An “Expert” Opinion*

While the antecedents of the glaringly obvious rise in feelings of personal deservingness/entitlement are difficult to pinpoint, several factors have been proposed for this culture, including a general increase in the standard of living, proliferation of technology and the “instant gratification” such advancements often bring.

Most industries are seeing a sharp rise in turnover and people ghosting their employers for several reasons. One of the reasons I hear very frequently [in the last two years especially] is that people truly believe they have mastered their role after an internship or even just short period of time in a role. Though I don’t believe there is much employment monogamy nowadays, I do believe there are some organizations out there that can help people in their careers and there needs to be a little more thought [and certainly more time] invested in establishing a foundation for a really robust, vibrant, and exciting career in one’s chosen field(s).

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” – Albert Einstein

How Long Does It Take To Become An Expert?

In 2008 Malcolm Gladwell, author and staff writer at The New Yorker since 1996, discussed in his bestseller, “Outliers“ [where he studied the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful] to become an expert it takes 10000 hours (or approximately 10 years) of deliberate practice.

  • Mr. Gladwell also pointed out that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing;
  • Here’s the kicker – The attention span for “formal” learning decreased from seven minutes to six minutes in 2018 – that, coupled with the “forgetting curve” means that – today – within a week, 90% of what the learner learns, in any formal setting, is forgotten! [What this means is that the person who wishes to become a true “expert” needs to consistently find time to work on their craft, to upskill their talent, and find/seek out the opportunities to create moments of deliberate practice];
  • It takes nine months simply to become proficient at your job description [that means the REAL learning starts at nine months and one day];
  • The general consensus is that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in your field [this includes most hobbies as well], but scientists have concluded [since the original 1993 study on experts] that learning & expertise time-frames could also have to do with your personality, the age you started your learning journey, and your intelligence.

What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

[Spoiler Alert…It’s Deliberate Practice]

A study of seventy-six composers from many historical periods looked at when they produced their first notable works or masterworks, designations that were based on the number of recordings available. The researcher, Professor John R. Hayes of Carnegie Mellon University, identified more than five hundred works. As Professor Robert W. Weisberg of Temple University summarized the findings: “Of these works, only three were composed before year ten of the composer’s career, and those three works were composed in years eight and nine.” During those first ten or so years, these creators weren’t creating much of anything that the outside world noticed.

Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard wrote a book-length study (Creating Minds) of seven of the greatest innovators of the early twentieth century: Albert Einstein, T. S. Eliot, Sigmund Freud, Mahatma Gandhi, Martha Graham, Pablo Picasso, and Igor Stravinsky. A more diverse group of subjects would be hard to imagine, and Gardner did not set out to prove or disprove anything about the amount of work required for their achievements. But in summing up, he wrote, “I have been struck throughout this study by the operation of the ten-year rule. . . . Should one begin at age four, like Picasso, one can be a master by the teenage years; composers like Stravinsky and dancers like Graham, who did not begin their creative endeavors until later adolescence, did not hit their stride until their late twenties.”

Things That Your Employer Absolutely Owes You

  • They owe you a safe and healthy place to work [physically and mentally];
  • They owe you a clear understanding of your role and the tools, resources, and development to help you be most effective and productive in that role [on a daily basis];
  • They owe you a career path and consistent updates on where your performance can lead in your future and what that looks like;
  • People deserve consistent and honest feedback and conversation about their performance, great, good, mediocre, and bad – in the moment;
  • They owe you a clear answer to this question: “What opportunities can I look forward to moving into here at this company if I do an amazing job in my current role?”.

Things That YOU Absolutely Owe You

  • Find time to practice your craft: If you don’t set aside time to work on developing your skills it will happen sporadically and often yield little to no results. Getting better, learning more needs to be part of your everyday routine. One way to do this is to set aside time every day in your calendar to focus all of your attention on skill development. This technique is called time blocking and can help you become more productive and knowledgeable.
  • Build your own “Board Of Directors“: We have access to lots of talent in our workplaces, people who know more than us and people who possess skills we admire. Not only in our daily lives do we interact with people we can learn and grow from but, also we have amazing platforms to meet and learn from strangers who can help us [Linkedin, for example]. Building a personal BOD will bring together people that embody the expertise you – ultimately – want to be known for and most people will go out of their way to support you and share knowledge when you are are open to development.
  • Understand that you’re a work in progress: Expertise is not something that can be achieved in three months, six months, nine months, a year…it takes a long time to be an expert. Learn what you can from where you currently are. If your organizational leadership can answer the question mentioned earlier “What positions can I look forward to moving into here at this company if I do an amazing job in my current role?” – they value you, they are willing to partner with and support you on your career journey. Those organizations are few and far between. If they can’t or wont provide you with an answer, there’s your crystal clear notice from them – time to start thinking about who can and will support your long-term career and learning and help you get closer to the expert status you seek.
  • Take one step at a time: Becoming an expert your industry starts with one step in that direction. Similar to the point above on being a work in progress, you have to plot out what small activities you can do daily that will help you towards mastery. Becoming an expert at something comes at a price, and that price is a combination of time and effort.
  • If it were easy, everyone would be an expert: We all have met people who’ve been doing the same job for 5, 10, 15 years…some people are good at their jobs but not experts. I’ve been blogging for over three years now, and I am hugely better than when I started writing but nowhere near where I want to be or know where I can be. It’s so interesting that I am asked frequently how I took control of my career. How I gained the visibility to be ranked worldwide as a blogger. How I am published so frequently. How other’s blog or podcast about my content. I’m always happy to share with others exactly what I’ve done to make the last [almost] four years a huge adventure and pretty successful. Initially, I was worried I was giving away my secrets or that I was just creating more competition for myself. But I quickly learned that even if I told someone exactly what I did to grow my influence and what I sacrificed to become an a voice in the industry, they rarely did it. Just because it’s not complicated doesn’t mean it’s easy for most people. If you want it, you need to go after it with every fiber of your being, every day, even when it’s tough and it demands more of you than you want to [or think you can] give in that moment. But – if you want to be an expert, you need to buckle up for a ride and take in as much as you possibly can in every moment that learning presents itself.

*This article is based on a “retention intervention” presentation I created and facilitated for a retail organization who’s recently experienced a spike in turnover. They invited me to present learning for their creative group and internship group so that there is an understanding around what the potential for professional and personal development is and reality behind the journey to be an expert in any field. This is portion of that presentation.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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