Doing the work, 10,000 hours or more

Doing the work, 10,000 hours or more

If you have read any kind of economic theory or even just some self-help books, you are probably familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour theory, which he unpacks in his book Outliers: the story of success (2008). In short, Gladwell argues that to be truly successful in something, you need to spend 10,000 hours doing that one thing. Even though I don’t believe Gladwell’s argument is foolproof from all angles, I do hold on to some aspects thereof.

At a recent dinner party, a friend mentioned how much he despised swimming at school. He felt cheated, spending what he felt like was his entire school career dedicated to it, but not having much to show for it. To give you an idea, he had spent 2-3 hours training every day. When making the sum, he had in actual fact probably spent 800 or fewer hours swimming, a measly 8% of Gladwell’s required time for success.

Very few of us consider our careers and paths to “success” with such a clinical affinity for calculating hours. However, some careers make it a little easier to do as you are slowly but surely guided to hit your 10,000 hour mark in order to practice professionally. Let me use a doctor as an example:

  • At some point, you pick the subjects you are going to specialise in at school which will allow you to study medicine (in this case biology and science which are quite difficult subjects…or at least they were for me). You attend classes, complete projects and class tests, and write numerous exams.
  • After school, you apply to study medicine. You don’t get accepted first time around and do a casual 2-3 years studying towards a general science degree, whilst reapplying to medical school every year until you are accepted (I personally know more than one person that had to take this route).
  • Finally, you are accepted into medical school and study towards being a doctor for 6 years. At the end of this, you have been studying for 8 years or more!
  • Thereafter you are required to complete an internship of 2 years at a state institution and finally 1 last year of community service.*

I don’t actually know if this is 10,000 hours, but you get the idea…it’s a heck of a long time and by the time you have completed these steps, you haven’t even started raking in the hours to success as a young doctor.

My career, and in actual fact that of a lot of “creative” Millenials, looks NOTHING like this. I didn’t specialise my subjects at school. In fact, I wrestled through science to the end, for no other reason than “keeping my doors open” when I knew I was never going to be a doctor, vet or actual badass scientist…on account of my talents laying elsewhere. I left home at 06:45 in the morning and arrived back at 18:00 (or later) every day. I joined every committee and did ALL the extra-murals, whilst trying my best to stay an a-grade student. This pattern pretty much continued into my future studies and thereafter into my professional career. So I have spent at least 10 000 hours…diversifying.

I’m not drawing this comparison because I feel like I wasted my own time or necessarily wish that I had specialised in something. On the contrary, I think that project and time management are some of my strongest professional skills due to my logistical nightmare of a personal life. I am an actor/performer now (most of the time), and in between those subjects at school was dramatic arts, after school I was mostly rehearsing a play, attending ballet or extra drama classes. And I went on to study Theatre and Performance (with an additional 3 years of postgraduate studies in Afrikaans literature…again because I have a diversification addiction). What I am trying to say, is that no one thing has had 10,000 hours of my time. Though even if I had spent 10,000 hours preparing to be the best actor I can be, here lies the sucky bit: Our industry is one of fame and sometimes instant success. For others, like myself, it is one of hard work and dedication to your craft. Quietly honing your skills one project at a time, whilst working yourself to the bone to stay afloat financially. It is difficult and sometimes one is very discouraged to reach the 10 000 hour goal when it seems like some around you are hand-selected to receive a free pass reading:

This individual need not complete the 10,000 hours. Permission to pass straight to success. 

The entertainment industry and the arts aren’t unique and of course, this happens across the board where human judgement is the ruler over promotion vs technical skills/requirements. I have just learnt the importance of asking myself whether I have put in the proverbial 10,000 hours. Not necessarily because of some deeply ingrained Calvinist doubt in my ability, but rather to put things into perspective. It might seem a bit cynical, but life is not fair and realising that and keeping my head down and putting in the hours, has helped me grapple with that fact. Almost certainly, someone else is looking at me thinking I have also received a free pass of some kind. Do the time, serve the hours and take note of the free passes you were indeed granted.

*This is the requirements set by the South African government.

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