In reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers (advance release version, regular will be available November 18), one of the topics he brings up is the rule of 10,000 hours, from Daniel Levitin. Levitin cites that this is about 3 hours a day for 10 years, give or take. If you work 40 hours a week at your job, you’re looking at 5 years to achieve 10,000 hours of time and experience.

Consider this: in an economy when the average worker lasts about 2 years in any given job, how many workers have expertise? How many workers have achieved any degree of mastery? 1 in 4 workers at any given company has been there less than a year, according to Department of Labor statistics. 1 in 2 has been with their company less than 5 years.

Translation: that means that half the workforce is probably not developing expertise in their job at their company.

Certainly, some trades let you accrue experience no matter where you work, but for the most part, learning the ins and outs of an organization and how it functions requires a level of mastery all its own. You may be a proficient public relations professional, but are you proficient at navigating the hallways of your firm? You may be a financial aid professional, but are you proficient at the culture of your business?

This is why the idea of the golden rolodex not only persists, but has great validity. I can say from personal experience that after 5 years in the financial aid industry, my personal network is significantly more useful to me and my employer than it was on the first day of the job, or even after a couple of years. When you hire a seasoned veteran from any industry, they bring experience and their personal network. You’re not just hiring a person for their talent, because there’s a lot of talent out there. You’re hiring for their mastery, for their life experience and insights.

So here’s the takeaway: how many times have you changed jobs in the last 5 years? How many times will you change in the future? If you’re changing constantly, how are you going to build mastery?

If you’re not willing to stick it out at your current employer, find one where you can, because you’ll need the time to build experience and achieve mastery.


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