Tuesday 24 May 2016

10,000 hours

The other day I came across an interesting fact: If you invest 10,000 hours in anything, you will become an expert in it. The author Malcolm Gladwell states that in his book Outliers, a book I haven't read yet, but intending to read asap.
In lieu of reading the book I found this article highlighting a few key facts about Gladwell's research, which are:

When psychologists studied violin students in Berlin, Germany, they asked them how many hours they had approximately practiced in their lives. The best violinists had practiced more than 10,000 hours, while the less accomplished ones had only about 4,000 hours of practice.

The perhaps most interesting fact about the study was that natural talent didn't make a difference. The more someone had practiced, the better they became, no matter of natural ability.

The Beatles started out as an unknown high school band, but with an unlimited passion for making music. They went to Hamburg, Germany, and played in night clubs every night. As they became better known, they played even more: 8 hours a night, 7 nights a week. When they became huge in 1964, they had already played 1,200 concerts together. Most bands nowadays never manage to play 1,200 concerts in their entire career.

Gladwell discovered that the secret of highly successful people is that they are obsessed with their work. They not only work during normal working hours, but also afterwards at home, and on weekends, and instead of mindlessly watching TV. They love what they do and love the practice of it, and that's what makes them so extraordinary.

10,000 hours is a lot. If you practice something for an hour every day, it will take you over 27 years to become excellent at it. Which is discouraging when it comes to yoga and writing, two areas I want to get better at. Maybe I should step up my game there?

However, I have become a master at a few things already.
After some thought, I came up with not only one or two, but five areas of expertise:

1. Worrying. 
I'm a world-class worrier. I suspect that I started approximately at the age of three, often spending much more than an hour a day on it, which makes me an absolute master in the field. Nothing to worry about? No problem, I will find something. If life is going unexpectedly smoothly, I can always rely on the classics: Money. Childhood. What if my husband gets sick and/or dies? The economy. Job security. Global warming. That weird rash that keeps showing up every time I'm stressed. How much wine is too much wine?

2. Nagging.
That one took serious dedication, since we have been together for not quite 14 years, only half of the 27 years it takes to reach expert status if you invest one hour/day. But I can be tenacious if I want to be, and I got this one down to a science.
A little dig about past transgressions? Check.
You didn't do something I asked you to do? I will keep going on and on about it.
You didn't tell me about this one little detail of your day? You never tell me anything, and I'm upset about it.
And so it goes.
It's a lot of work, but somebody's gotta do it.

3. Loving dogs.
I have been loving dogs since 1984, and I'm not planning on stopping. Ever. By now I have roughly 280,320 hours of dog loving under my belt. I have surpassed expert level and entered into crazy dog-lady territory. It's awesome.

4. Reading.
When I discovered the written word at the age of six, the heavens opened and angels started to sing. I was smitten by the power and beauty of the written word; it was love at first sight. This love affair is still going strong. 30 years in, we are as committed to each other as we were on the first day!
However, don't be too impressed by that. I have a woefully limited knowledge of classics, preferring
sweeping family tales encompassing several generations; stories with a touch of magic; a gripping tale with some mystery, intrigue and sass; and biographies and life stories in all shapes and sizes. Add the odd chic-lit, and you have my not-so-well-rounded taste in books.

5. Thinking about life.
Life is endlessly fascinating. Figuring out what to do with the one, precious life we have is a question I never get tired of trying to answer. I love learning about new and different ways of living, and about people: The Tiny House Movement; people who sell their stuff and travel the world; unusual childhoods; love stories; people who liberate themselves, at whatever age.

I met an elderly lady who had a new looking tattoo, and when I asked her about it, she proudly told me that her grandson is a tattoo artist and "practiced" on her (it looked beautiful - clearly he took his job on his grandmother seriously).

A couple I know retired in their late 60s, sold their large property and bought a condo in the city. Everybody had encouraged them to do so: For making life easier, having less work, being free to travel. They went on an extended vacation, and then sat in their condo, unhappy. After two years, they sold it again and bought a 5-acre property, opening a small-scale nursery and buying a few chickens and a couple of dogs. She is 87, he is 99 this year, and they are still living on that property, happily puttering away and selling a few dozen hanging baskets each year.  

Another couple had been married for 30 years, when they decided to get a divorce. The overwhelming public opinion was how awful and sad that is. While it is always painful and difficult to leave a relationship, I secretly cheered them on, wishing them to find their happiness. Many couples get married for the wrong reasons, or live unhappily together for decades, for the sake of keeping the family together. But don't we all deserve to be happy? Maybe (hopefully) leaving a relationship that was sad/cold/toxic/wrong for them will open up the possibility for a happier life. I really hope so.

That's the thing about life: We all have a story to tell. The trials and tribulations we all have to face unite us in a way.
I will continue to be a student of life for the rest of my life, for many more 10,000 hours to come.
Will I ever master it? Only time will tell.

Tell me: What skill have you mastered? Or what are you working towards?



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