When learning any skill, it is incumbent upon you as an apprentice to also manage your expectations regarding how much and how long it will take to achieve the desired skill level.

Before learning a new skill, whether a language, a musical instrument, sailing, golf, or tennis, one must first answer the question, “What do I want out of this?” What exactly does this mean to you? Is this a hobby? Is it for fun, sport, or survival? A job? A personal quest, passion, or pursuit? The answers to these questions will help you ascertain three contributing factors in managing your expectations: knowing your terminal learning objective, allocating appropriate time and funding, and determining your realistic expectations.

Terminal Learning Objective

Otherwise known as TLOs (Terminal Learning Objective) in professional training communities, it refers to ‘what do you want out of it at the end of the day?’ If you plan to graduate from high school, you’d expect a high school diploma; if you plan to graduate from college, you will anticipate a college degree. However, expectations differ when seeking to learn a skill set beyond the auspice of institutionalized academia.

You can set your expectations to be whatever you want. However, where is the designated finish line unless you commit yourself to becoming a lifelong student of your subject? When would you say, “Eureka, this is it – I have found where I want to go!”

You can also choose not to set any goal. Some practitioners go as far as they want, never setting or reaching a predetermined finish line.


Time and Money

How many hours a week can you devote to this study, and what is your budget for it? Is it an ongoing financial commitment, or do you have a cap set for this learning endeavor? As with any discipline, you must define the time and expense commitments ahead of time – unless you possess unlimited funds.

Making a time commitment depends on where you are in life. You may have more available time without a demanding career, a growing family, or other life obligations. On the other hand, a single parent working two jobs, raising three kids, and fighting for that ever-elusive life-work balance may not have as much time.

In some cases, you may have the time but not the money; and in others, the money and not the time. Either way, there is a relationship between time and money. If you plan on taking on any long-term expense-bearing commitment, you must look at your finances and calendar.

Realistic Expectations

If you want to be a grandmaster chess player and you’ve never played chess before. You want to win the Wimbledon cup in tennis, but you’ve never played tennis before. Or, if you want to read and write fluent Mandarin but don’t know a single word today, then you will likely not achieve such a lofty goal in a weekend, a week, a month, or even a year.

It’s essential to keep it real. Learning is a natural cycle of action. It takes time to check the boxes, climb the steps, and gain the understanding, skills, confidence, and competence, elevating you to that next level. Sometimes it may feel like you’re two steps forward and one step back, and at other times, you’re making leaps and bounds in the right direction.

Even a tree given the best soil and nourishment, fresh air, and clean water takes time to grow. You can talk to it daily and encourage it to grow, but nature still takes time. While different for everyone, it takes time to familiarize yourself with a new skill to become comfortable with it. Never mind being able to perform it on demand. Lastly, to develop on-demand repeatable performance more than 85% of the time.

Physical skills are often more challenging to attain than non-physical skills.

You may be trying to do something like race car driving, and you are trying to decrease your time. You can knock on big chunks of time at the lower skill levels, like whole or half seconds. The further you go up the chain in skills development, the smaller your gains. Fighting for tenths or even hundredths of a second may take six months to a year or more.

Setting your goals, no matter how much you want them, can be challenging but must also be attainable. Why would you want to take on something unobtainable?

Realistically, do you have the time? Will your other responsibilities in life allow you the luxury of time? There are only so many hours in a day, so how much is the right amount?

Unless blessed with unlimited funding, you most likely do not have an unlimited budget. The odds of hitting the state lottery or a wealthy relative leaving you untold sums of money for your pursuits are slim, so you need to set a realistic and sustainable budget.

In our ten-second sound-byte society, we want it all, and we want it in a matter of seconds. However, true skill development doesn’t work that way in the real world. Learning takes place on a different timeline for everyone.

Regardless of where you live, what languages you speak, or what cheese you like to have with your wine, learning a skill takes time, and you must set realistic expectations or prepare for abject disappointment.