It’s been said it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. If you spent an average of two hours a day for six days a week, it would take you 16 years. I don’t know how accurate that claim is, but I do know many people balk at the suggestion.
We’re very impatient these days and want to be able to achieve all our goals instantly. Many of us are quick to give up early, especially when we hit The Moment of Clarity.
What moment of clarity? The moment when you’ve learned enough to comprehend the full scope of your ignorance; The Mountain.
It’s not a pleasant place to be. The Moment and the Mountain will leave you feeling daunted, hopeless, threatened and embarrassed, and they will change your perspective completely. It is a crisis point. So what do you do?
Becoming aware of the Mountain is daunting. Imagine standing at the foot of a mountain and suddenly looking up. The task of reaching the top is still only a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until you get there, but while you were looking at your feet the ground looked flat, and you were yet to comprehend that the mountain was so big and challenging.
This feeling comes from impatience. You are now aware that you are not going to reach your goal as quickly as you thought, and the time and effort you now know is required is disheartening.
You face a decision; whether to persevere, or give up. The irony of giving up is that the mountain was always there so nothing has changed, only your awareness of it.
The accompanying sense of hopelessness comes from a fear of the unknown. Suddenly aware of how much you don’t know, it might seem impossible that you will ever close the gap.
Again there is a sense of impatience here you must get past. There is no instant fix. You reached this point by incremental learning and you will progress further in the same way. You might need to open yourself up to more options for learning such as peer feedback, expert tuition, or a different approach to self-learning, but there will be a way. It’s still a matter of one footstep at a time.
When people say “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” I’m convinced they are talking about everything up to this Moment. Arrogance abounds among people with a little knowledge but when you see the Mountain, you gain not only a new perspective on what you don’t know, but also on what you do know.
With perspective you can contextualise your own knowledge within the whole, and be humbled by the insignificance of it. This is your opportunity to lose the arrogance of the overconfident amateur and start the real journey to master your craft.
Becoming aware of your own ignorance can be hard to swallow, especially if you were one of those arrogant “little knowledge” people early on, and even more so if your comprehension of the mountain is triggered by some harsh external criticism.
You might have done things that in hindsight were ill advised. Many poor quality books have been self-published by impatient authors with an inflated sense of their own abilities, pre-Moment. I’ve seen a number of indie authors talk about taking down and re-writing their early work and think to myself, “someone just saw their mountain.”
There are many negative reactions to this:
- Defensive – going into denial about the mountain because accepting it means accepting their own mistakes and flaws, and clinging to false confidence.
- Defeated – considering past mistakes as failures and the Moment as a point of ultimate defeat can lead many to give up entirely.
- Avoidance – shying away from the challenge because their conviction is undermined by regrets and shame.
It can be impossible to avoid your instinctive negative reaction to a crisis, but you can make the decision to move past it. Regroup, and face the future with courage.
How to know if you have reached “The Moment”
If you’re not sure, you probably haven’t reached it yet. If you have, you’ll know what your mountain looks like.
You might experience a series of Moments. Seen one mountain and crested it, only to find another higher one beyond it.
Do you consider yourself an expert? If yes, the chances are you either haven’t had the moment or you had it a long time ago.
You can’t force it. It will happen when you are ready. When it does, remember not to let it break you; it means you’re getting there.
There’s actually a psychological field of study that addresses this whole situation. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect and it looks at why people with low actual ability over-estimate their level of competence, while people with more experience do the opposite.