I read some time ago it takes 10000 hours of effort to master a skill or to learn about a subject enough to be considered an “expert”. After reading this, I began to think about how we learn. I am a teacher by trade. I have had many classes on how to teach a variety of subjects. We all learn through our senses. Learning happens through hearing, seeing, experiencing and doing new skills, practicing, experimenting, reflecting, having a good teacher or mentor break things down and facilitate learning, playing, etc.
I did the math. If you focus on a skill for 20 hours per week for 10 years, you put in enough time to claim 10000 hours of doing that skill. I began thinking about which skills I have done, how much time I invest over a week, and how many years I have been doing those skills.
Claiming 10000 hours?
What skills can I claim I have done for 10000 hours?
Reading. Because I began when I was little and I still put in 10-20 hours per week, I can confidently say I have put in the 10000 hours. So many good books! So little time! But what does it mean to be a “master reader”? I am very good at pulling information from research?
Another skill? Writing. I have been writing for many years. For example, I worked diligently writing to develop my poetry, some short stories, a couple novels, and many essays. In addition, I wrote reference materials as a freelance writer. Editing? I am not quite there yet. Pretty close. Would another person read my writing and say I am a “master writer”? Probably not, but I can communicate through writing well.
Teaching? Yes, I have worked in many capacities as a teacher over a few decades. I have taught preschool children, preschool children with disabilities, elementary aged students with learning disabilities, high school students, and adults. I can break down material for students, individualize the material to make it more accessible for that particular individual, monitor progress, try again if the student didn’t get it the first time, and motivate students to learn. In addition, I make it a habit to keep learning because learning new material is daunting and I never want to forget that feeling. I reflect on my skills. I take extra trainings. Reading about my profession, researching about child development, staying current with research findings, and more are part of my weekly efforts to be a good teacher. Am I a master teacher? Yes. And I work very hard to be so.
And then there are those skills…
In addition to these skills, I can probably claim 10000 hours of cooking, cleaning, driving, and doing laundry. However, I am not a chef. I do challenge myself and try new recipes, but I don’t have the technical knowledge someone would have who has attended culinary school. In regards to cleaning house, lots of people have clean houses. Also, I am not sure what beyond the requisite hours would qualify someone as a “master” house cleaner. I don’t think this has meaning. I consider myself a good driver? Am I someone who challenges their driving skills? No. Do I experiment when driving? No, I try to get where I am going as safely as possible. Some skills we just master a level that is good enough to be functional.
Some skills I am not certain I could claim fully the hours or the mastery. For example, I have been drawing and painting, sewing, dyeing fabrics, and making things from many materials for a long time. In addition, I practice guitar for 5-7 hours per week and I have been playing off and on since I was in my 20s.
I posted at the top of this post a section of the painting I have been working on for quite awhile. This painting has been an exercise in learning to paint skin tones. Skin tones are hard. Weekly, I paint for a few hours. Then I let the painting dry. I sit back and study my work. So far, I don’t think I have captured the shadows and structure around her eyes and nose correctly. I am learning. Over the last several weeks, I have bought books on painting skin tones. As I am talking with various people, I study their noses looking for where the highlights fall and the shadows lay.
To develop my skills, I am actively seeking information, reflecting, experimenting, and engaging with the skill. Currently I am putting in 10-20 hours per week practicing my draftsmanship skills, honing my sketching abilities, attuning my observation skills, and working with paint. Could I claim mastery currently? No. Could I in 10 years time? Maybe, but I think it would be presumptuous. Primarily I want to develop my skills to allow me to be more expressive with art. I think with the arts we cannot declare the value of our own work. That is left to others.
Why this notion of 10000 hours?
So why this notion of 10000 hours? What does this idea give us? There is no surety that 10000 hours of emersion and practice will earn the label of mastery in a given skill. This idea is valuable in that it highlights one needs to put in the time to learn. New skills don’t come full sprung from a sprinkling of effort. New skills build from previous skills. They come from practice and insight, experimentation, and challenging oneself. To get better at a skill, we have to constantly move out of our comfort zone. For instance, 10000 repetitions of the same skill will reinforce that skill, but only that skill. Those repetitions won’t make you better. Painting the same rainbow 10000 times won’t make it so a person can paint a landscape. Playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” 10000 times won’t enable someone to be able to play a Vivaldi concerto.
Yes to the 10000 hours, but it is more complicated than a simple number of hours.