7 Steps to Becoming an Expert in Anything

Unfortunately, I’m no expert in anything, But my dad and my great Uncle Arthur, those two were experts. 

Uncle Arthur on my mother’s side was a gardener of herbs who was well-known in our area, especially in Fisher, La. where he lived. His garden was a seemingly wild array of plants that looked like weeds to my untrained eye.

Such is life, I think, to the untaught.

Uncle Arthur would often come visit my dad, bringing gifts, most notably a bay tree that failed to thrive. My dad was enamored with the idea of herbs too. He was an expert on chickens, and he was always looking for ways to improve their health and vigor. Dad had the best chickens in the area and Uncle Arthur had the most prolific herb garden, and  both entertained visitors from afar regularly who came to buy or just to visit and perhaps glean some information. 

As their friendship grew, they each developed an interest in the other’s field and spent quite a lot of time together talking, sharing information and appreciating one another’s knowledge. I wish that I’d had the foresight to sit in on more of those conversations and really listen. 

I know better now, what makes an expert: years of research, experience and practice. It takes quite a lot of work to become an expert. My problem is that there are so many things I’m interested in, I don’t seem to have the time to become an expert in any one. 

Research done in 1993 indicates that it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert. That’s 416.66 days of deliberate practice, focus and challenging yourself to know and do better in a particular field. 

When I start adding up all the things I have to do: sleep, work, eat, grooming, laundry, cleaning, errands, driving, family time, etc, I quickly realize I have only about 3-4 hours each day to devote to becoming an expert in anything. 

Work, then, becomes the thing you focus on: if you can align your work with the thing you want to learn about, well then, you’ve got it made. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to do that with a couple of things: I’ve been a paid writer, so I’ve spent many hours on that craft and consider myself well above average. 

The time I’ve spent at home raising our goats, cows and chickens in order to progress the farm and our food sustainability has lent me some level of expertise in their care. The same can be said of handling fresh milk and dairy products as well as growing, preserving and using vegetables and herbs.

In essence, then, becoming an expert requires that you devote yourself to a particular subject or activity. That’s an interesting word: devote; devotion. Has a religious ring to it, doesn’t it? In fact, it is religious. Devotion means “love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause; religious worship or observance; prayers or religious observances.”

I might also add that devotion requires you to overlook your own discomfort in order to express it. Sounds a lot like sacrifice, doesn’t it? Why must it be uncomfortable? Why must we sacrifice our comfort to become experts in anything? 

It’s uncomfortable trying to become an expert in anything because it requires you to be in the zone of proximal development for a large portion of your time. Put simply, becoming an expert requires you to leave your comfort zone and exist outside of it for long periods of time. 

To get into the learning zone, you must first identify someone who is an expert, or is at least more expert than you, and then begin learning from that person: doing what they do and failing at it and then trying again. 

So becoming an expert also requires that you learn to cope with failure, which is itself a skill that requires some level of expertise. Here are some tips.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that becoming an expert in something often requires that someone else makes sacrifices as well. For instance, I could not spend time studying, writing, observing and experimenting, if my husband were not at work, earning the money necessary for us to live. 

A willingness to accept the sacrifices of others is an important element of obtaining any quest. That might seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at how difficult it is to take that step. Primarily, if you accept the sacrifice of others for your own good, then you must also be willing to sacrifice for their good. And there is the rub. 

When someone has sacrificed for you, and you’re not willing to return the favor, you have little peace. Without peace, you can’t focus on those things you want to learn. In order to obtain peace, you must be united with the person who has sacrificed for you. The only way to unite is to sacrifice your own self-interest for the good of the relationship. 

It’s not just a quandary, it’s a paradox. And it’s where we get hung up the most. Jesus said it best, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, this is the one who will save it.” Luke 9:24. 

At a moment’s notice you must be willing and able to put all that you want aside, possibly to never attain it, for the sake of the other person. All that you want must always be in second place to the person who has sacrificed for you. Without that mindset, you will always be at odds, never at peace, and never able to focus on the quest. 

In human terms, always being willing to sacrifice what you want means you might not ever get what you want. So what’s the point? Many people conclude that there’s just no use, and they spend the rest of their lives in a state of turmoil, refusing to give up their quest, but also unable to move or be moved. 

But then there is the spiritual side of it. Realizing your quest also requires faith. 

Even though you don’t see how, you must also believe that loving another to the point of giving up what you want, is also the only sure way to get what you want. 

You must believe that your quest is NOT more important than the other person’s well-being; that your happiness, your own well-being is tied up in the other person’s well being, that, in fact, that person’s well-being is really what you want above all. 

You must believe the paradox. In short, you must accept, not just accept but be grateful that somewhere along the way, your quest became overshadowed by love.

So, to recap, to be an expert in anything requires the following: 

1. Time and devotion to the quest

2. Ability to sacrifice your comfort

3. Ability to learn from others

4. Ability to cope with and learn from failure

5. Ability to accept the sacrifice of others

6. Ability to sacrifice the quest for others

7. Faith that sacrificing the quest for love does not mean the end of the quest

Sounds like the plot of a good novel….

Or a good life.

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