How Deliberate Practice Fuels Skills Development and Attracts Opportunities
The Journey to Doing What You Love Through Deliberate Practice
Embarking on the journey to doing what you love often demands a deliberate and purposeful approach. At the heart of this transformative journey lies the concept of deliberate practice. But what exactly is deliberate practice, and how does it shape the path to realizing your dreams? Deliberate practice can be defined as a highly focused and systematic approach to skills development. It is a rapid learning strategy introduced by Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University. Simply put, it argues that setting intentional practice goals, targets, and outcomes and measuring your performance against those will help you get better each time.
When you do something that you love for long enough and you use deliberate practice for skills development, you attract more of those opportunities to you. Not always right away, but eventually, you start to attract them.
In 2015, I approached the completion of my third academic year of teaching math in the classroom. I loved teaching math, however, in 2015 that passion started to burn out. Things at the school where I was working were becoming complicated and stressful. The primary problem was a challenging situation with another teacher who was deliberately sabotaging my teaching efforts. Add this to the overwhelming amount of non-teaching responsibilities placed on teachers and the incredible amount of work you must bring home. All of this made it nearly impossible to enjoy the job of teaching. I loved the actual teaching part, but the overall job of teacher was becoming a major area of stress. I was getting sick more easily and started to dread Mondays as early as Saturday night. Simply put, I was falling out of love with my dream job.
As a result, I started to seriously consider leaving the teaching profession within the next year or so. I wanted to get a head start on paving a new way forward for my career.
The year before, I had attended an event called Startup Weekend that teaches people how to take business ideas from concept to creation in a bootcamp-style weekend-long event. This event opened my eyes to the possibilities of entrepreneurship in a way I had never considered.
By the end of that year, I became more involved and got certified as a global facilitator for their events. This meant that I was eligible to be sent, on behalf of Startup Weekend, to facilitate any of their events around the world. This role was purely voluntary and only covered your travel expenses which meant that I was basically working for free, but I was taking advantage of the valuable opportunity for deliberate practice.
This role combined skills I had been developing in the years leading up to that opportunity. Teaching, coaching, and speaking were all part of the job description, and each event could have up to 100 participants, split across 12-15 teams that I would be responsible for guiding from point A to Z of the weekend curriculum.
To say the least, I LOVED this work. In 2015, as I became less passionate about teaching math in the classroom, I decided to make Startup Weekend the project that paved a new way for me. Going into it, I had no idea what could possibly come of it. At best I figured I’d get some interesting speaking engagements outside of Startup Weekend. At worst, I’d develop my speaking, coaching, and teaching skills which could very well help me launch a new career after teaching.
This one decision to get involved with Startup Weekend, as a volunteer, showed me that I didn’t have to wait for a job or perfectly defined next career move pave the way for a new career. The opportunity to serve as a volunteer Startup Weekend facilitator was available to me as soon as I completed the required training and received my certification.
Deliberate Practice as Your Catalyst for Skills Development and Attracting Opportunities
So with my intention set, I made myself available at least 12-15 weekends a year for this event. I knew that if I could get my reps in, I would get better sooner rather than later. With each event, I knew I would get better at facilitating the overall event, teaching the curriculum, coaching the teams, and speaking to the group. To ensure I would improve from event to event, I borrowed from the learning sciences. I leveraged deliberate practice to intentionally improve with each event that I facilitated. If I just showed up at each Startup Weekend with a goal to deliver a great event, I’d get a little better and then level off quickly. However, if I set deliberate practice targets for each event, then over time, I would get better every time I facilitated an event.
With deliberate practice, there is no leveling off in your progress.
How Deliberate Practice Propels You to Become Your Best Self
In my first full year as a facilitator, I facilitated 9 events and as the year ended, I reflected on my experience. I discovered that doing work I loved unlocked a different version of me that not only improved in various skills but also became more in touch with my authentic self. As much as I loved teaching math, I began to grow in a new direction. The frequency of the Startup Weekend events gave me regular opportunities to accelerate that growth and development.
The version of me that showed up to Startup Weekend events was different than the tired and uninspired version showing up to the classroom in my fourth year of classroom teaching. By this time the situation with my colleague was getting worse and the culture more toxic. As 2016 kicked off, I wanted to facilitate at least as many events as I had in 2015 because I wanted that June 2016 to be my last month as a classroom teacher.
