I’ve been reading Outliers by Malcom Gladwell – a little bit belatedly, since it’s been out for a while now, but I’m a slow reader and there you have it.
One of the things that Gladwell talks about is that things like talent and genius don’t really exist – or if they do exist, they don’t matter all that much. We tend to attribute great success to great talent or great virtue, and Outliers does a great job of demonstrating how success has much more to do with a person’s situation than a person’s sole capacities. Really, it’s a fascinating book, as are all of his books that I’ve read.
The title of this post mentions 10,000 hours – according to a lot of research in the lives of brilliant, successful people, 10,000 hours is a number that keeps coming up again and again. In brief, it takes 10,000 hours to become a virtuoso, to become good enough at something to have a huge impact through it. The Beatles had their 10,000 hours playing strip clubs in Hamburg; Bill Gates had his 10,000 hours programming by the time he got to college. (Of course, as Gladwell demonstrates, if Gates had been born three years earlier or later, his practice would have mattered much less)
But this idea of 10,000 hours got me thinking – is there anything in my life where there is a chance I’ll practice that much? The only thing I’ve done that much is writing – and I have to say writing in general, rather than, say, fiction or nonfiction. Now, this has to be 10,000 hours of concerted effort to get better at something – so obviously I can’t count things like writing letters or writing Facebook posts or things like that. Even most of my blogging probably doesn’t count – at most maybe half of it. Time spent working on actual books, stories and poems for publican counts, I think. Editing other people’s work counts maybe half. Writing papers for college and graduate school, half at most.
I’m too busy lately to do the math, but I wonder – how close are you to your 10,000 hours? Have you already crossed the line?
As a point of reference, 10,000 hours is full time practice at your art of craft, 40 hours a week, for 5 years straight. With no vacations.
That’s a lot…but it’s also a powerful number in the lives of some of the most famous people in their fields. It is also measurable, which makes it a nice goal to have in mind.