Chasing mastery is worth the trouble

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success (which I will be reviewing soon), Malcolm Gladwell discusses the 10,000 hour rule, which states that to achieve mastery – of anything – requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. (Readers of Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated will recognize this idea, as well.) This is, to put it mildly, a lot of hours.

Last week a couple of bloggers I follow asked themselves if they thought all this effort was worth it.  From Did I Say That Out Loud?

So then the next question is do I even want to be an expert at anything? Is it worth 10,000 hours to master something so completely? Or is my time better spent doing the daily tasks in front of me the best that I can? Or is there some organic blend of the two?

And from Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist:

There are a few things about the article [The Making of an Expert by Anders EricssonMichael Prietula and Edward Cokely in the July/August HBR] that really make me nervous. The first is that you need to work every single day at being great at that one thing if you want to be great. This is true of pitching, painting, parenting, everything. And if you think management in corporate life is an exception, you’re wrong. I mean, the article is in the Harvard Business Review for a reason.

I was trying to come up with responses to these to let them know that it is worth the effort if you’ve found something you love. I was having a hard time coming up with the right words, so took a break to watch tennis. To watch Roger Federer win the Australian Open, his record 16th major tournament win.

And it all became clear. Not a whole lot of words needed (though I ended up typing a lot anyway).

Is chasing mastery worth the trouble? Your damn right it is.

2 thoughts on “Chasing mastery is worth the trouble

  1. I’m guessing Federer agrees with you, lol.

    You said something important here: “if you’ve found something you love.” What if you haven’t? Do you keeping looking for the thing you love, or do you pursue expertise in an area that doesn’t make your heart pound, hoping that as you grow to know it you will also grow to love it?

    Do you wait for Mr. Right? Or do you marry Mr. Good Enough?

    I’m leaning toward Mr. Good Enough (not literally, you understand, I married Mr. Right almost 17 yrs ago). I don’t think you can know if you love something until you give it a good shot. I’m operating as if I love the thing, and we’ll see if it works out in the end, when I really know it well.

    Thanks for the very nice link and quote. I appreciate it!


  2. Amy loves Bud,

    What causes someone to latch on to a particular passion is a question that I’ve been curious about for many years. Unfortunately without much success.

    Why is it that some people fall in love with the piano the first time they sit down and play a note, and some people have to take lessons for a couple of years before they discover that they really love it? And some people just absolutely hate it, no matter what?

    Sometimes we aren’t able to pursue our passion, and sometimes we just haven’t found it yet, as you describe. In those cases, my philosophy has always been to become the best I can at whatever it is I am doing. It may not be a passionate expertise, but it can still be worthwhile.

    Maybe not marry Mr. Good Enough, but at least move in with him.


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