Have you ever heard the following statement?
“It took me 10 years to become an ‘overnight success.’”
How long do you think it takes people to become masters in their field?
Research conducted by Florida State University Professor Anders Ericsson suggests that regardless of the discipline, it takes a consistent time of around 10,000 hours—or 20 hours a week for 10 years—to achieve mastery. Those 20 hours means actual engagement in the craft, not just “thinking about it.” From music and medicine to legal, leadership, and sports, the career choice in the study did not matter. It still takes at least 10,000 hours to become competent. Ericsson confirmed success is not an accident—it takes focused effort.
When I was in my late 20s and just beginning my career as a speaker, consultant, and author, I was certain it would be different for me. I was confident it would not take me a decade to become an “overnight success.” But, despite my intentions otherwise and my best efforts, my mastery and proficiency did not arrive until I was in my 40s—oddly enough, about 10,000+ hours later!
There is much to be learned by that revelation.
When I was younger, I was naively critical that all the best corporate positions were filled by “old people” (for the record, I believed that was anyone over 40). Looking back, understanding that many people don’t know what they don’t know,I was one of them.
There is a reason that every single sport has a development program, or “farm” team; it takes time to advance. Yes, there are exceptions, but very few. Hockey in Canada starts basically when the child can barely walk, then progresses to rep teams, junior teams, senior amateur, professional farm teams, and then the NHL.
When American competitive swimmer Michael Phelps set the all-time record of eight gold medals in 2009, it was his third round at the Olympics. Did he improve during the eight years between his first Olympics and his third? Obviously!
Most car racers have spent time in go-karts, starting around the age of eight; then, if they exhibited enough talent and had the “drive,” they would progress through the various levels of racing.
So why, then, would business, leadership, and responsibilities at work be any different? The reality is, they are not. To prove my point,and going back to sports, many people don’t know that basketball legend Michael Jordan did not make his high school basketball team. To reverse this decision, he spent all summer working on drills and practicing his craft: basketball. Of course, we know the rest,as he became one of the best NBA players in history.
During the dot-com craze, I was a meeting with an organization run by a 26-year-old. Even though he was burning a million a month in seed capital and was immature in his leadership style and managerial capabilities, he was certain he was “God’sgift” to leadership/management. However, the company shut down forever a few months later. The young leader had not put in his time (10,000 hours) to develop his skills.
Unfortunately,we do not live in a society, nor possess the career development mindset, that embraces a 10-year time frame to become excellent at what we do. Rather, our impatience and our obsession with immediacy abounds.
What about you? Do you have the patience to focus and put in the time to achieve a level of mastery? The most recent job-related stats suggested that most individuals (in the developed world) will have 12 to 15 jobs throughout their lifetime. By working 12 to 15 jobs in a lifetime, one ends up being average at everything,but not really excellent at anything.How can we expect and realize excellence if we don’t work long enough to excel at what we do?
A second critical element that leads to success in individuals is a supportive environment. Claims like “I am a self-made millionaire” are rarely true; in most cases, these individuals had surroundings and people (whether or not they got any credit)encouraging their success.
Other things to think about:
- Having numerous jobs in different roles suggests a person has mastered none.
- Mastery requires real time. There simply is no replacement for experience.
- Patience is a baseline to success.
- Those who never master anything in their entire life will never feel the deep level of satisfaction and fulfillment that come from mastering a discipline.
- Becoming a skilled leader means being deliberate and intentional. The foundational elements of successful leadership are outlined in my book,Deliberate Leadership: Creating Success Through Personal Style.
- Research confirms that each person must take responsibility for the intentional direction of his or her life. Rabbit-tripping (or being scattered and unfocused) has no value except to exclude what someone does not like.
- To avoid rabbit-tripping means people need to learn what their true passions and purpose are—sooner rather than later. Check out my latest book,The Quest For Purpose: A Self-Discovery Process To Find It And Live It!Discovery is reserved for the seeker, which takes work and effort. I once asked my colleague, bestselling author Richard Bolles(What Color Is Your Parachute?), why so many people don’t know what they want to do in life. “People are not willing to do the work to find out why they are really here,” he replied. Clarity of purpose does not happen by accident;people need to invest the time to clarify calling, talents, passions, and purpose in life.
- If you are a leader, coach, or career/HR professional, this principle applies to the development of your team. Long-term development plans and timelines should be your norm, along with mentoring and support. Alternatively,hire someone who has already paid the price for their success.
Mastery is reserved for those are committed to long-term development, but this is also true for anyone on your team or others with whom who you work.
Start right now, and embrace an attitude, mindset, and commitment toward achieving mastery in your passions and purpose.
Ken Keis, Ph.D.
CRG Consulting Resource Group International, Inc.
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About the Author
Ken Keis, Ph.D., President of CRG, is a global expert on leadership, wellness, behavioral assessments, and life purpose. In 28 years, he has conducted over 3000 presentations and invested 10,000+ hours in consulting and coaching. His latest book, The Quest For Purpose: A Self-Discovery Process To Find It And Live It! is available at thequestforpurpose.ca. He is also the author of Why Aren’t You More Like Me? Discover the Secrets to Understanding Yourself and Others, and co-author of Deliberate Leadership: Creating Success Through Personal Style. He co-created CRG’s proprietary development models, and has written more than 3.5 million words of content for 40 business training programs and over 500 articles. Ken’s expertise includes assisting individuals, families, teams, and organizations to realize their full potential and to live On Purpose!