Lou Schuler

Author, Journalist, Presenter

Posted 01/25/2009

10,000 Hours? Really?

I’ve been resisting the temptation to write about Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for the past several weeks. But every time I sit down to work on something else, my mind goes back to that book. More specifically, I start thinking about the book’s second chapter, “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” Even more specifically, I come back to the idea that not all hours are created equal.

The book, as you know, is the nation’s #1 nonfiction bestseller at this moment. I think everyone I work with in the fitness business has read it. TC Luoma, editor in chief at T-Nation, wrote about it in his column more than a month ago. Chad Waterbury recommended it to me even before that, and finally sent me a copy as an early birthday present when I mentioned in early January that I still hadn’t gotten around to reading it.

That’s why I didn’t want to write about it — who cares what a mid-list fitness-book author thinks about a bestseller that was published two months ago and already has 275 reviews on Amazon?

But here’s why I just can’t quit Gladwell: I don’t think the 10,000 rule is correct as stated. This is from page 38:

The question is this: is there such a thing as innate talent? The obvious answer is yes. Not every hockey player born in January ends up playing at the professional level. Only some do — the innately talented ones. Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.

He goes on to look at specific examples of individuals who rose to the top of their fields for no obvious reason beyond the number of hours they worked, rehearsed, and otherwise prepared for their careers. He cites professional violinists vs. amateurs — the only difference being the number of hours they practiced.

The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals,” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction fo the time their peers did. Nor could they find any “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works.

That bit about getting into the top schools is kind of a big caveat, isn’t it? It also fits into the other big theme Gladwell develops in Outliers: individual success depends as much on circumstances (of birthdate, of family connections, of generational opportunity) as it does on talent and determination.

But what gets left out of all his examples is something that I think should carry equal weight: coaching.

Would a talented violinist with a strong work ethic but mediocre to lousy instruction make it as a concert violinist? My guess is no. Same with athletes. Lots of kids with phenomenal skill and gritty determination fail because they weren’t taught the fundamentals at an early enough age. They put in their 10,000 hours on sandlots and playgrounds, but they practiced the wrong skills in the wrong way. Without coaching, they reinforced bad habits, and didn’t incorporate the skills that would’ve allowed them to benefit from their natural talents.

Some of the examples in Outliers, like Bill Gates and the Beatles, leave out the element of coaching altogether. If these outliers truly were self-taught, then I have to think that their innate abilities matter more than their 10,000 hours of practice.

There are lines in the chapter that kinda-sorta address these two problems. This is on page 40:

Of course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others.

And on page 42 he writes about how it takes a lot of support and encouragement for a young person to put in those 10,000 hours. It requires special programs, as well as some degree of financial sacrifice by the family — your daughter can’t be working at McDonald’s if she’s going to be a world-class violinist.

I see this with local gymnasts in particular. Their parents have to be all-in on the effort. My daughter Meredith’s best friend is an elite gymnast who goes to bed at midnight because she has hours of practice every evening. We discovered this when the girl came over for a sleepover; she couldn’t fall asleep, and her parents had to come pick her up in the middle of the night. (Meredith was out like a light and didn’t realize her friend had left until she woke up the next morning.)

Another reason I can’t get Outliers out of my head is because of something it does extremely well. It explains perfectly why I have the career I have, and why it’s no better or worse than it is.

Toward the end of the 10,000 hours chapter, he lists the birthdates of all the computer geniuses who became fabulously wealthy titans of modern industry and culture. All were born between 1953 and 1956. That was the perfect time for a computer-industry mogul to pop out of the oven.

I was born in 1957, at what I think was the absolute peak of the Baby Boom. No matter what I did, I competed with millions of Boomers trying to do the exact same thing. Journalism was a trendy career to pursue for a few years in the mid-1970s, and without knowing it was trendy, that’s what I went into. (It’s hard to stay on top of these things when you’re in high school in Festus, Missouri, with parents who’re so indifferent to your career that they never once ask about your test scores. To this day, I have no idea if I took the SAT or ACT. I just remember signing up at the last minute, paying for it myself, and catching a ride to the test center with classmates.)

