The magic number for excellence

posted by Aylin Ozturk

We hear the word “expert” excessively these days; it seems that everyone’s an expert on something. In fact, that word became so banal that they even came up with a more stylish word: Guru.

Although the word comes from Sanskrit, originally meaning “a spiritual teacher”, it is being used for a shallower statement in the West. We hear titles such as a business guru, social media guru, photography guru, music guru, firefighting guru, beauty guru… endless number of experts who lead us spiritually in all domains of life…

Does calling yourself an expert actually make you one?

By calling yourself a “guru”, you claim that you know more than most people about a certain topic. In fact, it means you have achieved excellence at performing a complete task and you are ready to teach others. But then I begin to think: How does one excel? What does it take to become a master in a certain field? When I think of biking, after many years on the saddle, could I call myself an expert?

We are all aware by now that improvement requires “deliberate practice”. The kind of practice that pushes you to perform tasks beyond your current level of competence. Yet, Malcolm Gladwell gives the answer to my question: “how long would it take to become a master?” He makes an interesting statement in his book Outliers, bringing forward the “magic number for success” idea originated by K. Andres Ericsson. According to the writer, scientists have studied expertise and top performance in many fields and proved that achieving the level of mastery requires a critical minimum level of practice, which is 10.000 hours.

The studies show that it takes the brain this long to assimilate what it needs to know for reaching to the true mastery level. When you roughly calculate, 10.000 hours is equal to 10 years of hard practice.

If you are an artist, a musician or a sports player, you practice, exercise or train everyday for hours, eventually it leads you to success; even if you have an innate talent, it takes you at least 10 years to become a master. It requires dedication, commitment, discipline and a mindset.

We call ourselves experts on biking, but how many of us have shown the commitment or the discipline to follow the 10.000 hour-rule? Who is an expert in biking? Who should or should not teach other riders?

Or my question should be: Do we need to be masters in biking in order to explain others how to do it?

At the end of the day, I believe it is all a matter of sharing with humility.

To be able to distinguish the difference between claiming yourself to be a guru and sharing the knowledge you have with other riders. Guiding and helping fellow riders with what you’ve learned from your teachers and experience in an honest and modest way seems to be the key to improve yourself and all others around you.

Each time I see someone teaching, I always witness how difficult it is to resist the temptation of being wholly absorbed in the “teacher” role, playing the “guru”, and I admire the ones who succeed in being honest with themselves and in doing accurate self-evaluation…

Those whose only aim is to pass the passion and the correct knowledge to other riders without expecting any credits, deserve genuine respect – regardless of the fact that they have made their progress without the magic rule.

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