The Price of Expertise: Part 3

This is the third post in my several-post series The Price of Expertise exploring the topic of money in relation to 10,000 Hours. (Click here for Part 1: The Etsy Equation and here for Part 2: Pirates and Trolls, a Contemporary Tale.) I’m finding more and more that ideas about money are inextricably linked to this journey and it is having a major impact on the way I experience the pursuit of mastery. This particular topic encompasses many different aspects of 10,000 Hours and I’ll try breaking them down into their various categories over the next few posts.

Part 3: Apples of the Hesperides*

As I’ve now moved into the realm of professional** with my knitting in 10,000 Hours, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to pursue mastery while simultaneously working on a professional level in that same field. Is it even possible? This probably sounds ridiculous but let’s break it down a bit.

The refrain of 10,000 Hours – to pursue mastery you must push yourself to the edge of your abilities with deliberate practice. What this currently looks like in my practice: trying new techniques, challenging myself with new structural forms, and adding more, often subtle, detail and finishing qualities to my works. This means I’m not necessarily fast. This means I sometimes fail and need to start over. This means I generally produce one-of-a-kind works as I’m conscious of not letting myself plateau too long or too often in my preciously ticking down 7,000+ remaining hours and am therefor hesitant to repeat a project too often, if at all.

But here’s the catch… as a professional knitter I would ideally be much speedier. That means I’d probably need to be working on projects a little less technically difficult for myself. I would also need to fail a little less. “Time is money” and if I waste it on a project that doesn’t turn out the way it should, I “eat” that time and sometimes those materials.

Now, within the context of 10,000 Hours as an art project, I have more options. I don’t need to worry quite so much about the failures because the failures are a part of the project. In fact, my time in general is part of the 10,000 Hours project. Because the project is not the knitting; the project is my metamorphosis. So, consequently, there’s a heavy dose of observer effect happening here. I must remind myself to not be swept away in the current of professional pressures; that my directive is to continue to expand my boundaries, which includes falling flat on my face, a lot.

This isn’t to say I’m completely free of the pressure to succeed. There’s quite a push-and-pull here for me.

  • In order to really journey this path shouldn’t I be pressing myself forward, deeper into the professional realm?
  • How can I balance that with the need for continued training and growth?
  • I also need to fund this training as well as the time for failing.
  • As my training needs become more advanced the cost will also increase.
  • I will more than likely need to do a fair amount of traveling to meet with instructors, although Skype may be able to cover some long-distance training needs. I have not exhausted the resources here local to me just yet, but as I approach the 1/3 mark in the next several months, I have to consider my options for continued instruction that keeps me moving forward.
  • The trajectory I’m currently following will, more than likely, eventually involve enrollment in a fashion institute. Tuition? Relocating my family? Putting the rest of my work on hold? How could any of that be possible?

And over and over again I am left to wonder, just how is it that anyone working professionally in their field full-time can afford to pursue mastery? Because “business as usual” is not going to get you any closer to the expert level, no matter how many thousands of hours you do it. It takes training, expert training, and lots of it. It takes time spent on projects that don’t need to succeed, at least not the first or even second times through. It takes understanding and support from the professional network around you.

I think, very possibly, this is the biggest reason why mastery and expertise at the “outlier” level is so rare. It’s a nearly Herculean task to balance your professional career with all of these considerations.

*Apples of the Hesperides – the eleventh labor of Hercules.
**Professional – participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs < a professional golfer, a professional gardener, a professional knitter > Merriam-Webster Dictionary

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