Once I’d decided to be a writer, I went at it as hard as I could. I took creative-writing classes while I was in journalism school (thanks to geographic luck, I could attend a top J-school without paying out-of-state tuition), took jobs where I worked long hours and got lots of opportunities to try my hand at different types of reporting and commentary, wrote comedy sketches and screenplays and fiction in my spare time, and finally attended grad school for creative writing.

By the time I entered my current career track, fitness journalism, in my mid 30s, I’d logged my 10,000 hours in multiple disciplines. I had more than 1,000 articles published, more than 1,000 pages of fiction, more than 1,000 pages of sketches and scripts and screenplays, and who knows how many thousands of pages of journal entries. That’s aside from prolific correspondence, which I believe is a kind of practice — the literary equivalent of pick-up basketball.

All that served to get me to the middle of the publishing industry.

The one thing I did that was vaguely outlier-ish, without really knowing it at the time, was that I got into fitness before it was an actual trend. I can’t tell you the first time I picked up a barbell, but I’m pretty sure I started working out with my older brother’s weight set when I was 13, which would’ve been 1970. And I never stopped for more than a few months here or there. So by the time I got a chance to work for a fitness magazine in 1992, I’d not only put in my 10,000 hours as a writer and editor, but I’d logged thousands of hours in the gym as well.

That gave me one comparative advantage: There weren’t many trained and experienced journalists who wanted to specialize in fitness and exercise. Me, I was happy to specialize, once I realized the specialty existed, and once I saw the expanding opportunities in the field as adults grew interested enough in strength training to buy books on the subject.

Obviously, I’m not an outlier. I’m a mid-list author who’s happily employed and enjoys his work. Lots of books sell better than mine (as I’ve said, I’m just happy and flattered to see mine stay in print). But at least I now understand why my 10,000 hours didn’t make me one.

So that’s my take on Outliers: It’s a terrific book, entertaining and thought-provoking, with lots of lessons for all of us about our own careers and the future careers of our children. My only quibble is that I don’t think it gives enough credit to the importance of coaching for the ones who do rise to the top of their fields.

  • Lee

    I find it interesting that Bill Gates is considered an outlier. He created a company on software he bought and didn’t write, and made a lot of money. He did port the DOS operating system to the IBM format, but that is a far cry from writing the OS. So his 10,000 hours hacking away in high school was actually not all that relevant. I’m not sure however that a monkey that followed the same path would not have made about the same money, lets say within 20%.

    Imagine you are standing on the cap of a volcano and the volcano explodes and you go flying into the sky. Is it YOU that is flying or is it the energy imparted to you by natural circumstance? Shoot Bill Gates or a monkey off the top of a volcano and they will land roughly in the same spot. It’s just physics. I recall in 1993 Bill Gates coming out and describing a world that was dominated by CD-ROM. All the data we would need would be provided by CD-ROM. That was the same year I got my AOL account. Bill Gates basically missed the reality of the Internet. How can somebody who is an outlier and put in his 10,000 hours miss the Internet? Hell even a buffoon like Al Gore didn’t miss the Internet. That year the monkey was on the wrong volcano. Google is now creating a Hard Drive in the sky called the GDrive, where you store all your data in the sky on a Google server and that will basically make Microsoft obsolete. Any free OS will do, and any cheap $100 computer appliance will do, and you will be able to access all your stuff from anywhere in the world. There certainly are concerns about privacy and access and all that, but the point is the point, another volcano and Bill Gates and his 10,000 hours is not riding. The Gdrive is the antithesis of Microsoft. I heard a financial analyst discussing Microsoft last Friday. He called Microsoft a one trick pony, and not worth investing in.

