Several unconnected events recently have brought to light the fact that I’m not really good at much of anything. I’m passably good in a lot of things, and reasonably skilled in some things, but there’s nothing I can point to and say with certainty “I’m really good at that.”
It seems like most of the folks I know are all really good at some thing. Whether it’s programming, or being witty, or building things, or dealing with people, or parenting, or blogging, or cooking, or whatever – they’re all really good at it.
I find this aspect of myself to be a little distressing. I’m realizing that the number of days available to me in which I might gain mastery is slowly dwindling. According to the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, it takes ten thousand hours of doing something to gain mastery. Experts aren’t necessarily born gifted: more often than not the experts are the ones who practiced every day through their childhood.
I goofed off a lot during my childhood. I dabbled in a lot of things but certainly never did any one thing for 10,000 hours. Is this the reason why today I’m not really an expert at anything? Is it possible for me to gain mastery in anything in the years left available to me, knowing that those years will be filled with obligations and duties I cannot shirk and which will make reaching that 10,000 hour mark extremely hard?
This post isn’t meant to be a pity party for poor ol’ Skippy, and I’m not fishing for compliments from my friends. Being a generalist has been a mostly comfortable exercise thus far. I’m not a work-a-holic; I’m not so fixated on any thing that I can speak intelligently about only that subject; I’ve enjoyed ample leisure time. But as I look at many of the people who I consider peers, as well as those who I might like to call peer, I can’t help but feel demonstrably deficient.
As I recently announced, I’ll be leaving OSU soon and heading into the private sector. The pending transition has me reflecting a lot on my professional and personal self. Obviously there will be challenges, and plenty of new things to learn. I don’t expect to be a roaring success in my new job right away, because I’ll be doing a lot of stuff that I’ve never done before. But I am confident that I will be successful and that I’ll face and overcome each challenge as it comes to me.
I think my career change will be a good step on the path toward mastery.