I recently read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and one of the many things that I took away from the book was his theory of 10,000 hours. He states that it takes 10,000 hours of focused practice to effectively master any skill. 10,000 hours! That is almost 5 years if you do it full time (40 hours/week) or 19 years if you squeeze it in as a hobby (10 hours/week). Umm, that’s a long time.
What really struck me about this, though, is the idea that natural talent has a lot less to do with mastery than hard work, consistency and practice. Of course, your chances for success are better when you have an underlying natural talent, but you are not doomed to failure if you’re not at the top of your game the first time you try something. For example, I just recently ran my first 5k. I have walked several 5ks, but I actually ran the entire race this time. That may not seem like much to some, but for me it is a major life accomplishment. Due to the fact that I don’t have a shred of athletic talent, it took me over a year to train for that race. A talented runner could have trained for a marathon in the time it took me to do a 5k. But the fact is that I did it. I stuck with it and didn’t give up no matter how hard it was. That’s the beauty of the 10,000 hours.
But when I think about my life’s work, it doesn’t make much sense to me to choose something that I am not naturally good at. Why would I want to put myself in a position that will require me to work twice as hard as the naturally talented folks just to keep up. That’s insane. Why not spend my 10,000 hours getting good rather than just getting by.
I took some time to think through what skills in my life that I have already dedicated 10,000 hours to, whether I’ve done it as a job, or simply for the love of doing it, and there are only a few: Architecture, art, self development. There are many other skills that I would love to develop, but given this enormous amount of time that it takes, it seems risky to take on too much. Its really interesting to think how few things a person can really do well in a single lifetime, if their goal is mastery. I’m starting to realize more and more how important it is to FOCUS in life. I am like most creative people and at any given time, I have a hundred different things raging through my brain. It is extremely difficult to focus and narrow down and simplify my thought processes. But anything worth doing is worth doing well. And in order to do something well, it requires dedication and commitment and focus… and according to Gladwell, 10,000 hours.