Cycles of Creation & Connection
There are only so many hours in our lives, so it’s important to use each one thoughtfully, especially if one intends to master a skill. The minimum amount of practice necessary for mastery is said to be 10,000 hours. Whether that number is true, the an ambiguous immensity of time is generally needed to effectively master a skill.
Take advantage of every opportunity you have to learn. Remember: the true master of any skill knows that the task of learning is never complete.
A Progression of Complexity
Not long ago, mastery was a measure of experience. From a craftsman’s perspective, an apprentice would be taught the basics and learn under a master. Eventually they’d learn enough to strike out on their own as a journeyman. After years on the road, working with a wide range of people and different contexts, they might finally achieve the skill of a master. In the days of guilds and analog ‘things’, the products of mastery could be more concretely defined. Woodcarvers learned specific tools and patterns, eventually creating their own. Scribes read great works and practiced penmanship, eventually crafting their own passages.
Today there are as many skills and techniques to be learned as there are online experiences to draw from. Because the modality of what we make is evolving so fast, our roles are seemingly not as solidly defined or structured. A graphic designer may work with ink, a tablet, possibly both. A 3D model maker might need to understand a little architecture, engineering, and computer science to get to product they want. Even writers today ought to be versed in literature, typing techniques, formatting standards, SEO, and Twitter etiquette, not to mention a host of text editing software.
It’s a complex world we’ve created for ourselves, and if you focus on the tools and the ‘what’ of it all, it only gets more complicated from here. There are layers to making sense of it, though. Skill-sets more than skills alone begin to emerge. And perhaps most important of all, the ‘why’ of what we make moves to the fore..
Ways of Learning
Learning comes in many forms, especially in how it will be useful in making you who you are. For instance, to begin with, there’s Passive Learning: a basic absorption of ideas through reading, listening to music, reading the news. Passive learning on your way toward mastery presents a challenge of selection that often relies on passion. You follow the things that interest you, even if they don’t feel aligned with the skill you’re trying to master. Unconstrained passive learning can certainly make for inspiration, but one might try focusing attention on adjacent topics to further the effectiveness of passive learning. Patterns tend to reveal themselves as you age.
When you consciously hone a skill, we’d call that Active Learning. Active learning on the path to mastery often takes the form of practice or engaging with a teacher. The goal of active learning is to understand fundamentals. For a musician, practicing scales is active learning. A graphic design course composed of increasingly challenging assignments that utilize the basics of Photoshop is active learning.
Not all active learning is made the same, however. Depending on the skill, an hour spent on Wikipedia might be all you need. For more complex or hands-on tasks, you might need someone to show you first. There are thousands of car repair videos on YouTube, but if you want to replace your transmission, it might be better for someone to show you. Why? Because active learning means making mistakes! Learning, experimenting with, and refining a process are often best done in a controlled, low-risk environment.
The most important and advanced form of learning is Applicative Learning. Repairing your car after taking maintenance class applies the skills you’ve actively practiced; applying your knowledge of musical scales and modes to a jazz solo is too. Applicative learning is where a lot of growth can happen quickly because one has, presumably, put time into passive and active learning as well.
Applying what you know puts everything you’ve learned in the mix and challenges you to push the envelope further. Creative application can also help you generate your own process and clear a path toward further growth. Possibly the most productive form of applicative learning is teaching and explaining. Distilling your complex knowledge into digestible tidbits that others can learn from frames your knowledge and offers the possibility of deciphering what you actually know...or don’t know.
Diversions & Avoiding Them
The main problem with “getting good” at something is that it’s often hard to maintain focus on what is really pushing you forward. Life is full of distractions and reasons to tell yourself Netflix must count as passive learning (and sometimes it does). It’s also difficult to devote so much time to only one skill when it may seem more strategic to expand the breadth of your skill-set. But frustration, almost certainly, is the main impediment to mastery. People get stuck and they stop.
Strategies to Optimize Learning
There are ways to help optimize the work you do towards mastery.
Know Yourself • Being honest with yourself about your natural propensities and interests can help to guide your pursuits. If you want to get on the path of mastery quickly, focus on something you’re already passionate about. Mastering things you don’t like or aren’t good at is possible—and, sometimes, the point—but it might take longer.
Set Goals • Organize your pursuit of mastery. Take into account what, exactly, you are trying to learn and what steps you will need to take along the way. Keep to your plan and try not to get too distracted. You can always change your course, but an organized start will keep things simple from the start.
Make Habits • Get into a routine. It might be hard to get started, but once you’re rolling you’ll be unstoppable.
Smart Segmentation • If you need to learn a few different skills, think about which ones are most important or universal and focus on those first.
Find a Class • Teaching and learning are as old as humanity. We’ve figured out how to do it well. Hands-on learning with peers who share similar interests not only gives you a structure for practice, but also a community of like-minded individuals on the same path.
Be Immersive • A combination of Passive, Active, and Applicative learning means you need to spend as much time as possible around the skill or skills you’re trying to master. Find the combination that works for you, but try to focus on Active and Applicative learning most.
Don’t Give Up • If you’re anything like most people, you are probably your own worst enemy when it comes to persevering through a challenge. Only you can choose to move forward. Train yourself to keep going, even when it gets hard.
Get Going • There are around 8,640 hours in a year. You’re asleep for half of that. If you live to be 80, that’s around 345,600 hours, total. If you started now and gave yourself 10 years, that’s 43,200 waking hours. Take away 24,400 hours for 40 weekly hours of work and commuting and you almost have enough time, in 10 years, to master a couple skills… assuming that’s all you do in your free time.