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Friday, April 8, 2011

Sticker shock

Edit: So blogger is being difficult and I can't scheduled this to publish if you are seeing this on Friday, then it's a day early......but at least the thought was there to give you a Saturday post right?????

Hey ye'all - I'm off hiking the wonders of the California coast, enjoying sunshine and temps in the high 60's. :) However, I care about YOU, my less fortunate reader, who lives in some place with that awful white stuff. Do you know how I care? Because I'm writing this awesome post, and have the self control not to post it right away, so you can enjoy this on a Saturday while stuck inside the house because of torrents of mud and slush. See?

The difference between an amateur and professional/expert has been discussed at length between my mom and I. Mostly at old time concerts while we are trying to pick our jaws off the ground at some fabulous person that manages to not only play his fiddle in tune, but also sing and play harmony with himself at the SAME TIME.

This article here reminded me of this subject recently (warning - site and article is mildly offensive).

It's been long enough since the conversation between mom and I, that I'm not sure the particulars were, but we had both read an article that put the difference between really good amateur musicians and professionals in context in terms of hours of pactice. And it was a lot. Thousands and thousands of hours. Really made you appreciate the amount of work that goes into the seemingly "natural talent" of the person on the stage. The article hyperlinked puts that difference at 10K hours/10 years.

Here's another way of putting it (don't have a reference for the quote - sorry): "an amateur practices until they can play it right, a professional practices until they can’t play it wrong."

For some reason most of the articles I've read about the subject focused on music and I never really made the (simple) connection to other types of "experts". I also hadn't really thought of what those "hours" of practice realistically meant in terms of "years".

So let's assume that the article is correct and that it takes 10 years to be an expert at something - assuming you have a natural knack at something in the first place. And let's assume that during that 10 years, it has to be more than just a "day job" - it has to be an overwelming passion and obsession. Wow.

I contemplated after reading this is how many things in my life have I done for 10 years and could I be considered a professional/expert in any of them?

The short answer (of course) is no.

There's some really easy reasons for this - most of which of to do with a lacking in CONSISTENT obsession or practice in that 10 year period. Here's 2 senerios from my own life that illustrate why I'll probably never become an expert at anything.

I started playing the fiddle at 9 years of age. That was 17 years ago. People assume one of two senerios when they hear me play.

1. they assume that I'm a decade younger than I actually am and thus, I'm pretty darn good!
2. Actually got told once by another adult after watching a teenager play "we can't all be lucky enough to start playing in elementary school". Ummm.....I did.....

The fact remains that after 17 years of playing, it hasn't really "paid off".....and why not? I actually do have quite a bit of "natural talent" for playing muscial instruments, that's complimented by the ability to effortlessly put in long hours of practice (just ask my family who had to suffer through my middle school and high school years). So what's the problem?

a. I like the first part of the learning curve and making giant leaps. I don't have a high level of tolerance for later hard work that results in smaller and smaller "payoffs" for an increasing amount of work. Thus, I can spend long hours practicing when I'm learning a new instrument or style of music, but I'm not willing to put in the same amount of work to correcting my bad 4th finger habits on a particular passage of "mozart's whatever".

B. I'm interested in too many instrments and styles. Yeah I like flute, but is in the BEST instrument? what about the trumpet? They seem to get all the good lead parts. And the bass line? That's kind of funky cool! I want to play a bass line on the baritone! And it goes on....It's impossible to master everything, so instead I become the master of nothing. My fiddle playing has suffered exceedingly from this!

C. I'm interested in a lot of different activities outside of music. Nothing (except perhaps horses, and I'm coming to that one) stands out enough to easily allow me chose to focus on one thing. See mastery comments above......

Let's move onto horses and specifically endurance. I've been riding "seriously" (meaning I had regular opportunties to ride) for 10 years. Why am I barely competent? Some of the same issues arise as described for the Fiddle, but there are some unique ones as well.

A. The B and C from the fiddle apply here - with the difference being that I CAN chose to focus on horses exclusively if I needed to, and I COULD chose one discipline exclusively if needed as well (with the rest as cross training for the improvement of my chosen discipline only). But the fact remains that I have many different interests, which I am not wiling to give up totally for horses/endurance - mostly because I fear that the incremental enjoyment of being an "expert" in endurance would not outweigh the joy I get from the other activities in my life. Although I COULD give up everything for horses, I don't think I'm mentally cut out to do so. I function better in life when my activities are balanced with horse and non-horse activities. I'm not cut out to be an expert I fear. So prehaps one of the biggest stumbling blocks in simply my desire to be an expert!

