but I am smarter than you, and I can become an expert in much less time.” I also thought this way when I was in my early twenties. I think that this is a normal stage in a person’s progression and maturity, and we all realize our own limitations as we age.
I have worked with many extremely intelligent young people that have a lot of potential, however, they are often not yet aware of their limitations or the amount of time that it takes to really become an expert at something. Becoming an expert takes a minimum of 4 years (possibly 5 – 10), depending upon how diligently that you work on a daily basis. There is only one way to become good at something:
1) Listen to others that teach a particular topic and/or read a lot about that topic.
2) Study and/or do the subject or skill that is being taught over and over again. At first you will be stuck, sometimes for months.
3) Do the thing that you are trying to learn some more. Now you will begin to understand it.
4) Do it some more. Now you are understanding it.
5) Do it some more. You will make mistakes, however, this is how you will become great.
Many estimate that it takes about 10,000 hours to get good at something. If you are doing it for 40 hours per week, it will then take approximately 4.8 years to become an expert.
Do you want to be a great engineer or scientist?
It is possible to become great in a few years, however, many of us take over a decade.
Do you want to be a great writer?
Well, if you are naturally gifted like Steinbeck, it should only take a couple of years, however, even J. K. Rowling took five years to complete her first Harry Potter novel.
In order to become really great at something — it takes desire, drive and determination. Therefore, do not get discouraged if you are just starting out. Realize that no matter what your starting limitations are, if you keep working at it, you will achieve your goal. Find something that you are passionate about, and start doing it. The more that you do it, the better you will become.
Take your time and enjoy the process.