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13 Things You Can Do to Help You Master Anything

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This is a guest post by Anum Yoon. She is a writer and editor from Hong Kong who shares her insights on lifestyle, personal finance, and productivity. She’s traveled all over the world and never stays in one spot for long. Check out her blog Current on Currency to connect with her!

No matter what subject you’re interested in, there’s a good chance your goal is to become as knowledgeable as possible about it. There are various reasons why you might want to become an expert about something that has captured your interest:

  • Satisfy curiosity
  • Be an inspiration to peers and relatives
  • Develop a broader perspective on meaningful issues
  • Feel more equipped to explain your views
  • Become more likely to discover innovative ideas
  • Connect with colleagues more quickly due to shared knowledge
  • Excel in your workplace or prepare to change careers

The final bullet point is especially relevant. Oxford Economics conducted a worldwide study of employees and found half the respondents felt their current skills would no longer be useful in their workplaces within three years. Furthermore, 40% of people said skill obsolescence, or the possibility that their positions may cease to exist, were concerns.

Achieving your goal of being an expert may feel like a long way off, but it’s a worthwhile aim. If you take the wisdom below to heart, you’ll be well on your way.

  1. Find a Mentor

People at work in their office

Even if you’re extremely motivated to learn everything you can about a subject, you can’t expect to quickly acquire as much knowledge as someone with significantly more experience. In fact, some subjects are impossible to understand without first-hand experience. A mentor could offer you the next best thing to first-hand experience. He or she could help you overcome perceived and actual obstacles, act as a continuous source of knowledge, and offer advice about how to thrive as your knowledge grows.

Many mentors give their time because they truly care about being a positive influence for others, not because they’re getting paid for their role. In some cases, you may find that desire causes them to give steadfast support more willingly, because they remember what it was like to be in your position.

  1. Practice

Author Malcolm Gladwell believes it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become a master in a subject. He looked at several studies to reach that conclusion and argued that natural talent is not as important as a consistent desire to practice a craft.

He looked at a study of violinists who started learning their instruments at very early ages. Data showed that the musicians who practiced more had higher skill levels than those who practiced for less time.

If you feel you’ve already practiced a lot but aren’t progressing as much as you’d like, take comfort knowing that by the time The Beatles became internationally known in 1964, they had already performed together over 1,200 times. And some of their first gigs in Hamburg, Germany certainly weren’t glamorous. The audiences weren’t appreciative, and the band often played in venues with terrible acoustics, but all those performances made them want to improve. Decades later, they are recognized as one of the most important bands in modern music history.

  1. Be Willing to Share What You Know

Group of young students studying together

It’s not enough if you’re the only person who recognizes your expert status. The title of expert is something you earn after years of working for it. In addition to striving for personal growth, you must also be willing to share what you know with others and become an advocate.

Maybe you will volunteer to teach a class in your chosen subject twice a month because you know there are people in your community interested in learning, or perhaps you could show you’re open to discussing your viewpoints with colleagues who may not have the same perspective.

Being forthcoming with your knowledge can feel scary at first, especially if you lack self-confidence, but the more you publicly demonstrate what you know, the easier and more likely it’ll be for others to verify your role as an expert. After all, experts are often introduced with phrases such as “recognized as one of the foremost authorities.” That type of recognition is something others vouch for, meaning you can’t introduce yourself as an expert and expect others not to question the designation.

  1. Specialize

It’s difficult, and perhaps even impossible, to become an expert in a very broad subject. For example, you’re setting a very high goal if you’re a horse lover intent on becoming an expert about all things equine. If you’ve always had an interest in the Morgan breed and helped raise them on your parents’ farm since you were young, it’s much more realistic to work toward becoming an expert about Morgan horses. Setting your sights on acquiring an extremely high level of knowledge about all breeds of horses, styles of riding, types of gear, and so on would prove to be an unmanageable task.

  1. Don’t Give Up

Setbacks and failures are inevitable as you work toward becoming an expert. Even though obstacles can be tough to overcome, you’ll be in good company if you try to push through them and persevere. There are numerous examples of famous experts who have triumphed despite great odds.

Today, Albert Einstein is widely regarded as a genius, but he didn’t speak until he was three and his teachers considered him lazy. Stephen Spielberg, thought of as a top-notch director, was twice rejected by his film school of choice and ended up attending another school where he studied English, not film. His entry into the film industry came when he took an unpaid internship at Universal Studios.

Challenges are the reality, especially when you’re trying to become widely respected. When obstacles arise, you should look at different ways of tackling them. Don’t give up altogether simply because obstacles exist.

  1. Be Steadfast and Respectful

It can be difficult to cope if you’re trying to become an expert in something but your friends and family members don’t support you. The lack of support may be shown in a variety of ways. A well-meaning parent may suggest your path of choice is not profitable or that your expert status couldn’t possibly lead to a sustainable way of life.

Alternatively, if you want to become well versed in a controversial subject, it’s possible that the people in your family don’t hold the same views. You should present your views as clearly and calmly as possible, so the people who disagree with you have an opportunity to try to understand why this subject matters to you. Although you probably want approval from family members, you don’t need their permission to proceed.

Show you’re open to discussions and always keep a respectful tone, even when respect isn’t being shown to you. It’s a hard skill to master, but when you can take the high road during conversations that don’t go well, it’s more likely you’ll earn admiration for the way you conducted yourself, if not for your opinions.

