November 5, 2017

A Single Obsession

For those who don't know me, I'm a compulsive learner. I enjoy ramping up on new topics and since my interests are rather diverse, this leads me to often be pulled in eight different directions at once. And that's not an exaggeration in the slightest. The number of projects that were started with an initial burst of excitement and possibility often got quickly replaced by another which left a trail of project husks behind me.

I'm currently in the process of re-"reading" (because I'm listening to it this time around) to Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. And as I listened to Will Wheaton narrate Wade's single obsession with the hunt for Halliday's egg, it struck me just how devoted he (and other professional gunters) were when it came to their quest. In fact, I found myself almost feeling envious of that devotion. And in that moment, I realized that just how fragmented I could be when it came to my own pursuits and interests.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I want to have something be all-consuming in my life. After all, Wade has a rationale reason for having such an unhealthy obsession with his quest: there was nothing else to look forward to in his life. Me, on the other hand, is on the complete other spectrum as far as having so much to be grateful for.

That said, I do think there is a gem to be unearthed from this as far as helping to solve my frustration of spinning my wheels. While it is certainly exciting to jump from thing to thing, I've proven one too many times that the feeling of accomplishment is fleeting at best. Fortunately for me, I finally decided to watch a talk my cousin had recommended I check out a couple of months ago: How to Learn Anything in 20 Hours.

For those who don't have the time to watch it, here's the high level overview:

  1. You know that proverbial saying that you need 10,000 hours to master a skill? Well, the conventional wisdom fails to stress the word "master" with three underlines and massive bold text. Because when that study was done, it was done for people who were at the top of their game.
  2. Most people trying to learn a skill really only need 20 hours of devoted and intentional practice. By this I mean that simply reading a book about rock climbing for 20 hours is not going to get you anywhere. In the talk, Josh Kaufman recommends that you:
    1. Figure out which part of the skill matters most to you. This is important because it gives you something to focus on and improve on which will then allow you to make progress with other aspects of the skill by extension.
    2. Learn enough to self-correct. There is always a desire to try and learn the skill perfectly. In fact, the best thing you can do for yourself is to learn just enough so that you can identify your mistakes which will light the way for even more progress.
    3. Remove practice barriers. When you sit down to practice your skill, do everything you can to remove all distractions (i.e., TV, cell phone notifications, surfing the internet, etc.). If you don't, I assure you that you won't be doing yourself any favors.
    4. Practice for at least 20 hours. Once you've accomplished the three steps above, it's time to practice. In other words, apply the skill you're trying to learn and keep at it.

So that's what I am setting out to do. When I first started this month, I had the following things on my list:

  • VueJS
  • Testing in React w/ TDD & BDD
  • Design Systems
  • Web Typography
  • TypeScript

And while I thought I was doing an okay job managing it all, I'm going to follow this advice and see where it takes me. So I'm going to start with the topic I've been chasing after for some time but never fully grasped: Testing with TDD & BDD. It might not sound like much, but I have a good feeling about having a "single obsession."