Work

The paradox of mastery

Couple days ago, I read interesting question on LinkedIn. One girl was asking developers how long it will take to master JavaScript. This question got my attention from two reasons. First, when people ask questions about learning they ask something like “how long it will take to learn x?”. I guess they mean learning from scratch – tabula rasa. Second reason was about the mastery itself…

Let’s talk about both of these reasons more thoroughly. The first one is seems to me too vague to be answered. Here is why. Every individual man and woman has different style and speed of learning. When some one asks on question “How long it will take to learn something”, he will not get what he wanted. The answer will be about how long it took the person who is answering to learn that. That person will speak out of his experience. Problem is that it’s not just experience what influence your ability to learn. Factors like current situation, previous experiences and knowledge, previous successes, psychology factors (personality, determination, self-confidence), free time, environment, mentor, sources of knowledge, social background, enthusiasm, energy level, physical conditions. Different people learn different things in different way, some one learns faster computer related stuff and other music.

Quick note about age. Personally, I don’t believe in that crap about difficult learning later in life. As scientific studies shown and proved, humans are capable to learn, create new neuron connections and synapses in any age. Some people are just too comfortable or lazy to pick a book or watch video tutorial. If you use and train your brain and body on regular basis, your ability to learn and remember will not be affected by your age (at least not so much).

Back to learning … Since the person asking question and person answering it are not in similar situation and doesn’t have similar condition and background, the answer is basically useless. It will not help you at all. If you ask couple more people, you can count an average time it took them to learn that particular thing. Still, who says that you are the average? You can be on one of the extreme ends of curve as well as right in the middle. Next important thing for your learning is source of information you have an access to. The more of these information you have and the better (high quality) they are, the higher chances you have to learn. Be carefull to not fall into analysis paralysis. Factor which can shorter the time required for learning is mentor. If you have some one with experiences and knowledge to help you and guide you through your learning, it will be huge benefit for you. Finding good mentor can enhance your learning process.

What actually is mastery? In order to answer question of that girl, first we have to define mastery. So, what is that? When can you know for sure you are the master of something? Is even possible to know it? Is it possible to answer this question at all? This is one of the questions which opens up space for philosophical discussion. Don’t worry I will not bore you (maybe just a bit). How would you define a master? The greatest philosophers in history claim that master is person with open mind willing to question everything, including his or her own knowledge. This suggest to retain an apprentice mindset for the time of one’s life. He must also be able to share his knowledge and experiences by teaching others. To sum it up, master is a lifelong student skilled enough to teach others. This reminds me one of my favorite philosophers – Socrates. He said: “I know now that I know nothing.” I think that this is the perfect way how to define true master and mastery … When you know so much that you are able to realize how little you know. This is also the paradox of mastery … More you know more is left to learn.

As you might guess, I tried to give that girl answer she wanted, but I don’t think it will help her much. Only thing she can do, is to start learning without any illusion of required time.

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