Jeanine Cogan
Executive coach

Jeanine Cogan

Heads Cogan Coaching and is on the faculty of the Center for Continuing and Professional Education at Georgetown University.

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The key to success

Q: If you've ever hit a baseball or watched a game, you've probably heard of Stephen Strasburg, 21, a phenom pitching prospect who'll soon be called up by the Washington Nationals. Can success come too fast? Would you rather burst onto "center stage," with all the expectations that entails, or quietly hone your skills before your breakout moment?

With the surge of reality TV shows that feed the desire to want fame quickly, we are getting the wrong idea about success. To be a master at your art, it takes unwavering commitment, which includes practice, practice, practice.

As popularized in Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers, an estimated 10,000 hours of training is required to be a master in your field. This conclusion comes from the research of Anders Ericsson, who studied classical violinists and found that for all those studied it was not a matter of inborn talent -- but rather it had taken two to three hours of practice a day for 10 years to master their abilities. This finding was replicated in other fields by Ericsson and colleagues with similar results.

The point worth underscoring here is that in many fields where a certain level of mastery is required, there is no quick success! The old saying "practice makes perfect" is still as true today as it was 50 years ago.

You don't become a champion golfer after 10 games. You cannot be one of the world's top surgeons after a dozen surgeries. There was no way I would win the Boston Marathon I ran in 1987 since it was my first marathon. I was thriiled to simply finish the race!

In George Leonard's book "Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long Term Fulfillment," he contends that modern society trains us to believe in instant gratification, thus making true mastery unachievable for most. In order to be a master you must practice for the sake of practicing itself rather than wanting to achieve a particular end-point.

Leonard also points out that the normal road to mastery includes a great deal of time where our skill level is on a plateau and we do not improve. This is where many of us get frustrated and often quit. In order to push through this, he offers five keys to mastery: instruction (where you are willing to learn from a teacher), practice, surrender (being willing to not be perfect -- look like a fool), intentionality, and the edge (pushing the limits for higher performance).

If you truly want to be a master you may benefit from Gladwell and Leonard. Adjust your expectations. In order to be good at what you do, commitment to practice is required. What in your life now do you want to commit to in order to be on the road to mastery?

By Jeanine Cogan  |  May 27, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Rush to success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The tortoise or the hare? | Next: Honed or hyped?

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