It’s a nice sunny Sunday as I write this, and I don’t feel like writing the usual stuff about SEO, websites, copywriting, and so on.
So I thought it might be nice to talk about how you master a subject, whether it be in business, the arts, sports, science, what-have-you.
You may have heard about a book titled, “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell in which he popularized the idea that 10,000 hours of appropriately guided practice was “the magic number of greatness.”
In other words, to really get on top of a subject or skill and master it, you need to put in that much time in diligent, targeted practice.
I have never actually read the book, but, apparently, that is a key premise contained in it according to several professionals I know who have read it and subscribe to that premise.
I don’t know about you, but to me that has a ring of truth to it. When I look back over several years and think of the people I know who were or are engaged in a variety of industries and activities, the ones who really stand out are the ones who put in a great deal of time in diligent study, practice and application in their respective fields of endeavor.
Of course there is such a thing as a prodigy – a person who just seems to come into life with an enormous gift in one of the arts, sciences, or business, etc.
But, let’s face it, most people aren’t prodigies. And the idea behind the 10,000 hours is that you don’t have to be a prodigy or have outstanding natural talent. But…
You Have to Put in the Time if You Expect to Master a Particular Field or Skill.
Earlier on, I was involved in music. I played guitar and had an inclination toward jazz. I also played blues and rock and pop, etc., but I was intrigued by jazz improvisation, melodies and harmonic structure.
There was a guitar player who’d been around for awhile named Lenny Breau who I had heard of, and who was supposedly an incredibly gifted jazz guitarist, but could also play just about any style of guitar: jazz, country, bluegrass, flamenco, classical.
I met Lenny in Montreal when we were both backing up singers in a nationally televised musical event featuring a variety of singers, musicians and bands. Afterwards, Lenny invited me to visit him in his hotel room so we could do some musical “jamming.” I said, “sure.” I wanted to see and hear what he had going on.
Let’s just say it was INCREDIBLE.
This guy was a monster guitar player, musician, innovator. He recorded an album live at a jazz club in Los Angeles where every heavy-weight guitar player in the L.A. basin who was anybody came to hear him. By all reports he blew their minds!
Mr. Guitar, Chet Atkins, has been reported as saying that Lenny was the Chopin of guitar and the greatest (at that time) living guitarist. Wes Montgomery who was a famous jazz guitarist was greatly impressed by Lenny and told singer/jazz guitarist George Benson that he had to check Lenny out. And so it went.
Unfortunately, Lenny had a heavy drug problem. So he never became well known outside of musician’s circles, and his musical career never really took off.
But, man, could that guy play! In hindsight, I wish I had met up with him again before he died much too young.
To the point… yes, Lenny had a musical gift. But he also practiced CONTINUALLY. He was always practicing, working on tunes, playing, jamming, practicing. He had already put in MORE than 10,000 hours by the time I met him.
I like to trade the markets in the morning, specifically futures – index futures, foreign exchange futures, sometimes gold or oil. I started out trading stocks and the forex markets, but found futures much more to my liking. After my initial rocky start, I’m moving along nicely.
To the point again… The best, most successful traders I’ve ever met have all put in their 10,000 hours or more learning their trading platform software, studying the markets, practicing simulated trading (not live trades), and then actual live trading.
Some even blew out two trading accounts before getting their act together, then went on to make a lot of money. I don’t recommend blowing out your trading account, obviously, but they stayed with the program and became successful.
What about guys like Steve Jobs? Or how about Elon Musk who co-founded PayPal and also created Tesla Motors and SpaceX. Yes, Steve was, and Elon is, a very gifted individual… but they also put in the hours, you can bet on it.
What about writers? Again, the best have put in thousands of hours writing. Successful writers enjoy writing, and they write!
What about great athletes? Sure, some of them have oodles of natural talent. But the GREATS, put in the hours, too, believe it.
Obviously, if you are going to put in the hours it takes to master a skill or subject, you better like what you are doing. Enjoying what you do and really being interested in it is the key that enables you to stick with it and put in the hours necessary to master it.
How long does 10,000 hours take to accumulate? If you worked at your chosen profession, art, skill or subject 40 hours a week for 50 weeks (taking two weeks off), you would have put in 2,000 hours.
The good news is that, while it takes 10,000 hours to MASTER something, as you progress, if you stick with it, you get better and better and better. So you can measure your progress and enjoy the journey well before reaching 10,000 hours.
And that’s what makes it FUN.
So… if you really want to master something, don’t just dabble. Decide to be a professional and JUST DO IT.
Written by Bob Nelson
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