Among many realizations as you get older is the time you spend on things. Slowly, but surely, those areas of interest may dwindle. The loss isn’t sad, and it’s not really losing ideas or passions as much as shifting them to the periphery. You see them every day out of the corner of your eye, but never with clear focus. The most important people and activities take over.
It’s not sad, but maybe not completely happy. Honing in on all of what matters most is fulfilling and brings life. That’s the perspective. A glass half-full.
For so long, I thought this was what helped bring me success. I set goals that seemed ambitious. Without any idea of what life might have held for me, accomplishing tasks like finding a job that made me happy, getting published in a national magazine, sharing my love with others all seemed reasonable. And easy.
And then they weren’t.
Famously, or infamously (you can be the judge based on Google results), writer and pop culture sensation Malcolm Gladwell once offered up 10,000 hours as the threshold of expertise. You spend This Much Time doing That One Thing, and you’re bound to understand it in ways others simply can’t. From a professional standpoint, it makes sense. Devoting oneself to a practice day-in and day-out leads to muscle memory. It’s what makes you good at your job or hobby or anything.
I thought I was good at some things. Long ago, I whittled down the number of attention-grabbing diversions not by obvious decision as much as circumstance of life. I believed then, and maybe still now, it helped me become who I am today in all the best ways. But seeking expertise has also left me unfulfilled.
In an objective sense, my 10,000 hours made me an accomplished writer. But professional success can only mean so much. I’ve shared the same amount of time with friends and loved ones, only to lose some in the end. In that shared experience, 10,000 matters most when it’s actually 20,000, the addition of another. Expertise takes you so far, but human condition can still win in the end.
For some time, I’ve wrestled with the challenge of building all those hours and whether or not my expertise actually amounted to anything with people who mattered most. But the learning experience – the actual work toward mastery and all the trial and error along the way – is invaluable. It separates the merging point where expertise meets personal growth.
Because when you look back at those 10,000 hours, it’s not about the final outcome. We’re not punching the clock. It’s “about the journey” or some bullshit like that or whatever it is we’re supposed to tell ourselves or others. Cliche, but also not entirely a joke.
Being an “expert” is a title.
Being a human is a value.