If You're Intimidated by the 10,000 Hour Theory
Malcom Gladwell’s bestselling non-fiction “Outliers” was published in November 2008 and the golden 10,000 hours principle has since become the benchmark number for hours of deliberate practice for someone to truly master a skill. You can easily argue its assumptions or its validity altogether, but it’s a pretty tired conversation for something that’s become a modern maxim. My friend literally said “yo, but he ain’t bout those 10,000 hours though” yesterday as an effective argument to compare the Lakers center Dwight Howard’s poor free-throw shooting to Raptors rookie center Jonas Valanciunas.
I’ve seen some pretty nifty infographics about the whole thing and I dig how positive they are in saying that anyone can be good at anything if they practice, but I think people are getting too caught up with the number altogether. People can look at 10,000 a bunch of different ways but the examples Gladwell uses for it are Bill Gates and The Beatles. I’ve seen people use Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant and a gang of other examples of people who’ve achieved astronomical feats the rest of us would never even aspire to reach. The examples on these pedestals are used as vehicles for people to tell you that practice makes perfect, that you should surround yourself with like-minded individuals and a lot of the other well-intentioned but uninspired messages our coaches, teachers and parents have been telling us forever but never got through.
The one question I would want you to ask yourself when faced with the daunting comparison of your efforts to the 10,000 mark is do you really want to or expect to be the Steve Jobs, Tiger Woods, or The Beatles of that world? It would be great! But I don’t really think all of us have to dream THAT big every time, nor is 10,000 hours the optimal amount to truly feel successful or have earned legitimacy as a professional in the industry of your choice. Not that it’s a 1:1 correlation of hours to greatness but if you logged 5,000 hours would that make you half as masterful as the Beatles? Would that make you the Arctic Monkeys? The Strokes? Franz Ferdinand? Hot Hot Heat even? Probably not. And did The Beatles get to 10,000 and put down their instruments and walk away? No. Did they do any of this with the intention of reaching a specific number of hours of practice? Definitely not. The measuring stick of 10,000 hours is admirable, but if it truly is an accurate measuring stick, then I imagine a lot of us would settle for somewhere between 0 and 10,000 hours. Have a look at these figures I drew up:
People aim to compile 10,000 devoted hours of mastery to something they are passionate about - not things they hate. And one of the most common lessons gathered from our idols is to find something you love, and pursue it blindly - which we do. Many of us, if not most of us, have real world problems and expectations which serve as small to medium to big to huge obstacles along the way which derail us from being able to pursue that passion full time. Money, school, jobs, parents, cities we live in, relationships, family, pets, whatever. This same list is probably a lot of the things we value the most - slightly after if not exactly the same as much as we value our passion. Sorry for using the word passion so many times. And we have to think constructively on how to realistically integrate our passion into our lives to accumulate those hours but balance all of the priorities which come after it.
In the examples above I’ve broken it out into a hobby, a part-time passion, a full-time passion, and an obsession. I’m aware that people who are obsessed usually log more than 100 hours a week, but I am just being consistent. The condition I’d like to add is that I think each “hour” should be a legitimately focused and devoted hour - not a garbage hour of brainstorming and watching videos distantly relevant to your passion: I’m talking hours of you creating original content, putting something down, doing things other people who want this same goal usually hate and drop off at, becoming an expert at cranking out the annoying steps along the way most people avoid, doing research with a purpose and not to pass the time, stretching yourself, embarrassing yourself, sending out ambitious emails to people you admire, finding collaborators you trust and building out those relationships, all of those - not the low-hanging fruit, easy things everyone has already done like making a Pinterest board about it or reblogging a collection of other people’s work. Those are great but maybe value those at 10% of the hours you’ve logged against them. I’ve honestly watched 10,000 hours of basketball but I really don’t think that makes me worthy of being a professional analyst. I’ve watched more than 10,000 hours of TV but I could never write, act in, score, or direct anything of value. I’ve listened to over 10,000 hours of music but I am still terrible at making my own. I never did any of those with a purpose or goal - not that I ever wanted to, but there’s a difference in the type of hours I’m referring to that I needed to stress. Not that we necessarily care to compare, but sometimes I get insecure benchmarking myself against like-minded individuals: I think knowing that you’re putting in the right type of hours is what will separate you from people who’ve claimed to have been working at it for so many years longer than you or are already ahead of you.
Now think about it this way (referring to the figures displayed above), if you wanted to eventually become a “Professional” (ie. 5,000 hours) in the industry of your dreams but could only devote 10 concentrated hours (which is still a lot!) a week to it because of your real-world responsibilities and you having to limit it to a “Hobby” - it would take you almost 10 years. If you wanted to become the Bill Gates of that industry but could only devote 10 hours a week it would take almost 20 years. Which is both too long for anyone to be satisfied with and possibly long enough to derail you from your goal completely.
I think the true goal here is to aim for 5,000 hours. I really do. By that point, I’d expect that you no longer care about the 10,000 hours figure and are so into this goal or already professionally involved in it, that the achievement of that metric would come organically. Shooting for something that you know starting out, will take 20 years, is deflating and unnecessary. Instead, shooting for 5,000, you feel like you could make the right steps over the course of a couple years to position yourself to do it as more than a hobby but eventually part-time and hopefully full-time, to speed up that rate but realistically manage your real-world responsibilities to achieve this more manageable goal. And I think you definitely could! I know I do this, but I often read someone’s byline or paragraph-long description and think to myself - my god this person is untouchable. But doing that really undervalues how long they’ve truly been grinding for and fools me into believing that they did it in such an incredibly short period of time that you simply have to be gifted to succeed and not build your way up to that kind of legitimacy. They weren’t gifted - they had to work at it too. So can you.
There’s this incredible movement going on right now by Devin Williams, a former basketball standout from Compton I really admire. He’s mentoring and training a few high school kids from SF with the goal of achieving 10,000 hours of devoted practice towards their basketball dreams to turn them into stars - and their progress over the past year is truly inspiring. He’s documented it on his YouTube channel. Realistically, they will fall short of 10,000 by the time the kids graduate high school because their bodies and school schedules couldn’t handle 60 hours of obsessed training per week for 3.2 years straight and I don’t think they’re freshmen either, but that raw devotion him and his players have is infectious. It’s clear that by the time they even reach 5,000 hours, his pupils will already be so good that it won’t even matter anymore. Please check it out.
Have a look and see how you and your hours stack up to the figures above. Make sure they’re the right kind of hours. But don’t hesitate - start now - it goes by a lot faster than you think, and the achievements along the way, big or small are enough to make you keep pushing - believe me. What I would give to get back a couple high school summers or university summers and have four months to work on my projects - for say six years, four months, eight hours x five days a week, thats about 4,200 hours right there! Get started! Do it while it’s low risk and you’re not busy! Write a bunch of stories, make a ton of art, produce as many songs as you can - all of it!
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- Artist - Devin Williams mp3
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- Year - 2011
- Genre- Rock
- Save Me
- Start Over
- Rose In The Morning
- Always There
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