expert master

“Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.”
Thomas Edison, inventor and industrialist

10,000 Hours

By Mike Mattson

Becoming an Expert

How long it takes to become an expert?

When you are aware of approximately how much time it takes to master a particular field, you are more likely to accomplish it.

Everyone knows that to become a doctor, you have to attend university for four years, then an additional four years of study and training at medical school. Plus a few more years as an intern.

Only then will you be fully certified to practice medicine.

Activities and Advice

I have been thinking about this lately for several reasons. First because I’m learning two new physical activities (wood carving and jiu jitsu), and I’m curious in finding out how long it will take before I become “good” at them.

Second because I am coaching some teens, friends and clients on career choices. So I need to be able to inform them how long acquiring specific skills and knowledge might take.

Greek and Blogging

You might want to know, for example, amount of time it takes to speak Greek … to become a good computer programmer … dance well … climb rocks … play a piano … master the secrets of marketing and promotion … paint well … become a good blogger …

But now the question of “how good” needs to be defined, because every hobby, profession and skill has different levels of proficiency.

After all, if you decide to learn Bengali, you are better off realizing that a certain amount of hours is necessary to reach various levels of fluency (such as elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper-intermediate, advanced).

Let’s just say for simplicity that there are three basic skill levels:

• competence
• mastery
• world class


We can illustrate this with chess. You probably know people who can play well against their friends. They are not professionals (they could not win contests), but they are definitely pretty good or competent.

The next level, mastery, is that of the professional chess player, the coach or champion of a chess association.

World Class? That’s Gary Kasparov. If one in a hundred chess players is competent, and one in ten thousand is a master, then one in five million at Kasparov’s level.


According to the experts,

• It takes about 1,000 hours to become competent at any worthwhile skill.
• It takes about 5,000 hours to master any skill.
• It takes between 25,000 and 35,000 hours to become world class — and then only if you are gifted.

While these are ballpark numbers, but they are fairly accurate.

Language Acquisition

Let’s apply this rule. What shall we use? How about language? How many hours would it take you to become a competent French speaker?

Based on my experience learning French, here’s a good guess:

1. 300 hours to learn – cold – the 20 most common irregular verbs in three tenses.
2. 100 hours to master about 50 prepositions, conjunctions and articles.
3. 200 hours to get a good grasp of French grammar
4. 200 hours to learn about 1,000 useful nouns
5. 100 hours to memorize gender
6. 50 hours to acquire passable pronunciation.

What does it all add up to? 950.

So nine-hundred-and-fifty hours would get you speaking well. But it would hardly qualify you as a French teacher. To reach that level, you’d need to study a lot more.

Let’s say you studied 2 hours a day and practiced for another 3 hours. If you did this for three years, you would have reached fluency.

Martial Arts

Take one more example – jiu jitsu. I have been at it now for two years. I have spent about 600 hours and have just received my purple belt. I feel almost competent. I can easily handle white belts and most blue belts, but I struggle with good blue belts. I have the distinct feeling that I am about 100 hours away from competence.

Seven hundred hours is not 1,000, but in my case I’ve had the advantage of being trained by Reylson Gracie, probably the best instructor of his kind. That kind of coaching counts.

A Mentor

Having an expert mentor saved me about 30% of the time I would have spent otherwise. So I would make this adjustment to my theory: deduct 30% of learning time for first-class coaching.

How you can take advantage of this observation?

Time and Effort

You can achieve what you want in life. You just have to set a goal, make the decision to become an expert. Think about the goal, make a plan to achieve it. Pay attention to what you are doing.

And invest the time it requires to get there. You must be willing to allocate enough time to accomplish them. Do stop or give up until you have achieved it.


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1. Many people under or overestimate or have no clue as to the time it takes to become an expert at something. True or false?

2. Is it easy to become a medical doctor?

3. Mike, the writer, has been investigating this topic. Why has he been doing research on this?

4. There is one definite level of being “good”. Is this right or wrong?

5. How can you qualify and quantify the three different levels of a skill? Are they equal in practitioners?

6. What two examples does the writer give?

7. It makes no difference how you learn, train and practice: you just need to put in 1,000; 5,000 or 30,000 hours to become an expert. Yes or no?

8. What is the main idea?


A. What does it take to become a doctor?

B. What skill or ability do you have? How long did it take you to achieve this? Do you consider yourself competent, a master or world class?

C. Who are the best in your field, profession or hobby? Why are they the best? How did they become the best? Could you become like them?

D. What do you think of nature vs. nurture?

E. What can you say about many or most people?

F. What will happen in the future?

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