When I was 17, I wanted to know how many hours of practice to become an expert.
I had just finished secondary school and read some books about geniuses.
I wanted to be like one of them: Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and the like.
But first, I ran into a couple of problems:
1) I didn’t know what I wanted to master. I was confused.
2) I wanted money as quickly as possible (because who doesn’t love having money).
So, my question gradually became tilted from ‘how to become an expert’ to ‘how to make money.’
Both require expertise.
Expert at what? I did not know.
So, before we dive in too far, I want us to be clear about something.
Do you want to become an expert?
Or do you want to become good enough and make money? Here, you put a kind of measurement to what will qualify you as an expert. It’s your own definition of expertise and might not be the standard.
‘I want to make good music’ is a great challenge, provided you can describe what ‘good’ means. (Is it music that sells irrespective of the long-term value? Or you want to become a sorcerer at strings, someone who makes melodies with his fingers and tongues when she sleeps; even your murmurs make birds stop.)
Your goal will be different from someone trying to win a Grammy. (They have to play on a bigger stage.)
So, before you ask, how long will it take to master something? You have to define it. What does ‘expert’ mean to you?
Once that’s settled, let’s answer the other question: how long does it take?
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How Many Hours of Practice to Become an Expert
According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, becoming an expert usually takes about 10,000 hours. What you need to know is that this isn’t the whole picture. There are conditions and certain things that need to be in place for you to become great, and the top of them are how you practice, the presence of mentors, and your definition of expertise.
When we talk about how you practice, the best method is to use deliberate practice, which is breaking things down into units and practicing each until the whole concept is mastered.
In the world, a certain level of winning is associated with expertise. Are you a professional surgeon if you don’t have a certain number of successful surgeries? Are you a professional author without a bestseller attached to your books or a Pulitzer award on your shelf?
Now, you can see that you can be called the best before you meet the 10,000-hour rule.
If you win awards at a young age or if you get rich doing what you love, if you earn a degree a decade younger than your peers, many will see you as a genius at that thing.
Conversely, you can complete the 10,000-hour rule and still be short of being called a master of that subject.
The Things That Matters In Becoming An Expert
The truth about expertise is that it takes a lot of things to become one. Some of them you can control, the majority you don’t.
Some people are so good at the craft of executing creative work that it’s almost impossible to explain how they create. Even if they host a seminar for 365 days to teach you how they do it, it’s impossible to replicate their process or result.
It seems natural. Not really?
It’s just that our experience, background, religion, genes, and many other things are important factors when you want to study what makes the best at what they do.
Havard Business Review wrote an article, The Making of An Expert, on some of the other factors — and they pointed out deliberate practice and having mentors as parents as some of the conditions that make some become an expert faster than others. This article was co-written by professional researchers like Anders Ericsson, who conducted research on expanding Malcom’s idea of 10,000 hours rule. He proved that true expertise is more than blindly practicing; it is more about deliberate practice, usually with a coach.
Sometimes, it depends on the subject and the criteria by which expertise is measured.
Who Is Judging?
If you start a career in graphic design and improve every day for a year, you’re much more of a pro to me because you’re into it than I will ever be. But is that enough? If you’re my friend, I will call whenever I need something related to design…
Let’s change the subject to learning how to play guitar. How much more do you need to practice? Who is going to judge your excellence at it?
Not me, because all I know about guitar is that it’s mostly good or bad. There is no in-between.
People who really understand music will have a different opinion. But to an average person, you are an expert if you can play it well enough.
Do you want to just play at home or at functions? Or you’re pursuing something big, a music career? Or do you want to become a legend at it?
There is a lot of context to it, and it usually comes from why you’re starting the career in the first place.
I want to learn how to play chess because I like it. No plans for becoming a grandmaster.
Malcom’s 10,000-hour rule can not be simply discarded. It is what’s needed for the average person who wants to pursue a career or skill that seems pretty difficult or without any background.
Give yourself 10,000 hours of dedicated practice (use deliberate practice), and let’s see if you will become good at that thing or not.
By the way, 10,000 hours of practice is the same as 10 hours of practice for 1000 days. It’s the same as practicing for 2 hours every day for 5,000 days. If you practice 6 hours every day for a year (365 X 6), you would have practiced for
So, how many hours to become an expert?
Seriously? Define what ‘expert’ means.
Then, achieve that definition. The time it takes you — that’s your personal answer.