Malcolm Gladwell is widely attributed to popularizing the so-called “10,000 Hour Rule.” (I’m a very big fan of his work; if you have the chance to read any of his books, I highly recommend them. He based the “10,000 Hour Rule” on a study by Anders Ericsson.) For those who are not familiar with the concept, the general idea is that mastery in any one particular field or discipline requires at least 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice.”
Of course, this “rule” is up for debate, as are many theories in the social sciences. Still, if I took it as an absolute rule, then it could get interesting for someone like me.
Why, you ask?
Well, as a self-proclaimed Meticulously Observant Observer, that title carries with it a (ridiculously impossible to fulfill) degree of perfectionism. Not only that, but I’m interested in lots of different subjects and activities. I don’t like doing anything halfway. I want to do things right.
I’m no math surgeon, but according to my (probably inaccurate) calculations, you obviously can’t achieve those hours in one year…unless you really can add hours to the day and you spend absolutely every waking hour devoted to one discipline. Not particularly practical.
Annnnnddddd…I’ve identified at least four disciplines that I pursue regularly outside of work.
If I want to be really serious about four of my specific pursuits, I figure I should start the mathematical breakdown with the disciplines I’ve been involved with the longest: writing and music.
Let’s start with writing.
According to my parents, I was able to read at the age of eighteen months. Writing followed soon thereafter. It was ugly, but it was writing. So, in factoring in my age and the number of hours I spent in classrooms throughout my formal education, I should probably be in good shape on that one.
However, was it all “deliberate practice?” Probably not. Passing notes to my classmates isn’t likely to fit the bill. Hitting every key on the typewriter just to see what it would look like on paper…nope. Besides, all writers know their work is never completely mastered, so this one is likely to be a lifelong pursuit without any kind of designated time frame.
So, moving on…
Let’s add music to the mix. I started playing the piano when I was five years old.
Once again, if I factor in my age, I should be well on my way. Not so fast, though. I didn’t just learn the piano, you see. I’ve spent some decades on the trumpet as well. And I had to learn other band instruments to a level of proficiency required to teach them in my current profession. Remembering that music is always a work in progress…yup, there’s another lifelong pursuit to add to the writing.
But wait…there’s more!
Photography. I started to get serious about photography about eight years ago. That would make it one of my later pursuits. Since I work, eat, sleep, write, and work on music as well…we’re starting to rack up some serious hours here.
Oh, and let’s not forget knitting. I really enjoy knitting. Another of my newer activities.
That makes four. Four disciplines, forty-thousand hours.
Assuming that I live at least as long as the average lifespan for an American woman, once I’ve totaled up all of these hours (carrying the one, multiplying by x, and accounting for sleep, laundry, work, channel surfing, reading, eating, proper grooming, staring into space, socializing, being placed on hold with the cable company, family obligations, waiting at the DMV, sitting at stoplights, travel, home maintenance, airport delays, the occasional illness, and other unforeseen circumstances), I think I can expect to be an expert on all four of these disciplines approximately thirty minutes after my funeral service is completed.
What are some disciplines you would like to master, and how long would you think you’ve been working on them? Do you think that any of this kind of work is ever done? I think there’s always room for improvement, but that could just be my perfectionism speaking. In any event, I should probably be working on something…