Formulas are convenient, even if they don’t always work. I’m thinking specifically of areas I know, such as writing. And I compare this against the advice of those who do it for a living. How do you know you’ve made it (and it has nothing to do with not being paid for it, although I suspect that’s in the back of everyone’s mind)? One formula I’ve heard is the hundred-thousand-word rule. Write a hundred-thousand words then throw them away. After that you’re a writer. I passed that particular benchmark decades ago, but it hasn’t really led to any income (so it comes to money again). Then there’s Malcolm Gladwell’s more stringent hundred-thousand-hour rule. To be an expert, you need to do the activity (say writing) for a hundred-thousand hours.
Let’s try to break that down because big numbers can be scary. Presuming it’s not your job—remember this point—those hours, if you can spend an hour a day on what you really love—translate to twenty-seven years. You’ve got to add a decade or so for childhood, I suspect, when, in my case, you were simply doing stupid things and being amazed you’d survived them. There’s a certain amount of maturity required. So, let’s say you started writing when you were ten. If you did it an hour a day without fail by the time you’re thirty-seven you should be an expert. But are you? What if circumstances dictate that you can’t dedicate a full hour a day? One of the most influential teachers in my life said that it was a matter of constancy, not duration. “Write every day,” was his advice, “even if it’s just for fifteen minutes.” According to the Gladwell formula, that’d take over a century to become an expert. But it’s more doable.
Life is busy. Remember work? It will end up eating up far more than forty hours every week. And if you’ve decided you’d like to read once in a while—other writers suggest that the key to success in writing is reading—that too will cut into your time. If you belong to any community organizations, because people like to see other people once in a while, or if you have a family, and if you like to eat and sleep, time soon gets fractured. What all these formulas have in common is the idea of dedication. If you want to be an expert, do what you love and do it as much as you can. Yes, there will be obstacles. And you might not be able to tell when you’ve arrived. But at least you’ve enjoyed the time you spent getting there.