    As far as coaching goes, certainly training for a specific goal has its own payoff. When I taught physics at university I would routinely get students (usually pre-med) who just wanted to know what was going to be on the test. They did not want to know physics. The calculation: Physics:Beer… Physics:Beer….—> just tell me what’s on the test and gimme a beer. In my experience what actually happens is the amount of effort you expend gets you to where you are going. Average effort expended in a conventional way gets you average results. In 1979 I took the MCAT. I was 29 and years out of college. I spent an entire 9 months prepping for that test. I had a full time job, actually 2 jobs, and that test. When I took that test I was ready to cream it. The guy next to me was all set to pass. By the end of the first session he was shocked. By the end of the second set he was reconsidering his profession. I scored in the top 1% that year and I suppose that could classify me as an “outlier” a few standard deviations removed from the mean, but I am not an outlier. My results were based on the fact I spent 9 months of intense goal directed activity. When I was in college I made an extra few bucks tutoring Physics Chemistry and Math. What I taught basically was how to think about the subject in a way that you could pass the test. As you try for more and more and more standard deeviations of difference that amount of energy you have to expend to get there goes up well exponentially, and it really has nothing to do with riding the cap of a volcano.

    I think this book is some joker trying to make a nickel by shaving a take off last year’s best seller, The Black Swan. The premise of that book will truly screw up your mind.

  • Lou,

    thanks a million for this post. You suceeded in illuminating the very thing that had been bugging me about the book. I love Malcom Gladwell’s writing. I love his ideas. But as much as I enjoyed Outliers I struggled with some of it.

    From my own perspective, I often have people along to workshops who have spent an extraordinary amount of time training themselves into compromise. They’ve watched the DVD, read the book and then performed their own version as part of their training. They’ve not had anyone to “correct” the fundamental mistakes.

    There’s research done on skill developemnt by Fitts and Posner that looks at the number of repetitions required to move a skill from conitive to autonomic. Up to 1000 hours represnets the cognitive phase, up to 10K the associative phase where mistakes are self corrected, 10K plus is autonomic territory.

    Ofcourse, if all you are doing is repeating an ineffective pattern the autonomic end product will still be crap!

    Later

    Rannoch

  • mad titan

    I believe a better book than outliers is “talent is overated” It addresses the questions you have and pretty much agrees with some of your conclusions. Outliers seems to be broad while talent is overated a more specific.

    MT

  • Hey Lou: Haven’t read the book, so what do I know, but I’m going to spout off anyway: is there a chicken/egg thing going on here? Do the people who have the gumption to stick it out and practice those 10,000 hours innately understand something about music that their less diligent peers do not?

    That is, can they hear or feel or otherwise intuit something in the music which others don’t, making them more likely to spend all that time at the keyboard or hovering over the standing bass or what have you, searching for something elusive in the music which they know is there but can’t quite bring forth yet?

    I’ve worked with a handful of very talented actors in my day, and when I rehearse with them I can tell they’re still after refining something in the playing of the text long after I’ve decided it’s good enough. I never can tell what they’re after, and the repetition doesn’t really improve my performance, but when the show opens they’re the ones who get the laughs and the great reviews.

    Gladwell’s theory (and I love how democratic he always is! It’s so comforting!) suggests that 10,000 hours of practice = virtuosity, and ‘innate gifts’ aren’t relevant. But perhaps it’s innate musical gifts –> 10,000 hours of practice = virtuosity. Possible?

  • Andrew, that makes perfect sense. I know when my kids practice music, they don’t have that quality at all. They just race through whatever it is they’ve been told to practice, say “done,” put their books away, and leave it at that.

    But getting back to coaching, they have just 20 minutes of instruction per kid per week. And neither parent can play music. Every now and then I’ll say, “Get back down there and play it right,” and they’ll go back and try a little harder. But it never sounds the same twice, and they never really try to make it sound the same. If they had more and better instruction, would they understand the difference between hitting keys on the piano in a particular sequence, and actually playing music?

