From a few years of my experience I have realized that to get mastery on a subject, you need to put in persistent efforts over a very long period of time. That is precisely what we were told right from childhood, and I always thought I have failed to implement it.
I think while I got the right advice in childhood, I was not given the freedom to choose my field where I can put those efforts. This is nothing specific to me but given our education system, hardly any student gets that freedom.
We are constantly pulled in so many directions; it results into our attitude to look into multiple directions and over a short range.
Just like a nation which has to build its capacity to handle its security risks over a very long period of time, or the way a project needs a risk identification and mitigation strategy even before the risk indicates it’s presence; I feel an individual too should learn to build his or her capacity.
In my case this capacity building strategy has following steps.
1. Venture into several areas which interest me.
2. Try to get engaged into activities related to them.
3. After few years look back and reflect over areas where I managed to contribute significantly.
4. While doing all this, try to shed the pretense of an expert.
5. Every few months and years, try to evaluate the progress. Try to grasp my speed on learning and improvement. Constantly compare with the highest standards in that area.
6. Ignore irrelevant criticism, accept genuine one. Ignore cynical comments about self-perceived experts.
Interestingly, even before we get the basics of a subject well we start feeling like an expert in the subject. I don’t look at this as an undesirable thing, such a feeling often is the driving force that keeps us going, to preemptively contribute across areas. As times goes on and as we look into the depth of the subject we realise that our understanding of the subject is nothing but superficial, then you are in a better position to learn. This is a very crucial stage where one actually starts learning at a very high-speed.
When you realize that a task takes few years to learn, it’s indeed very disappointing. We need quick results over short-term. We don’t have patience to put in efforts for years. Even through an industry professional’s perspective it will sound as a ridiculous idea to put say a 2 years effort into learning a technology.
It is true that in industry you have to be a quick learner. But the objective of that learning is usually making yourself sufficiently productive over a short period of time. Very few people have a long-term plan for their personal growth. After 2 years of experience and working on 3 different projects they might have learnt many things but their level of knowledge in those respective areas remain only at a superficial level.
What if I am so good that I really learn those subjects quickly and also with excellence? Most of the intelligent people falter at this line. Intelligence is not a rare thing. Every time you think that you are intelligent you must remember that there are 5 more people waiting outside the room who are more intelligent than you. Intelligence as a USP is very weak strategy because you know that there EXISTS many intelligent people than you.
The only thing that can differentiate you from a crowd is your years of experience. Also, there are so many people around who have same experience as you. Though experience is measured only in years, essentially how much have you learned in those years depends entirely on you.
In my opinion having a long-term plan helps. Perform well on you current project or task, but always try to figure out where you want to be 5 years ahead. Try to improvise on your current strategy with respect to that.
This is all personal experience. Especially my experience with writing. It’s only after 5 years that I realize importance of putting consistent efforts in one direction. It’s only after so many years I see an improvement that takes me to “average” level. Reaching a pinnacle will certainly take many more years.