There’s an idea that’s been passed around in the last few years, or maybe longer. I had some difficultly tracing it back to it’s origin, as every source I encountered had found it in a different place. It’s the idea that to become an expert at something you need to dedicate 10,000 hours to it. Practicing, being fully engaged, being partially engaged. However long it takes you to get there, the theory is you’re looking to accumulate 10,000 hours in a field of study before you’ve “mastered” it.
You might look at this and think it’s a bunch of hooey, which was my first impression. 10,000 sounds like a nice big number that’s just right for impressing people; it’s almost too clean. And it’s not like magic happens between hour 9,999 and hour 10,001 that transforms you into a Museum Expert. 10,000 is also just large enough to leave people uncertain of how much time that actually is, how realistic (or not) it is for someone to reach that number. So, let’s put it in perspective.
- In one year of a full-time, 40-hour-a-week job you work approximately 2,000 hours, meaning five years on the job will make you an expert
- You would have to work forty different 3-month-long internships at 20-hours-a-week
- If you practice something for 3 hours a day, every day, it will take you 10 years
- If you volunteer only one weekend-day a month, it will take you 1,250 weekends of volunteering or around 24 years to reach mastery level
That’s not meant to be discouraging to those of you who only volunteer on the weekends, nor is it necessarily meant to be all that uplifting to those of you in full-time positions. Keep in mind that someone counting their hours wouldn’t have to exclude all non-museum time in their calculations; working in a school, another non profit, at an art gallery can all count depending on what you’re learning in those places and how you want to apply it to the museum world.
Let’s be honest for a moment. EMPs tend to think very highly of their experiences, myself included. We’re very proud of our accomplishments and the ideas we have to bring to museums. We also don’t necessarily take it well when we’re told we don’t have the experience or knowledge needed to have that dream museum job. We have our internships, our master’s degrees, many of us have had museum jobs. We know how to make lesson plans, we can write facebook status updates, develop innovative community programs, write marketing plans, and give presentations to the board of directors. We mean business when it comes to museums, and it’s often hard to hear that we’re not there yet. I remember being turned down for a job three years ago due to “not enough experience,” after which I looked at my resume and wondered how that could be the case, what were they seeing that I wasn’t?
Here’s where the 10,000 Hour Rule might come in handy. I ran my own numbers today, or as good a guess as I could make. I thought I must be pretty close to my 10,000 due to being consistently in the field for 5+ years, and having volunteered before declaring this as my career of choice, so to speak. This is how my experiences broke down, in chronological order:
- Summer internship between high school and college at a Zoo: 900
- Minor in Museum Studies at college: 200
- College Summer Internship at Science Museum: 500
- Therapy Assistant for autistic children: 500
- Teen and Overnight Coordinator at a Zoo: 700
- Education Assistant at a Historical Society: 1400
- Graduate School Coursework: 800
- Graduate School Internships: 200
- Interpretive Planning Internship: 480
- Administrative Internship: 120
- Current full-time position at a Children’s Museum (so far): 1000
Total: 6,800 hours.
Only a little more than 2/3rds of the way there. Now, this doesn’t count several incidentals like reading, working on the EMP blog, etc. It also says nothing to the quality of the experiences; for example, I can say for certain that I learned more about being a supervisor during my time as an Overnight Coordinator than anywhere else. But I thought it was a decent representation of the time I’ve spent directly working with education, museums, and non profits. Arguably, anything before graduating from college wouldn’t count to some people (I’ve been told this before). Anything school related at all wouldn’t count to some people, given that much of the study is theoretical and not practical. For me personally, I decided to count much of this experience as relevant to what I know about museums and how much time I’ve spent engaged with them.
Is the “10,000 Hour Rule” a little silly? Probably. This isn’t exactly a hard-and-fast exercise that has strict rules for calculations., and at best it puts you in the general range of being able to say you’re good at something. But when I look at our definition of being an EMP – being in the first ten years of your career – it starts to add up a little. Someone working part-time for ten years would start to be considered an expert in what they’re doing. In our field, you’d be considered a mid-career professional at that point. It also explains why someone five years into a full-time museum job would look at us and go “why the heck do you think I’m an EMP?” They technically finished their 10,000 hours.
What do you think of the “10,000 Hour Rule?” Do you think it applies to our EMP discussions? Or, have you ever tried to calculate it for yourself, and were there any surprises there? Let us know!