    Conversely, when they do written assignments for school, Kimberly and I are a bit more hands-on. We know what good writing is supposed to look like, and we can offer tips that help them improve their work.

    Subsequently or coincidentally, the girls will sometimes practice writing on their own, with no one telling them to do it. Why? Is it innate? The result of a conscious or unconscious desire to emulate and/or please their parents? An effect of having on-site coaching? Some combination. None of the above?

    Who knows?

    Of all the theories, I think yours makes the most sense.

    Here’s a question, though: Are there any great actors without great acting coaches?

  • Lee

    < >

    Answer: Bill Clinton

    Jerry Pournelle is a sci fi author who used to be a physicist. For years his standard answer to people who ask him “how can I be a writer?” is “write a million words at the end you will be a writer” His feeling is that with spell checking and the grammar tools in the word processors you will learn how to spell and construct proper sentences. A million words is not a trivial amount of words, but it would be trivial if there was nothing to say.

    Music the way its generally taught, at least to my children is not so much about performance as it is about learning the building blocks (analogous to writing the million words), but I bet there will come a time when there is a song that engenders passion, and then you will see performance, but that does not really deal with the issue of the outlier does it?

    In one of your books you wrote about things like tendon insertions on the bone and muscle length etc and how that all came together. Lance Armstrong for example is basically 2 huge lungs on a bike, and Michael Phelps has a little short man’s legs hooked onto a long slender tall man’s torso. There is probably a reason those 7 ft Kenyans with the 4ft stride win marathons, so its not all hours and not all coaching. But I’m not sure a guy who is a second faster than 15 other guys is really an outlier.

  • Lee, speaking of athletic talent:

    One interesting thing Malcolm Gladwell writes is that there’s a point where enough is enough.

    He uses Michael Jordan as an example : When you’re 6’6″, you’re tall enough to be a basketball star. There’s no reason to think Jordan would’ve been a better player if he were an inch or two taller. He was tall enough to thrive in the NBA, and after that his talent, competitiveness, and willingness to outwork his competitors took over.

    Gladwell makes the same argument about IQ — at a certain point (I think it’s about 130, which is higher than mine but might be lower than yours), someone is smart enough to succeed in virtually any profession. When everyone in the office is smart enough, other qualities (including social skills and political savvy, along with the more obvious work habits) take over and determine who rises and who doesn’t.

    There are certainly some athletes who have absolute advantages over others — you mentioned Michael Phelps, with his freakishly long arms and torso and relatively short legs. Usain Bolt is another: the accelerative power of shorter sprinters combined with the limb length of a distance runner. Equal power plus longer stride length equals superior sprint performance.

    But in the example of African distance runners, you probably don’t find many absolute advantages. There are relative advantages due to genetics and climate (running at elevation from the time they take their first strides), but when thousands of people are born each year with similarly advantageous physiological traits, then something else determines who goes to the Olympics and who watches the Olympics on TV.

    My guess is that it’s a combination of what you said — writing a million words, or running a million strides — and having some kind of coaching. I don’t know enough about distance running to speculate on the degree to which coaches influence success, but I’d think the strides are non-negotiable.

  • lee

    Global warming: is it the sun or it is mankind, or is it humankinds burning of coal that melted the polar ice caps- on Mars

    outlier: is it the situation the actor is in or is it the actor?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error