B. Focused practice. Yes, I've been riding 10 years - but I would wager that most of those hours are "junk" hours and not me conciously trying to improve my performance, or even riding with any particular set of goals in mind for THAT particular ride. Ten years of focused activity is different that ten years of muddling through something by the seat of your pants!

C. I certaintly have the obsession part of this down. Sometimes I really do think that obsessing about endurance IS my day job, and everything else is peripherial. I eat sleep and drink it. HOWEVER - to be fair, I've only been obsessed with endurance for 4 1/2 years! The time prior to that was spent riding, but not in endurance, thus, maybe I need to obsess for another 5 1/2 years before giving up on the whole "expert in endurance thing"? I'm not serious BTW. Obsessing about endurance will be put on hold for at least the next 5 years and I think that will probably become a revolving theme in my quest to be "as good as I can be" in endurance - periods of time being able to focus on endurance, punctuated by periods that I can spend no time on it whatsoever. And that alone is probably enough to knock me off the expert list!

My question today is this: Could you be considered a professional or expert in something? If not, what holds you back? Are you trying to become a professional in that area, or are you content to be an amatuer? What do you think the difference between a professional and amatuer is? How would you quantify that difference (do you think the hours/time quoted here are about right?)?

Of course anytime there's numbers mentioned....we have to do some rough number-crunching of how these numbers might stack up for endurance!

In the endurance world, there's a lot of talk of the "perfect 10". Horses with 10K miles, 10 firsts, 10 BC's. So if we take the 10K hours/10 years to heart (which matches very nicely with all those other 10's), what does that mean for an endurance rider (and their "expert" status)?

PS - I dont' think 1/2 passed out on the horse at the end of the 100 counts towards your 10K hours, but for arguments sake..... :)

Assuming only competition endurance miles count towards the totals.....
10K hours represents:
**Over 400 100 milers, or 800 50's (assuming the max time spent at each ride).
**Somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000-5,000 miles
**5,000 is very doable in 10 years

So in that case, could someone with 10 seasons and 5K miles be considered an expert in endurance? I'm not sure. The number seems a bit low to me. I think 10K miles and 10 years is where I would start being more comfortable saying "expert".

Maybe endurance is one of those things that is so different (not really having a stark divide between amateurs and professionals like most of the other sports)that the rules are a bit different.

Definitely want to hear you'alls opinion!!!!!!! :)

My new signature should be: Melinda - expert in nothing but sampler of all....


  1. I don't really want to be a 10k hours expert on anything. You sacrifice so much of your ability to learn other things! I'm much happier being a Renaissance Man. Except not a man. Stupid sexist phrases...

    I don't think most of the hours spent doing a ride count as practice. Sure, you're an expert on posting the trot* after 10k hours posting the trot, but endurance is so much more than posting. How many hours/ride do you spend applying and evaluating boots? Or dosing electrolytes and evaluating their effect? Or reinforcing good behavior at vet checks? I think that's why it takes so long to reach expert level at endurance - most of the hours aren't spent practicing anything, just riding.

  2. Hahaha, look what The Simple Dollar just posted!

  3. Quoting two of my favorite people from this past weekend (both amazing riders, internationally recognized fei riders) "You learn more from a pull than any completion". when they sat me down and told me this i went through every ride i have done in my head and though about what i learned, normally the ones i had finished didnt teach me a whole lot. You may not see the hours put in from each rider, but its the hours spent outside of competition that make a professional/expert endurance rider. The time spent learning from other experts, asking the questions and getting involved, getting a knowledge base from great mentors and not just blindly cruising through a ride and finishing, not learning anything or gaining anything.

    The riders who go to a ride thinking they will just see what happens and go with the flow of things, and they finish. they get credit for those miles, rightly so, but then how does that time competing contribute to them becoming a professional? You could walk your horse for the 50 miles and finish, not putting any stress on the horse and after enough rides people would start thinking of you as an expert rider... I think the experts are the people who can train horses to race and not push their horses over the line. To me, those are the experts...


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