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Monthly Mantra: 10-Year Rule for Mastering a Craft

February 25, 2023

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“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.”

Perhaps wonderful at times accompanied by the respect and understanding about the perseverance and consistent practice throughout the years needed to master a craft. Being a technical expert in any field is an accomplishment, but how fast can you get there? One prominent scientific answer says there is a 10-year rule.

Have you heard of the 10-year rule or the 10,000-hours rule? The “10-year rule” was first presented by William Chase and Nobel Prize-winner Herbert Simon in a famous study of chess players. They discovered that it takes 10 years of hard practice before a novice chess player can become an expert. If you study a craft for 20 hours per week, you’ll hit 10,000 hours around the 10-year mark.

There is truth in that claim. In fact, several longitudinal and large-scale studies in various domains support that claim, but not all practice is equal. However, holding the camera in your hand for 10,000 hours isn’t going to cut it. Aimlessly taking photos each day won’t get you there either. What will? Deliberate and dynamic practice and play. We need to work from the cognitive stage where we are practicing a new skill and learn from our mistakes to the autonomous stage where we can perform the skill essentially on auto-pilot. This doesn’t have to be tedious. I firmly believe you can’t master a craft if the practice is boring. Practice simply needs to be purpose or goal driven.

P.S. Certainly, this does not mean we can’t take a great photo before the 10-year mark or after the 10-year mark every photograph will be a winner. Rather, acknowledging the effort it takes to develop a skill is critical so that we grant ourselves the grace needed at times to continuously develop our craft. Cheers to improving each and every time we practice our craft of photogaphy.

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Fine art nature and landscape photographer, speaker, and Lightroom educator.

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