  • Matt

    Just read this discussion, so sorry I am a little late.
    There is a subtle flaw in part of Gladwell’s explanation;there is a huge difference between good enough and likely. What I am referring to is how he defines good enough: 6’6 for the NBA, a 130 IQ for a Nobel Prize, etc. These are the necessary ‘thresholds’ for outstanding rules of achievement. BUT, I think you’d have a hard time convincing people that being beyond good enough, doesn’t help but increase your chances. Using the NBA example, you probably need to be about 6′-6’2 to be in the NBA and to be a superstar: Allen Iverson, Isiah Thomas, Lenny Wilkins, Stockton, etc. are all around there and are legendary players. But you REALLY have to be a spectacular athlete to make it that far at that size. The same level of talent on a guy who is 6’5 will go a lot further, as will that level of talent on a guy who is 6’10. Likewise, although there are nobel prize winners who have IQs in the 120s, and maybe went to a university only ranked in the top 100, it’s far more likely to be a nobel prize winner with an IQ of 160, having graduated from Harvard. Ironically, it is these guys who barely meet the minimums and still succeed who are the outliers; Gladwell gives the impression that anyone who is above the minimum is equally likely to succeed.
    I actually think this book is about the opposite of outliers; it’s more about people who are quite, but not excessively successful. Lou’s post is sort of funny; because I think he is exactly who the book is ACTUALLY about: a guy, who hasn’t won a Nobel Prize, or written the greatest book of the 20th century (NROL came out after 2000, right? 🙂 ), but is very good at what he does. This success is the result of a lot of labour, and enough (i.e. the minimum) level of talent, and some coincidences and luck along the way. But this person is hardly an outlier; they are just someone who is successful. In other words, if you want to be pretty good: work real hard, you’ll need a bit of talent, and a wee bit of luck.
    You’d be a fool to think though that the Jordans and Mozarts and Einsteins of this world are just examples of that pattern followed successfully. To share an anecdote I heard about Lance Armstrong that I think is somewhat related: in his prime, he had a V02 max in the 80s. One coach suggested that him sitting on the couch eating chips all day would give him a V02 max in the mid-high 60s; a level similar to that of the average person training their brains out. Just 10 000 hrs of work….puh-leeze.
    To be an outlier in results requires being an outlier in talent.

  • “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” – Vince Lombardi

    Great post.

  • I’ve just returned from a cruise in Alaska, and posted my observation of that cruise on my website (“Fat Nation, White Noise, Sloppy Language, and Other Observations). I referred in that piece to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, which I found intriguing, not so much for what it purports to advocate, but for the readiness with which readers are inclined to buy into his provocative premise — 10,000 hours.

    In high school I was mainly a four-sport jock, making all-state along the way, also finishing in the top ten percent of my class, but hardly a brain. The valedictorian flattered me by asking that I be his roommate in college. We took all the same college prep courses together so I agreed but had the feeling he would embarrass me to smithereens with his scholarship. It didn’t happen. He was pre-med and I was a chem major, with a bent towards literature.

    What I learned from that association was just how hard he worked. I worked hard but my God he was a machine. We were both in the top 3 percent of our class – I know that because of my draft board status, which was published – with him having an outstanding career in medicine and me having a similar career as an international corporate executive. Was either of us “outliers”? I don’t think so.

    Years later – now retired in my mid-thirties – I decided to get a Ph.D. in organization-industrial psychology to better understand corpocracy, which gave me fits.

    Without preliminary preparation, which differed with one of your contributors, I walked in and took my GRE examination at the age of 38 or sixteen years since college, and managed to score well enough to be accepted into the graduate program at a Florida state university.

    Two of my professors, knowing my background, asked me where I took my prep course for the GRE. One of the professors said he had taken the exam “three times,” scoring higher each time after assiduously studying in a GRE review course. Neither of these professors believed I could make an acceptable score without such preparation, finding it incredulous that I didn’t know such courses existed. Were they “outliers”?

    The comment about coaching resonates with me. When I was a sophomore in college, there was a core course, “Modern Literature, Greeks and the Bible” I was required to take. I liked to read but I wasn’t much into literature. My background was more oral history, as my family and clan was Irish American, a subculture that would have trouble putting 10,000 hours together collectively into anything. No “outliers” here.

    Anyway, I had to take a make up examination of James Joyce’s biographical novel, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” My professor chose to make it an oral examination, and was asking me questions, when I stopped him. “May I tell you what the book meant to me?” He agreed.

