Thursday, December 22, 2011

10,000 hours

 10,000 hours might seem like a long time.  It's a year and 51 days, if you start on it right now.  An easy way to measure it is this:  although it only takes an hour and 45 minutes out of your precious life to watch the movie "Sleepless in Seattle," it seems to take 10,000 hours.

Here's an article that I saw, read, and found less than fascinating, since I am  in the middle of the eighth inning of my working career.  I'm pretty certain that spending 10,000 of my remaining hours learning how to be a surveyor or washing machine repairman or Republican will not avail me of happy prospects. But this fellow Wilson quotes from the book "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell and mentions the 10,000 hours that it takes to learn the motor skills needed to, say, play the piano. 

Suddenly, I see this 10,000 hour figure everywhere I look.  Brad Paisley, country singer and guitar slinger, writes about it in his book "Diary of a Player: How My Musical Heroes Made a Guitar Man Out of Me."  In writing advice for people who wish to become famous guitarist/singers, he sagely counsels aspiring stars to stay home and learn to play a guitar and sing.  He recommends 10,000 hours of practice at doing what you want to do, pointing out that an odd trend in America now has people becoming famous without even learning to do anything first.  This makes me think of Sarah Palin or several Kardashians.  Brad, kinder, does not name names.  

He doesn't paint a glamorous picture of it, though.  To learn to play a guitar at his level of skill takes both innate talent and development of skill.  You have to have both.  Brad got his first guitar from his grandpa at age 8, and worked on it every day all through his childhood, eventually landing a place in a band with much older guys by middle school, and continuing to flourish as a musician through adolescence and college. 

And he is too modest to make this point, but I'll say it:  part of the problem is that the great ones make it look easy.  You don't see Paisley staring at his guitar, brow knitted, trying to remember how to play that certain note in his song "Waitin' On a Woman."  Same as you don't see your surgeon leafing through Reader's Digest magazine as he prepares to trepan your medulla oblongata, you don't see your dentist marveling "Well, lookie there!" as he stares in amazement at your throbbin' molar. Or at least, you don't want to see that!

So, there is no shortcut to knowing what you're doing, and the only way to know what you're doing is to do it over and over and over until it becomes 2nd nature.  

Yet, oddly enough, it's hard to find a person who is truly excellent at doing something and is good at teaching others how to do it just as well.  The best managers and coaches in professional sports don't tend to be former stars.  They might not relate well to those of lesser innate skill, while the guy who hung on the fringes of the the big leagues got there by dint of talent and a lot of hard work.  

On the other hand, there is an old horse I see hanging around a meadow near our house, and you could spend the next 10,000 hours of both your lives riding around the oval at Pimlico, and I'm still fairly certain he won't be winning the Preakness.

But all that trying will still be better than not making the effort! 

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