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10,000 HoursDear Readers,

Welcome to the next segment of the “You’re Not Successful, You’re Just Lucky Series.” If this is your first time here – Welcome. I’m glad you stopped by. This post will (quickly) explore the second chapter of Malcolm Gladwell’s Book, Outliers. Let’s get started, shall we?

Gladwell opens the chapter discussing the life of William (Bill) Joy, founder and chief techno-architect of Sun Microsystems. He chronicles Joy’s life as high school whiz to his journey to the University of Michigan. There, the school kept the first ever computer center (open 24 hours). Upon discovering this, Joy spent an inordinate amount of his undergraduate career devoted to obsessively computer programming. In doing so, he became something like the new Messiah of the Tech world.

Throughout the chapter, Gladwell cites examples of musicians (even Mozart), expert chess players, and computer programmers as individuals who did not reach their full peak until they were practicing their craft for quite some time.  The chapter discusses the professional journeys of people like The Beatles and Bill Gates – Gladlwell, in turn, puts their successes in this context:

“The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again of the expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”

10,000 hours – what does that mean for the rest of us, Mr. Gladwell? Actually, he tells us – a long damn time. He even asserts that so called child prodigies like Mozart didn’t reach their artistic peak until they had practiced for over several years. That is obvious. However, this number – 10,000 – is applied to everyone. According to Gladwell,

“To become a chess grandmaster also seems to take about ten years. (Only the legendary Bobby Fischer got to that elite level in less than that amount of time: it took him 9 years.) And what’s ten years? Well, it’s roughly how long it takes to put in ten thousand hours of hard practice. Ten thousand hours is the magic number for greatness.”

10 years? Are you kidding? I can’t imagine what I’d have to be so bad at from the start that it would take me 10 whole years to perfect. The “greatness” factor is defined as becoming expert at anything whether you are a basketball player, master criminal or prima ballerina.

I’m trying to think of my life in 10 year increments.

Think of your life in ten year increments.

What have you been doing for the last 10 years? And, if you can muddle through the memories of SATs, college papers, pub crawls, crappy summer jobs, and hanging out with friends, what’s your answer? What have you been doing for 10,000 hours that makes you an expert?

You may come up with this answer: nothing. I can’t believe this. I’m only in the second chapter about a book examining success and it makes me want to jump off the tallest building.

At least, that’s what I thought at first.

That doesn’t leave a lot hope for twenty-somethings. If we’re oh-so-lucky enough to figure out what we want to do by age 13 – we’d have it expertly “in the bag” ten years later? Or, in the other case, we make it to age 20, but haven’t managed to figure out our life (after all, just getting through junior high and high school was difficult enough) – we’d have to dig around until we are 30 to get our skills in expert gear?

Cue the screaming chorus.

Then, I recruited my super cool (and more mathematically inclined) boyfriend to help make sense of Gladwell’s assertion in number terms. For us Joe and Jane Gen Y-ers, we have a lot invested in becoming successful, happy and knowledgeable. We are the most educated generation to date (but, that statistic may wane in a few years). We aren’t as in a hurry to figure out our lives, so the task of devoting 10,000 hours (read: 10 years) to becoming a world class expert in anything is daunting.

So, let’s see what alternatives we have. We have plenty of time to figure out alternatives, after all, it’s 10 years.

You and I work (or maybe you don’t “work”, but let’s play along) an average of 5 days a week 365 days a year. This 5 day workweek is taken from your normal 7 day week (hey, not everyone works 24/7, 0k?)

So, our equation starts out like this:

365 (days a year) X 5 (work days)
7 (total number of days in a week)

But wait! You have a life, don’t you? Let’s factor in those personal and vacation days your employer gives you. So, for the sake of argument, you have the average of 2 weeks vacation. But, let’s also keep holidays and sick days in mind. So, that’s another 2 weeks bundled in there. Let’s assume that on those vacation days, sick days and holidays – you aren’t devoting your time to becoming an expert (the weekends, too).  This totals twenty days of doing nothing (like what you were doing before reading this post, perhaps?)

Now our equation looks like this:

365  X 5  – 10 (vacation days) – 10 (sick days, holidays)
7

Our answer is roughly 240. That means we get a total of 240 days out the year to devote to becoming an expert at our jobs or whatever. We can take that number and multiply it by the hours a day you work at becoming an expert. The number can be either 8 or 7.5.

I’m going to be nice and assume you are really devoted to honing your skills – we’ll use the 8-hour scale first.

240 X 8 = 1920

Sounds like we might be getting somewhere. That’s a lot of time, 1920 hours. How do they figure into the 10,000 hour rule?

10000 /1920 = 5.2

That number doesn’t like like a ten. In fact, it’s roughly half of ten. According to my calculation, that equals a little over 5 years. For you lazier sort who just had to have that .5 increment of time to yourself, here’s the other equation:

240 X 7.5 = 1800            10000/1800 = 5.5

Well, the 7.5 hour workers have a little catching up to do, but not much.

Think of your life in five year increments instead of ten. It’s a lot more palatable to see your talents and accomplishments spaced out in a shorter bit of time. Five years can be college with some time off in between – what did you get out those particular five years? Five years can be the amount of time you spent in a particular industry – what was happening? Maybe, five years ago is when you started your blog.

So, it doesn’t take 10 years to become good at something, perhaps just 5 (according to my calculations). Maybe even less, if you devote yourself to something beyond the regular workweek. Gladwell makes an intriguing, but obvious point, it takes time to become really good at something (duh again, Gladwell!).

Yet, perhaps 10 years borders on overkill. And, while practice is wonderful, implying that it will take 10 years to become a world class expert doesn’t do much for the time-starved Gen-Yer. We have a lot of the world (and life) to discover and don’t necessarily want to devote ten years to becoming good at only one thing.

 

 

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