    When I finished, he said, “You understand Joyce, how do you explain that?” I answered, “I am Joyce,” as my Irish Catholic life was consistent with the authors. He asked me my major. I told him. He asked me what I was doing in science. I told him I was good at it.

    After a long pause, studying me, he said he wanted to recommend me for the Honors Program, which had an international reputation. He said it was based on this oral exam, and my naïve, open but cutting essays on such writers as Dostoyevsky, whom I had never heard of before this class, but whom I loved.

    I went home and told my Irish Roman Catholic railroad brakeman father what my professor recommended. “Can I ask you a question?” my da said, “you’re not a goddamn fag are you?”

    On his trains, he saw guys reading books like I was reading, unkempt and disheveled hanging on each other, and assumed that was my future. I stayed in chemistry.

    Years later, now in my fifties, still with the writing bug, I retired once again and wrote mainly books based on the changing nature of work, workers, the workplace and management, many times 10,000 hours, I would imagine, more as an avocation than vocation, returning pretty much to where my sophomore professor said I should be when I was twenty-years-old.

    The irony is that I’ve written some cutting edge books (e.g.. Work Without Managers 1990), but cannot say I’m a successful writer. I think “success” is exaggerated, and the idea of “outliers,” although appealing, is a bit meaningless. I would imagine there are far more people that fit my description than Gladwell’s typology.

    James R. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D.

  • Thanks Dr. Fisher. Interesting experiences. I didn’t prepare for my GRE either, but I regretted it. I did horribly on the math. That didn’t prevent me from getting into grad school for creative writing (it was USC, and I think they took anyone who could fill out a loan form), but it was a real wake-up call.

    Also interesting that you “got” Joyce. I read Portrait in high school, and found it foreign and bewildering. I later read Dubliners as an undergrad, and enjoyed it quite a bit more, although I still felt that detachment from the characters and situations.

    My mom used to tell us that, because we were suburban and middle class, we could relate to anyone, urban or rural, rich or poor, because we were in between the extremes. But as a reader, I always struggled to understand characters who were significantly different. Probably explains why my fiction writing never really worked.

  • Lee

    I spent a couple of months in China about 10 years ago. The experience was illuminating. On the one had I was totally alone in the experience. My hotel had 4 girls posted at the elevators. From those positions they were able to view every aspect of the halls connecting the rooms the round eyes were staying in. This floor was definitely devoted to round eyes. The nothing special elevator did not require an attendant much less 4 attendants. The place was about face, saving face. I was a true minority a round eye in the sea of oriental. In America we are all about time driven reality. In China that is no where to be seen. It is all about performance drive. The key to getting along is to change your psychology.

    Yet it wasn’t that different. A man I spoke to told me about his daughter. His beaming pride was beyond evident I saw mothers dragging their screaming brats by the hand through the department stores filled with crap. I saw the most capitalistic markets I’ve ever seen. Fast food shops everywhere, but the staple was noodles not hamburgers. The most interesting thing was the bicycle traffic. A thousand bikes, they moved like members of a hive. Every one anticipated automatically the movement of the hive, bikes not more than a foot apart. Had I joined the movement 500 would experience road rash in a microsecond. In the Nan Jing airport a 20 year old boy in a soldiers suit with an AK-47 and enough ammo to get the job done, patrolling the perimeter. Something I never saw in this country until 9-11-01

    I saw a building site being excavated. A new shiny back hoe, and next to it a guy with 2 buckets hanging on a stick, both moving dirt, because that was the job, move the dirt. Not move the dirt according to union rules. There was a purity about the people, non-cynical, fundamentally human, in some ways worthy of admiration.

    If you want to write fiction, I think this is the key. All mothers drag their screaming princes and princesses through the market. Tap into that and you tap into the universal female ethos. All fathers have great pride regarding their daughters. Likewise tap into those sentiments and communication follows.

