FIRST WORDS

American Survival Guide - - CONTENTS - —Mike Mccourt

It has been said that it takes about 20 hours of prac­tice to go from know­ing noth­ing about a new skill to be­ing pretty good at it. If you think about it, this is prob­a­bly true for most things we do in our ev­ery­day lives. Now, if you want to be­come an ex­pert, that can take a lot more time; maybe as much as 10,000 hours. But, in your pur­suit of self-reliance, how many skills should you be pretty good at ver­sus need­ing to be­come an ex­pert? Keep in mind that your skills con­tinue to im­prove as you pass the 20-hour mark, and you’ll prob­a­bly be pro­fi­cient at build­ing a fire or shel­ter and grow­ing and sourc­ing food be­fore you hit the 100-hour mark—that is, if you’re pay­ing at­ten­tion as you prac­tice. It makes more sense to be good at a num­ber of skills than to be an ex­pert in one. When I first started driv­ing, I was all over the road and couldn’t keep my fam­ily’s Oldsmo­bile Cus­tom Cruiser sta­tion wagon at a con­sis­tent speed, no mat­ter how hard I tried. My ini­tial out­ings were pretty dis­ap­point­ing (and short). Af­ter all, I had wanted to drive for many years be­fore I got my learner’s per­mit on my 16th birth­day. Be­fore my first time be­hind the wheel, I had imag­ined my­self rid­ing down the road smoothly, ex­pertly ma­neu­ver­ing around the up­state New York pot­holes, nav­i­gat­ing the nar­row town streets and per­fectly par­al­lel-park­ing in front of one of the up­town shops I liked to fre­quent. I thought I was ready to ex­e­cute like a pro. The prob­lem was, I had no prior train­ing or prac­tice. As much as I’d gone over ev­ery­thing in my head, I never had any train­ing and didn’t have a mo­ment of ac­tual prac­tice un­til the day I got my per­mit. I had the keys to this big, beautiful car and the open road ahead. But, be­cause of my com­plete lack of ex­pe­ri­ence, my first out­ing was a fi­asco. Had driv­ing not been so im­por­tant to me, I might have tossed the keys on the kitchen ta­ble and de­clared my­self a fail­ure. Aside from get­ting a bit­ter taste of re­al­ity that day, the real les­son I learned was that prac­tice—not day­dreams—makes per­fect. This has been a use­ful tool for me ever since. As you read this month’s cover story about Creek Ste­wart, the first in a three-part se­ries (see page 12), you’ll see that he learned the value of prac­tice and train­ing early on. Maybe it was his in­volve­ment in Scout­ing, or maybe he had an in­nate un­der­stand­ing of the or­der of things. Nev­er­the­less, the key to his suc­cess as an out­doors­man and sur­vival in­struc­tor is his ded­i­ca­tion to learn­ing and prac­tice. One ef­fec­tive way to ex­pe­dite be­com­ing pretty good or ex­pert at some­thing is to en­list the ser­vices of a good trainer. Whether it’s in per­son, on­line, or from a recorded or writ­ten syl­labus, take ad­van­tage of the prac­tice and in­sight a knowl­edge­able prac­ti­tioner and suc­cess­ful trainer have amassed. Learn the key skills you need to ac­com­plish your goals. Then, ap­ply those learn­ings in reg­u­lar prac­tice, and you will find you’ll be able to ac­cel­er­ate your level of achieve­ment sooner than if you started from scratch on your own. If you draw no other ben­e­fit from Michael D’angona’s in­ter­view of Creek Ste­wart, be sure you get this: Prac­tice is what builds skills that win the day, not pos­ses­sions. While we all love to in­ves­ti­gate and ac­cu­mu­late the nifty gear we ex­pect to in­su­late us from dis­as­ter, it’s not as much what’s in your hand as what’s in your head that makes the difference be­tween suc­cess and fail­ure, life and death. “Vic­tory usu­ally goes to the army who has bet­ter trained of­fi­cers and men.” —Sun Tzu

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