How to be fulfilled, forever!

Problem: Have you ever thought that "I just don't have the time to get really good at something and I don't want to do anything new unless I can get really good at it.  I feel like I won't really enjoy myself or really contribute to the world unless I can be really great at it".  One way we think about fulfilment is applying our capabilities and time to a meaningful aim.  What better way to continuously prolong your sense of fulfillment by continuously learning and getting exceptionally good a variety of skills and capabilities and then pursuing a meaning way to apply them? This post is about the raw numbers and they can be quite eye opening.

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Many people have heard of the so-called "10,000 hour rule": it takes approximately 10,000 hours to get exceptionally good at any particular endeavor or focused skill.  This comes from psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. Some more recent research suggests its more about HOW you practice then the total number of hours (seems obvious) but the "How" part of this conversation can be saved for many other posts or you can research "How to learn anything exceptionally well" and I'm sure you'll find an abundance of good resources on it!  I'm going to focus on the raw numbers in this post.

The numbers can be seen in the table below.  There are a variety of assumptions with these calculations and many of them can change the results to a large degree.  However, the point remains that there is much time available to get really exceptional at a variety of endeavors if you devote 1) The focused time to it and 2) you focus on the best ways possible to learn it.

The table, in bold black text, describes how many new skills or capabilities one could learn at a particular age (left/vertical axis) by how many hours one practices these capabilities a day (top/horizontal axis).  For instance, at 50, if one practices 4 hours a day (with the assumptions below) one could get really great at approximately 4 more skills!  That doesn't include all the other awesome things people can learn, these are the ones someone could learn exceptionally well and potentially really add value to the world or get paid for doing!

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My assumptions here are:

  1. Based on an average life expectancy in the US of 78.7 years old.
  2. 7 Day a week practice.  This is the extreme case and you can just divide by a percentage of time to figure out what's better.  If you're interested in 5 days a week practice then the factor to multiply the figures by is about 0.7.

As you can see, at the extremes, if you're 45 and practice something every day, for 8 hours, you can become an expert at about 10 new fields of interest! At the other extreme, if you're 65 and only wish to do something new for 2 hours a day, then you can still get really great at 1 new endeavor. Continuous learning knows no bounds and we can get better at it with age.  New research is suggesting the old notion of "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" is entirely bogus and is the result of a variety of other issues rather than our actual cognitive ability to learn.  See this great BBC article discussing it here. There are a variety of resources on how to learn and learn rapidly.  I enjoyed Tim Ferriss' 4 Hour Chef on the subject which references a huge amount of other resources on how you can learn rapidly and learn well.  This is a life skill at any age!

Fulfilment can be thought of as applying capacities and capabilities to the best and most meaningful aim we can.  Fulfilment = (capacity and capability) * applied aim.  While it can be tough to have the world change around us and meaningful aims come at us constantly (this can be another post!) we can increase fulfilment by increasing our capacity (our energy level and ability to focus) and our Capabilities (our skills and abilities).  This post was a simple demonstration of the numbers that there is always runway in ones life to devote to learning new things and getting exceptionally good at many of them!

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