    In the end all soldiers understand the bottom line.

    Do you really think you could relate to Paris Hilton? Would you need a shower afterward?

  • Chris

    The 10000 hour rule has haunted me as well.

    At 37 years old, I’ve figured that I have lived roughly 324120 hours, so 10000 hours would only be 1/30th of my life and that I’ve had about 32 bouts of 10000 hours. My question to myself is, how come I’m only good at whatever I do, and not great.

    Perhaps the “correct type of practice” that Gladwell mentions is the key. When I played guitar in my teens I noodled a lot without really learning anything new–I probably hit close to 5000 hours, but really only 1000 were used to improve. The rest was self-indulgent repetition. I could say the same for my running career, my triathlon experiences, chess, jazz piano playing, my years as a English major, and even my career as a teacher. I notice a quick peak where I get better than 80% of my colleagues/peers, but then can never seem to get through the last 20%.

    My flaw is the plateau effect that comes from slipping into complanceny. As I look back at everything that I became good at, but not great at, I see a pattern of becoming tired, frustrated, and easily distracted. Or probably more importantly, I just want to move on to something else.

    So at what I hope is at least the mid-point, (and hopefully less than a mid-point), in my life, the question becomes do I now take 10000 hours and learn to do something really well, or do I accept that the time to do this is now behind me.

    P.S. I come from a Catholic background and Joyce came easy to me as well. I could also say the same for Mark Twain because I grew up in Missouri and New Orleans.

  • Chris

    The 10000 hour rule has haunted me as well.

    At 37 years old, I’ve figured that I have lived roughly 324120 hours, so 10000 hours would only be 1/30th of my life and that I’ve had about 32 bouts of 10000 hours. My question to myself is, how come I’m only good at whatever I do, and not great.

    Perhaps the “correct type of practice” that Gladwell mentions is the key. When I played guitar in my teens I noodled a lot without really learning anything new–I probably hit close to 5000 hours, but really only 1000 were used to improve. The rest was self-indulgent repetition. I could say the same for my running career, my triathlon experiences, chess, jazz piano playing, my years as a English major, and even my career as a teacher. I notice a quick peak where I get better than 80% of my colleagues/peers, but then can never seem to get through the last 20%.

    My flaw is the plateau effect that comes from slipping into complanceny. As I look back at everything that I became good at, but not great at, I see a pattern of becoming tired, frustrated, and easily distracted. Or probably more importantly, I just want to move on to something else.

    So at what I hope is at least the mid-point, (and hopefully less than a mid-point), in my life, the question becomes do I now take 10000 hours and learn to do something really well, or do I accept that the time to do this is now behind me.

    P.S. I come from a Catholic background and Joyce came easy to me as well. I could also say the same for Mark Twain because I grew up in Missouri and New Orleans.

  • chris

    Complacency not complancency even though it does kind of make a nice pun with the word complain. Wouldn’t Joyce be happy :).

  • Ehren

    From what I understand, Chris, the thing that Gladwell claims will truly separate “success” from near-success is one’s passion for the skill being considered. By this token, if you read your own post, I think you will hear yourself saying that what blocks you from becoming an elitist is that you lack the right degree of passion for what you’ve been pursuing. In other words, I think you are saying that you know you will be great at something you are truly passionate about. My guess is that, after having put so many hours into some of those previous pursuits, some of those hours are bound to carry over, so you probably don’t have to put in 10,000 linear hours between now and when you become great at whatever it is you choose to do. Good luck to you in finding that pursuit.

  • Chris

    I would agree with your comment. Perhaps it has to do with personality. I’m easily distracted by many passions. Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods really only wanted one thing, I wanted about 10 at once. As for being great, since I’ve posted I have decided on one thing for the next few years, and I look forward to where it will go.

    As for the linear hours, you are probably correct as well. Once the kids are out of the house in about 13 years, I should be good to go for hopefully 20 years.

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