The Mundane Life of Experts
[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]
The other day, someone I'm not friends with (but I'm not not friends with-we all know those people, right?) messaged me on Instagram and said something akin to, "You live such an interesting life!" And while I don't disagree, there are a few problems with this assertion.
1.) Anyone's life looks amazing on Instagram, because everyone brags about their life on Instagram. Nobody is posting pictures of the boring, inconsequential parts of life that constitute a large portion our time.
2.) My life is interesting, but it's interesting because I'm disciplined. I wake up every morning and exercise. I go to work and kill the work game, and in the evenings I either work on this blog, work on my poetry, perform my poetry, practice yoga, or socialize with friends. The best socializing is when I can practice while socializing. For example, I meet friends to go running or friends who also write. I spend an egregious amount of time (hours, every day) on both running and writing, which means that I'm continually getting better at both. I'm not an "expert" yet, but the cool thing about being disciplined is that I can work toward being an expert and still live an interesting life. I have time for both, and so do you.
3.) Both of my disciplines: running very far, and writing very much, are not the least bit sexy or interesting while I'm doing them. I write a lot of shit I hate. Long runs grow incredibly boring and require both mental and physical strength. My free time is spent out in the world, observing it, interacting with it, because I need to offset the monotony of pursuing my craft, writing in particular. Being an interesting writer requires leading an interesting life. If I were to hole up all day, every day, and simply write, I'd have nothing to write about.
Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite authors, and one of my favorite Murakami books is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It's all about the parallels between running and writing, how one informs the other, and how discipline makes both running and writing better. The most productive humans are not super-human, they're simply super disciplined. Murakami goes to bed early and wakes up early. He drinks some coffee, spends 4-5 hours writing, then goes for a run. His evenings are usually quiet, and unlike a lot of famous writers, he declines most requests for interviews or other media attention.
To an outsider, Murakami's life may seem fairly mundane. But Murakami is a master. He's written 22 amazing, award-winning books, a feat most writers only dream about. Murakami is gifted, yes, but he also practices his craft, day after day. This discipline is not something most people are willing to do, but any of us can do. Jocko Willink, a retired officer in the United States Navy, podcaster, and author, writes that discipline equals freedom. Why? Because, "worthwhile goals take time. They take struggle. They take relentless pursuit day in and day out." He says that excuses are just lies we tell ourselves, and he's right. (Watch one of his inspiring videos about discipline and motivation HERE.)
Robert Greene, author of a wildly popular book called Mastery, writes that the secret to becoming an expert is desire and time. If you are deeply excited or interested in a subject, you will become a master much quicker. If you can deeply concentrate on a specific subject over a prolonged period of time, mastery is nearly inevitable. Being deeply engaged in whatever you work on is a necessity, which is why Greene believes that the only way to achieve mastery is to follow your passion. If you don't, you may be financially successful, but will eventually become unfulfilled and gravitate toward your passions anyway, albeit much later.
To truly become an expert takes time, and lots of it. The infamous 10,000 hour rule made famous by Malcom Gladwell in his New York Times bestselling book Outliers has been debunked by some and embraced by others but the idea itself is an interesting one. He postulates that anyone can become a master by committing to 10,000 hours of focused practice. The idea of committing 10,000 hours to any one task may seem daunting, and practicing anything for that long will inevitably mean moments of boredom or tedium. Practice isn't sexy or exciting, but practice is the only way to become an expert.
In both running and writing, I find many moments of boredom and frustration. I also find equal moments of pure, unadulterated joy. Those moments help me push past the tedium, and they also confirm that I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. Finding your passion (if you haven't already) isn't all that hard either, trust me. Your intuition will pull you in the right direction if you simply listen to it.
We all like the idea of being a master, but few of us have the patience, dedication, or will to achieve it. I'm certainly not claiming to be a master or an expert (yet). If mastery requires a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice, I have more than a few thousand hours to go. Most if it won't be glamorous, and most of it will be done in solitude. My "interesting life" is a tiny snippet of my days. But I wouldn't trade all the Instagram-worthy, superfluous moments in the world for my hours spent practicing my crafts.
P.S. Watch a video on Mastery HERE. Read a day in the life of author Laura Powell HERE or watch A Day in the Life of Rachel Hollis (Girl Wash Your Face, Party Girl, Sweet Girl, and many others), HERE.