Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By David Bornstein
The Good Word 

10,000 Hours


When I was much, much younger I desperately wanted to be a musician.  It was something my parents never encouraged, and I didn’t have any close friends who missed hanging out in the afternoon because of their music lessons.  But I loved music. I loved the piercing sound of an electric guitar, the thrum of a bass guitar, the blast of a saxophone.  So I tried. I tried them all—guitar, sax, mandolin, bass. I even went so far as to take harmonica lessons, because I thought, “That at least I can master.” And in each case my instructor told me to practice at least a half hour a day, and I’d see improvement. Soon I’d be good.

But I wanted to be great. And what no one told me, what no one really knew at the time, is that there’s a general indicator of greatness based not on genius or innate ability or a prodigy’s luck, but on time—10,000 hours, to be precise.  For the normal Joe or Jane who practices a half hour a day, that equates to almost 55 years before greatness is achieved. And that’s a long time to wait.

In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell makes the observation, based on numerous studies and case histories, that the difference between the first-chair violinist at Juilliard and the fourth-chair violinist at Kennesaw State may not be the natural musicianship of the individual, but how long it took them to reach 10,000 hours of practice. The child who sits in his or her room playing guitar for six or eight hours a day has a far better likelihood of becoming the next Eric Clapton by the time they’re in their early twenties than the child who practices the standard half hour to hour a day. It’s as simple as that.

Which leads to a few equally simple, and deeply profound questions we all ought to ask ourselves. What are we great at, and at what do we want to be great?

As American adults there’s something most of us are, if not great at, completely natural and at home with. What’s that? What great skill do we all share? (No, it’s not sleeping.) While it’s an important one, it’s also something that will both get us somewhere and anowhere at all.

Driving. From the age of 15 (in some cases earlier) we’ve been driving and driving, and put in thousands of hours without thinking about the effort involved. While we may not like the aggressiveness or thoughtlessness or bad habits of many drivers, we also drive cars without hesitation, fear, or concern.  We’re good at it.

In my personal case, while I gave up every instrument I tried to play, I have been writing since I was very young, and I’d like to think that my proficiency at this point is due, in part, to the fact that I’ve put in the requisite 10,000 hours (or more).

For those of you with desk jobs, for those who have been practicing law or medicine or actuarial work since you graduated from college, it’s ok for you to stretch back and acknowledge, if not your greatness, at least your high level competency and professionalism at this stage in your life (assuming you’ve worked at it and cared about it and have some brains going in, of course).

But it’s the second question I want you to consider. We make choices throughout our lives regarding how we spend our personal time. Outside of work. For ourselves. It may be practicing an instrument. It may be parenting, or shopping, or reading, or exercising or fishing or watching TV or driving around. But whatever it is, we spend a good amount of time doing it. And if we wanted, if we chose to take an hour every day to do something that made us better, imagine what kind of great we would eventually be.

Imagine if we spent an hour a day committed to study of the Torah or other religious texts? Imagine if we took an hour and devoted it to spiritual growth, or to helping those in need, or to learning about the universe, or the myriad questions about God and existence. Sure, this is heady stuff, but wouldn’t it be amazing, life changing, life affirming, if we dedicated an hour a day, and in a quarter century attained a level of human greatness that we otherwise never would have achieved?

The choice of how we spend our time is, of course, up to each of us. But the ability to become great? That is within each of us. 10,000 hours. That’s all it takes.

And that’s the good word.

The opinions in this column are those of the writer and not the Heritage or any other individual, agency or organization. Send your thoughts, comments, and critiques to the Heritage or email dsb328@gmail.com.


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