December 4, 2013
Mastery Calendar
The Road to 10 000 Hours
December 28, 2013

There are countless stories of the most unlikely and disadvantaged people becoming successful at what they wanted to do. There are athletes with no limbs, deaf musicians, blind painters, motivational speakers and humanitarians with the bleakest life stories imaginable. Any one of those people could have surrendered because of their disadvantages and excuses, they all had them, completely justifiable ones as well, no one can be blamed for being afraid or for feeling that the odds are unjustly stacked against them, but they embraced their disadvantages and turned them into rocket fuel. They worked relentlessly on improving themselves , they turned their excuses into opposing actions and instead of becoming discouraged or depressed, which is the default outcome of embracing an excuse, they became an inspiration to others through conquering insurmountable challenges.

We all have the same potential for growth, for most it just lies dormant, buried beneath layers of fears, insecurities and advice from well meaning people. My experience has been no different.

Like any other person confronted with a task that they don’t think they can live up to, the first thing I did when I started learning about art, was to make a list of all of my disadvantages and come up with excuses for myself and reasons why I couldn’t accomplish what I set out to do – “I have no talent”, “There’s no one to teach me”, “I’m too old”, “No one cares about art”, “I couldn’t possibly make a living doing this” “It’s not possible to learn, you just have to be able to do it”, “I should have done it at university”. Of course I also had supportive friends who let me know I’m wasting my time and I should be looking for a real job. At one point I even considered that I might have brain damage because I have poor eyesight in one eye, no stereoscopic vision and some of the simplest things just failed to register and no matter how hard I tried they just wouldn’t stay in my head… so as you can see my excuses were quite elaborate and well thought out, you can justify anything in your head if it lets you off the hook.

It turns out though that any excuse you might have made up for yourself is also the greatest possible road map on how to get where you need to go. If you reverse your excuse you will find exactly what you need to do. Don’t believe me? I’ll tell you what – even the brain damage one turned out to be useful. Because I thought I had brain damage or some deficiency I did a lot of research on neuroscience and read a lot of books on how the brain works, this led me to find out that your brain is like an organic computer that reshapes and moulds itself into whatever you make it. I understood that any skill is like a circuit in your brain made up of cells and their connections to each other. The more you practice the more connections you grow between cells, the transfer speed of information increases – and that’s how you become better at what you do. It also means that there’s nothing you can’t learn to do, all it takes is patience and dedication. That one most ridiculous excuse, investigated and turned around into an opposing action, opened up the door to a whole new world for me.

The “I have no talent” excuse – that became “I’ll just work harder”.

The “There’s no one to teach me” one was probably the biggest disadvantage and excuse for me, it was completely justified in my mind. After all we’re all taught that school prepares us for what we’ll do for the rest of our lives and I had no preparation in art at all. After finding out about brain plasticity and what skills actually are, this excuse became – “I’ll just find my own mentors and be my own teacher”. I never felt like I learned anything at school or university, or had a mentorship of any kind from anyone, in the end we are all self-taught in everything we do, we can be offered advice, but what you adopt is up to you, no one can teach you that. Art is the same. And being self-taught does not mean that you rediscover everything for yourself in complete isolation, it means it’s up to you to find the right path to where you want to go. And just thinking about that – that’s what life is. We have the illusion of correct knowledge and the illusion of a right way to do things because we have school systems where someone shows you a way to do things and presents it as the correct way, so we always end up expecting there to be a right way and we have to be shown it by someone. But the moment you leave school, or if you imagine living in a world without schools, which used to be the case only a few hundred years ago, then you’re left only with a huge amount of possibilities, an infinite amount of paths and no simple way to do anything… and as uncomfortable as that might sound, it’s what life is underneath the structured face we like to put on it. Being self-taught and taking charge of my own learning has been the best thing that could have ever happened to me in terms of my own development. I stopped waiting on people to discover me or help me because I had a desire to do something and I started going towards my goal. Same principle again, an excuse turned into an opposing action leads you to where you need to go.

So take a good, long look at your excuses and reasons for failing and turn those around into rebellious action. Don’t be complacent, don’t be satisfied with settling for something that’s not what you want to do, struggle is the greatest teacher there is and embracing it is the only way to progress.

The painting at the top of the post is my most recent study, it took about 20 days to finish, a total of 40-50 hours, I’ve recorded the whole process and will post it on YouTube, timelapsed with commentary, if you’re interested make sure to like my facebook page or subscribe to the blog to make sure you receive an update when I post it.

Thank you all for stopping by!


  1. […] Your disadvantages are your greatest assets ( […]

  2. Thank you very much for the share, much appreciated 🙂

  3. Brent says:

    This is exactly what I needed to read, I also suffered some brain damage recently. I’m switching from playing rock music to drawing/painting. I can play guitar really, really well, and I had an amazing teacher. When I think back to learning guitar, I don’t think I was ever nearly as frustrated as I am attempting to draw. But yeah I’m also teaching myself with the help of various youtube videos from other artists. I’ll find my way but I wish it were easier! haha.

    And your painting is entirely awesome! Nice work.

    • Volen says:

      Hey Brent, thank you for the comment, man, it’s great to hear that the blog gets to help people out.
      I’m very sorry to hear about your injury, I hope it’s nothing too serious and it doesn’t impede you… I think your difference of experience now is that as an adult you have so many built-in expectations, especially since you’ve been awesome at something already, you have the image built of somebody who performs great when it matters. But once you change the environment/skill-set, you get to see that there are so many areas that you are not even remotely good at. I think that’s awesome and should be something that everyone experiences at one time or another. Everyone needs their ass kicked and the sooner the better, you can glean some very valuable lessons from that and become a lifelong learner, as opposed to being content with a very small niche you’ve mastered and then projected that attitude across all of life.
      Learning as a kid involves no ego and absolute willingness to explore. Kids stick everything in their mouths, touch, grab, squeeze, poke and smell everything they can possibly reach, with absolutely no frustration involved. They don’t even know they’re `learning`. We know we are, we anticipate the end result and we get frustrated and butt-hurt all the time. We blame kids for being childish, but in this particular way, they have a much more mature attitude than we can ever hope to have. Be a kid dude, and keep playing and learning. Hope all goes well.
      Thank you again 🙂

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