(Shortcut to success)

It was a beautiful sunny day at Punjab University. A soothing breeze woke me up. I took a shower, got ready and walked from my dorm to the campus. It felt like a race between thousands of students rushing to the campus. Students of all backgrounds, poor and rich, black and white. All were the same in this race. The race was not about reaching university fast but being the best and succeeding in life. Everyone wanted a formula, maybe a shortcut to compete with others. It is not like I never tried to compete, but I failed every time. How could I compete with people who were better than me in every single aspect? Umer was more confident, Hafiz was more intelligent, and Intezar was more diligent than me. And here I am, the lazy one, not very confident nor intelligent. But somehow, I stumbled upon an idea that turned into who I am today. I want to share this secret with you in this article.

Months later, I was attending a business plan competition in Germany. This event had nothing to do with my studies, the pathogens of plants. But deep down, I felt a strong connection between the business and research. I found the shortcut and the formula that everybody wanted. I thought if I learn how to do business, I would write better research proposals and influence people. I would be able to market my research better.

This craze of mixing up very different majors did not stop there. I started learning different things. The things that nobody in my field could imagine learning. Social activism, psychology, environmental sciences and molecular ecology are just a few examples. I was not an expert in any of these subjects, but just knowing the basics of them and applying their knowledge to my field made me stand out.

How long does it take to learn something? It takes years to be an expert in every field. According to Malcolm Gladwell1, we need 10,000 hours of work to be the best in anything. That is three hours of working a day, for a whopping 417 days. For lazy guys like me, this was just too hard. I came to know about new research2 that states that we need only 20 hours of systematic work to learn anything.

Let that sink in for a moment. I mean, how powerful is this statement? It means you can learn anything in 20 hours. Learning a guitar, photography or whatever your passion is: it’s just 20 hours away from you. You might be thinking: if that is so easy, why is learning so hard? Because the very first few hours when we start learning something, we suck at it. And that is when most of us quit, thinking that we will never improve. If you suppress this urge to quit and finish your 20 hours, you will see how powerful is this formula.

Fast-forward four years and here I am attending a lecture about cancer cells in Brussels, Belgium. I am thinking how much I suck when it comes to animal sciences. Probably I will always suck because I will never stop exploring new areas. And that is the secret: never stop learning. The learning that comes from you being humble, and from having a mindset that in reality, you do not know anything.

You will always be better than me in pathology, business, psychology and environmental science. I will never be the best in any field but I will have my particular skills. The skills and combinations that are difficult to find. By using this simple formula, I found my place in academia. Go find yours!


  1. Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The story of success. Hachette UK, 2008.
  2. Kaufman, Josh. The first 20 hours: How to learn anything… fast!. Penguin, 2013.

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