There is something so inspiring about seeing someone learn a new skill, become competent, then take it to the next level and become an expert.
I remember a few years back my sister Stacey started getting interested in mountain biking. We all thought, "Oh, that's cool, it's nice to try new things."
I don't think any of us imagined it would become the main passion of her life (she was never a super-athletic person before), but she found a mentor, learned the basics, biked every day, and with a infatigable source of determination set about to learn all she could about mountain biking.
After she learned the basics, she started learning how to repair her own bike and replace parts and stuff. Then, she decided she wanted to build her own bike from scratch, which impresses me to no end.
She was clearly going into uncharted, esoteric territory as far as our family was concerned with her requests for obscure bike magazines and bike accessories for Christmas and birthdays and with the addition of multiple tattoos of bike images on her body to express the impact this extreme sport was having on the direction of her life.
Now, probably 6 or 7 years later, she is working as the manager for a bike shop in New York doing repairs, building bikes, selling bikes and handing out advice to other biking enthusiasts.
Imagine, over the course of a few years, Stacey went from a complete novice whose physical activity was limited to the occassional stroll around the neighborhood, to pretty much an expert in the field of mountain biking.
So, what is the key to being able to go from zero knowledge to expert in your field of choice, whether it's mountain biking, doing Kung Fu, playing guitar, being a pro blogger, a life coach, a marketing consultant or anything else in life?
In his post "What are the odds of becoming a black belt?", Steve Pavlina has some helpful tips for how to gain black belt status in any field your heart desires. Steve's tips:
Have a committment to mastery.
"Pulling away from the pack in any field is largely a matter of choice. That choice is a commitment to mastery. But very few will make this choice because it requires hard work, resolve, patience, self-discipline, and a long time perspective."
Stay with it for the long haul.
"If you want to succeed in a new field where you lack experience, you should be thinking of at least a 3-5 year commitment. If that scares you away, then save yourself the time you would have spent dabbling, and don’t bother."
Don't let it bother you that you suck at first.
"When you start out in a brand new field with no experience, you’re going to suck… most likely really suck. If you’re lucky your results will just be bad instead of painfully bad. But screwing up is perfectly OK. That’s supposed to happen. Screwing up is how you learn. Every mistake helps you make new distinctions and increase your skill."
Don't be discouraged that most people fail.
"In many fields you only see a 1% success ratio because the other 99% are merely taking up space. They’re just dabblers, not serious contenders. You’ll often see this 1% figure in fields with a low barrier to entry such as [pro] blogging, acting, or music. You’ll find a small percentage of people who are really committed to mastery, but the rest have virtually no hope of notable success. As you build skill, which normally takes years to achieve competency in any worthwhile field, you move out of the 99% and into the 1%. Dabblers will enter the field, try it for six months, and give up after concluding it’s too hard. A challenging field is good though because it means your long-term investment in skill-building will mean something, like a black belt. It wouldn’t be much of an accomplishment if it was too easy."
Focus on learning rather than winning at first.
"What’s unfair about easy-entry fields like [pro] blogging, acting, or music is that white belts and black belts are thrown into the same pool. White belts are forced to compete against black belts who’ve been honing their skills for years. It’s totally unfair. But that unfairness is what provides the challenge and makes it fun.When you’re committed, you know that early success isn’t to be expected. This is the training phase. Your goal is to survive and to learn, not to win. That’s where you have the advantage because as a white belt, you can develop your skills much faster than a black belt."
So, rather than being the product of luck, or genetics, or learning a skill at a young age, or statistical likelihood, achieving mastery within a certain field is largely the result of personal choice, training and commitment.
It's encouraging to remember that every expert started out as a complete novice.
- There was a time in Leonardo da Vinci's life when he knew nothing about painting.
- There was a time in Lance Armstrong's life when he didn't know how to ride a bike.
- There was a time in Hemingway's life when he wasn't that great at writing.
They only reached expert status after much perserverence, dedication and practice.