With 10 events and counting, I started to discover new things about the facilitation role. The biggest discovery was that after having completed 10 of these events, I experienced a significant upgrade in confidence and overall ability for the work I was doing. As I got to 15 and eventually 20 events, through dedicated skills development I had breakthroughs in performance and achievements that I could not have even imagined in my first 5-10 events.
If You Put in The Time and You Cultivate Deliberate Practice, You Begin to Attract Opportunities
What really surprised me was how new opportunities started to find me as 2015 came to a close and even more so in 2016. I was approached by people about other events they were involved with and looking for speakers to book. Some people approached me about opportunities to coach them. A couple of people reached out to me about teaching opportunities in other schools. The most surprising opportunity came all the way from London, when a major education magazine contacted me about writing a feature article for them.
However, the biggest opportunity of all, was an offer for a custom-designed full-time role at a major tech company. Not only did I attract this opportunity through my deliberate practice and my consistent and ever-improving Startup Weekend facilitation work, but it also arrived the day after the last day of school. I could not have written this story any more perfectly.
When you do something you love long enough, you can’t help but unleash your best self and attract opportunities. None of this happens if you sit around thinking about what you love or researching it by yourself at home. It is so important to find a public and active outlet for your passions so that you can unleash your best self in front of others, nurture your skills development, and become a magnet for exciting new opportunities.
What you put out in the world will come back to you. I put out coaching, teaching, speaking, and event facilitation into the world and that’s precisely what came back to me.
The key is to get started as quickly as possible and one barrier to that is getting paid. If you put a pay wall up too soon, it will slow down your ability to get started quickly. Just get out there and do it for whoever will let you do it, even if that means working for free. I have facilitated over 80 Startup Weekend events for free and indirectly, it has returned at least $1 million and counting in salary, fees, contracts, resources, and opportunities. However, more valuable than the money has been the immeasurable fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness that this work has brought to my life.
Even if not a single penny came my way, I have won more than I will ever be able to count in blessings and happiness. Best of all, staying committed to this work for the better part of a decade has helped me evolve and develop into who I really am.
Mastering Deliberate Practice: Small Deposits Over Time Attract Opportunities
In the last couple of years, I’ve heard successful people say that following your passions is terrible advice. In all fairness, they probably said that to create a good hook for their content. However, they do add that following your passion is something that likely won’t pay off and it’s best saved for later in life, after you are successful.
I disagree, because the assumption they are making is that you will ONLY do what you are passionate about and that it’s only worth it if it makes money right away. There are cases when working for free can bring about deep satisfaction and invaluable benefits to other important areas of your life.
My experience taught me that we can do what we love on the side and for no money, to unleash our best self on the other things we are doing. We don’t have to wait until we are rich and successful to do the things we are passionate about. Most of the time, we can do some version of those things that light us up sooner rather than later.
By doing the thing we love, even just a little bit, consistently, and embracing deliberate practice, we are making small deposits over time that compound. Most successful people in finance will tell us that we need to start investing TODAY because of the power of compounding interest. The same goes for our passions. If we make small deposits regularly over time, always improving, always bringing our best out, then they will pay off every so often and the longer you invest, the bigger the payoffs.
These deposits over time attract the opportunities that you cannot even imagine when you start making those deposits.
In my case, the more events I facilitated for Startup Weekend, the better my skills got and more people saw me doing something well over and over again. Over time, people started to think of me when they thought of speaking, coaching, and facilitation. By doing it regularly, I put myself in front of more people and I discovered that the more people I reach, the more opportunities I attract.
This phenomenon works, for better and for worse. If you do something you do not enjoy regularly and happen to do it well, you send off a message to the world that this is what you do. Opportunities related to that activity will likely come your way, even if you don’t want them.
How to improve yourself through deliberate practice and begin attracting the opportunities you want the most right now…
If your day job doesn’t reflect what you love to do, consider finding an activity you love outside of your work. Startup Weekend was something I did on the side (of teaching originally). By getting involved with Startup Weekend for many years, I was able to begin making those small deposits that would compound in my favor over time.
What opportunities do you want to attract in the future?
What can you do every day, week, or month in order to begin making small deposits starting right away?
How can you use deliberate practice to improve yourself and fuel your skills development?
If there’s anything I can do to support your journey to reinvention, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can DM me on Linkedin or Instagram. You can also check out my coaching page if you’d like to discuss Reinvention Coaching.
If you enjoy learning from interviews with people who are walking their own journey to reinvention, check out The School of Reinvention Podcast.