How long does it take to master something?

Brandyn Luong ’27

Devotion—exemplified recreationally and for either cause or purpose —demands dedication. Time and being resolute in learning are requisites for a devotee. 

Take, for instance, the mastery of computer software. The number of hours spent studying and honing the skills to use and navigate software reflects an extent of your learning. As you become apt at reproducing code and managing software applications, progress stagnates, since new information is less feasible. When the quantity of new knowledge approaches zero, at what point does this stagnation deem you a master? And how can you assign a set time to mastery, when time is abstract?

The perception of time and interpretation of mastery varies from person to person. This discrepancy is most apparent among generational gaps. I interviewed history teacher Mr. LaJuan Foust and Third Formers Adam Brown and Jayden Thomas to construct a consensus on mastery. 

Rather than being strong in a few areas, Mr. Foust promotes the idea of “the whole student”—akin to a jack-of-all-trades.

I prefaced my conversation by asking Mr. Foust what his talents were. Mr. Foust—deeply rooted in teaching World History—provided answers reflecting his disposition in classes: He is adept at public speaking and acting. He also possesses humor that evokes the giggles from even the most stern student, a testament to the numerous hours spent as a teacher knowing how to engage a class. Mr. Foust stressed that it takes a considerable time to develop those skills. He’s witnessed students excel and devote themselves to sports at the expense of their academics. Rather than being strong in a few areas, Mr. Foust promotes the idea of “the whole student”—akin to a jack-of-all-trades.

I asked Mr. Foust to paraphrase the word master, responding with an analogy about software developers and engineers. He argued that no software developer could be a master, since new codes are released periodically. He tied it to his rustiness on some aspects of American history. He ended the interview with a quote from Socrates. saying, “To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

Brown flaunted his knowledge about keyboards, some especially intriguing. His love for keyboards emerged from a once casual viewing of videos on YouTube to an affiliation with nonsensical keyboards. Brown argues that mastery is achievable; it is to be content with your skill level. He added that being in the top 1% is arbitrary; you could classify a group of people as masters. His interpretation of mastery deviates from Mr. Foust’s response. When you can accept the stagnation of skill level, Brown argues that is mastery, but Mr. Foust believes that proficiency is unobtainable. Both agree that learning is innate and everlasting. 

I juxtaposed the answers from Thomas with those of Brown. Thomas is tech-savvy, having been surrounded by technology his whole life. He built his first personal computer at age eleven, and he emphasized the sheer amount of time it takes to reach proficiency. Thomas stated that mastery is knowledge acquired from being able to reproduce nearly perfectly. “You can’t be perfect, but close,” Thomas said. Whereas Mr. Foust and Brown argued that the time to master something was intangible, Thomas argues that reproduction only requires an hour. He agrees that learning varies amongst others, but it follows a similar route.

Mastery is intangible. It is vague. 

I posed an answer to you at the beginning: When the quantity of new knowledge approaches closer and closer to zero, at what point does this stagnation deem you a master? Although the interviews did not reach consensus, all participants agreed that mastery is out of reach, since learning is everlasting. Mastery is intangible. It is vague. 

Rather than arguing for a correct answer, perhaps it would do you better to strive for that perfection, to surpass limits imposed by a seemingly futileness and laziness.