In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell presents the idea of “10,000 hours”, a theory which states that approximately 10,000 hours of experience are needed to become an expert in one’s field. Having recently completed approximately 10,000 hours as a Pension Actuary, I reflected on my experiences, and whether I now considered myself an expert.
At the beginning of my career, I once told somebody that I was an actuary, her response was “What credentials do you have?” When I told her I did not have any, she told me I was not yet an actuary. By that definition I am not yet an expert. I am very close, and would have my ASA (Associate of the Society of Actuaries) had I not changed focus to becoming an EA (Enrolled Actuary) first, a year ago. Even though I do not yet have initials behind my name, I believe there is no tangible knowledge a newly crowned ASA or EA has that I do not. Should that make me any less of an expert than them?
During my first year, I told a co-worker with over 20 years of experience, “I think I’m finally starting to get this.” Her response was, “Great, can you explain it to me, because I sure don’t.” While I have come a long way in my expertise, even the most senior consultant does not know everything and will continue to learn throughout his or her entire career.
So back to the original question of whether I consider myself an expert. After five years, I know at least a little about almost everything to do with actuarial pension consulting. I work in an office with 12 credentialed consultants ranging from 6 years of experience to 40 years of experience. There are plenty of things I know that many of them don’t, and even a few things I probably know more about than anybody else in the office. I am starting to feel like an expert now, and that 10,000 hours mark seems about right.