  1. Join Communities of Like-Minded People

Beautiful young woman with colleagues in the background

As mentioned previously, mentorship is an important part of becoming an expert, but it’s not always realistic. Maybe you live in a very small town with limited resources and there’s simply no one else nearby to lend you their knowledge. Or maybe your community is packed with knowledgeable people, but you haven’t been able to connect with anyone with the particular kind of expertise you crave.

Think outside the box and realize that although in-person mentors are arguably ideal, they aren’t your only option. Online forums can be extremely helpful. After becoming acquainted with people through online forums, you may feel comfortable enough to initiate a conversation through Skype or other virtual method that allows people to communicate without being in the same room.

  1. Read Up on Your Subject

Regardless of your subject of interest, you’ll likely need to become a bit of a bookworm. Despite the worthiness of in-person guidance, it can’t completely replace the written word in most cases.

Your local library could be a great place to start when you’re ready to read as much published material as you can. Also know that there are several Internet-based alternatives. The good news is that you don’t have to use an e-reading device, such as a Kindle, to access the content. An Internet connection and browser is all that’s necessary.

Speaking of libraries, if you prefer to read electronic versions of books and you own an e-reader, ask a librarian whether the branch offers electronic books to check out. After downloading the relevant app, you might be able to login from home using your library card number and instantly start downloading a title to your device. Even better, the books automatically delete from the device after the lending period has passed, so you don’t have to worry about late fees.

  1. Write for Professional Publications and Blogs

Sharing what you’ve learned as your knowledge level increases doesn’t only extend to engaging in conversations. You should also consider the possibility of writing articles in professional journals and submitting guest posts for blogs. Both activities may be a little out of reach if it’s relatively early in your quest to become an expert. Professional publications and reputable blogs often depend on a select group of reliable contributors.

If you try to break through and are only met with rejection, refocus your objective by starting your own blog. That’s one way to become an online authority. You could eventually be seen as a thought leader, which generally builds trust, could increase your online traffic levels, and may lead to more offline relationships and attention.

  1. Attend Conferences

Business conference

Conferences are great for networking with peers, learning about relevant topics, and perhaps locating opportunities to share your knowledge in a formal way. Whenever you attend a conference, create meaningful, genuine connections and give people ways to discover more about you. A worthwhile business card might contain a tagline that explains your field of expertise. It should also include website or social media links and telephone and email contacts.

As you begin to become a seasoned conference attendee, fellow participants may start to recognize your presence and affirm your authority. Conference organizers might approach you to see if you’re available for speaking engagements. By taking them up on those offers, you’ll confirm another way to showcase your position as an expert, and thereby likely increase the amount of recognition you enjoy.

  1. Realize Every Moment Is an Opportunity to Learn

People often discover their days contain a lot of downtime, and you can probably relate. Maybe you spend a significant amount of time traveling to your workplace or waiting on your kids to finish soccer or gymnastics practices.

Fortunately, technology makes it easier than ever to learn no matter where you are and how much time you have to spare. Improve your commute by listening to audiobooks or podcasts when you’re stuck in traffic, or try downloading apps that provide insight about the history of your town or the events happening there that week. When you approach learning as something you can do at any time, becoming an expert could happen naturally.

  1. Put Yourself in the Running for Awards and Accolades

Depending on your field of expertise, it may be helpful to enter competitions that provide feedback about how to improve and mention you as a runner up, finalist, or winner of a well-known contest. Winning isn’t everything, of course, but when you’re trying to get others to take notice of what you’re doing, it could provide much-needed momentum.

  1. Remember That There’s Always More to Discover

Boy peeking into room with light coming out

It’s unlikely that you’ll wake up one day and gleefully exclaim, “I’ve done it! I’m an expert!” Realistically, you’ll probably notice and take pride in the fact that you’re gradually learning more and more about your subject by the day.

Even the foremost experts in their fields know there is always more to learn. And some of today’s top jobs didn’t exist a few decades ago, because there wasn’t a need for them. Your desire to become an expert might make you a more marketable member of the workforce and could give you an advantage over peers who weren’t as self-motivated to tap into their curiosity.

The tips above will help you focus your efforts to achieve expertise in something that interests you. Besides considering the tips, always try to gain knowledge primarily for your own benefit, rather than because you want to impress others. When your perspective is clear and healthy, and you understand the need for diligence, success should eventually follow.

This is a guest post by Anum Yoon. She is a writer and editor from Hong Kong who shares her insights on lifestyle, personal finance, and productivity. She’s traveled all over the world and never stays in one spot for long. Check out her blog Current on Currency to connect with her!

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Posted by Alexandra  | June 30, 2016 at 7:52AM | Reply

Great list, Anum! What stroke a chord with me was no 11 on your list. I’ve become a big fan of audiobooks and podcasts and feel like they had a great influence on me. Even my commute is nicer now, and it sets me up for a productive day.
Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Posted by Shawn Lim  | June 7, 2016 at 9:29AM | Reply

Hi Anum, great advice you have here. Thanks for sharing.
I just want to add, the practice itself is not enough, we need deliberate practice.

We have to constantly improve and master our skills like what you mentioned above. And in order to do that, we have to ask ourselves whether the way we do things are the best way, is there any other better way to do it. We have to commit to mastery.

Thanks for this great sharing again. Cheers. :)

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