10,000 hours


hard work ninjaI wrote a while back about mastering a craft. Any craft, as long as it is something for which we are passionate. The sense of accomplishment and the absolute thoroughness with which we understand something – so much that it becomes a part of us – has no equal.

I recently picked up the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The second chapter is one of the most simultaneously inspiring and terrifying parts of the book. The author makes the claim that in order to truly master an art or a craft, one must practice that specific task for 10,000 hours.

10,000 hours

Think about that. If you practice for eight hours a day, seven days a week, it will take you 1,250 days, which is 178.5 weeks, which is 3.4 years. 8 hours/day, 7 days/week. And don’t forget about social obligations – family, friends – and, oh yeah! You have to make money during this time. And did you want weekends off? You can do the math at this point because the lessons from Algebra 3 have abandoned me.

Gladwell asserts his claim through the examination of influential people throughout history, notably Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and The Beatles, and discusses how, through a combination of opportunity and drive, they achieved their 10,000 hours of practice before they achieved greatness. Even Mozart, he says, who started composing music at the age of six, didn’t truly become a master composer until he had been practicing for 10 years. And he didn’t produce his “greatest work” until he had been practicing for 20.


a master of one

Jeff Goins discusses this concept with one of his recent blog posts, Why Being a Jack of All Trades Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be. In the post, he references one of my favorite books, The 50th Law by Robert Greene, and its reference to the same principle:

The fools in life want things fast and easy ā€“ money, success, attention. Boredom is their great enemy and fear. Whatever they manage to get slips through their hands as fast as it comes in. You, on the other hand, want to outlast your rivals. You are building the foundation for something that can continue to expand.

To make this happen, you will have to serve an apprenticeship. You must learn early on to endure the hours of practice and drudgery, knowing that in the end all of that time will translate into a higher pleasure ā€“ mastery of a craft and of yourself. Your goal is to reach the ultimate skill level ā€“ an intuitive feel for what must come next.

That quote is amazing, and props to Goins for including it in his post. He then goes on to pose the question: Is it better to be a jack of all trades or pursue mastery? Eighty-three responses (as of now) flesh out the blog post with tons of interesting perspectives and ideas, all with their own merit for either side of the coin.

What are your thoughts? Do you want to put your 10,000 hours toward one goal, toward one task, or would you rather have a broader distribution of knowledge about many things? I think in part it depends on your profession and circumstance. But no matter what you do for a living, no matter your situation, I believe the readers of this blog (you) can find a way to get to 10,000 hours if you so choose. It just may take a bit longer than 10 years…

For myself, I choose mastery. I choose 10,000 hours. In a way I have to choose mastery. My craft demands no less and I would never think of under-delivering. People can see through crap. And my shit’s gonna be opaque.


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6 Responses to “10,000 hours”

  1. Marthel Marty McMurray March Says:

    What are we striving for? All of this mastery…for what? “All is vanity”, says the preacher, “and striving after the wind.” !0,000 hours contrasted with eternity. Take your time, the world will not be that impressed; but God , on the other hand, as your Creator,is interested, and He is watching. He can even see through opaque.

    • Jeff Hirz Says:

      Excellent thoughts!

      However, I don’t want to confuse mastery with vanity. Vanity comes with the hypocrite, with the dilettante. Mastery comes with embracing something so fully, making something so a part of you that you dedicate your life (or a part of your life) to it – that is inherently humbling. After all, how can we master something – TRULY master it – without being humbled before it? The more we learn, the more we realize how much we don’t know.

      And my goal is not to impress the world. However, in order for me to achieve success in the world I’m forging for myself through my actions, I have to impress SOMEONE! šŸ™‚

  2. Kerwin Says:

    And do not forget it is 10000 hours of correct practice!

  3. Marthel Marty McMurray March Says:

    Ah! You cut me to the quick. My comment was not meant to be so shallow as to impugn or suggest that vanity as defined by hypocrisy was the mere goal of either the existential pursuit, or your personal pursuit of mastery. I was addressing the ‘Yikes!’ element of the pursuit.
    Vanity as defined by the preacher was an emptiness linked to the futility inherent even in a completion of excellence. He was a man of accomplishment who explored, pursued and mastered what he gave himself to in numerous endeavors, and yet wisdom showed him emptiness was the inevitable end he experienced for all his superlative efforts. A testimony to the beauty, wealth and excellence of his kingdom as defined by his accomplishments and his wisdom was such that the Queen of Sheba, of no small renown in the world at that time, pronounced after seeing it that the half had not been told to her.
    He acknowledged there is reward to be found in the exercise of one’s labors, but that it is the gift of God for a man to be content with eating and drinking from the fruit of his own labor, and to be satisfied with the good things God gives him, and that this is no small reward in the large scheme of life.
    “A man’s gift make room for him, and brings him before great men.” Prov 18:16 Yes, someone will be impressed, of this you can rest assured. I do understand it is not your goal to impress the world, but I also understand why it is your goal to impress someone. But your Creator, who knows your frame and your inner workings, is genuinely impressed with who you are before you do anything, because He does all things well, and He does not create an ‘Oops!’, which is a good thing to remember when times get hard.
    “The conclusion of the preacher’s teaching when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” Eccl 12:13,14 This, I think, is the essence of true humility, that is, understanding our position, and Who it is we are to follow. Though many, many things in this life are humbling, and in truth as you said, the more we know, the more we realize how much we don’t know, I think the preacher’s conclusion is the beginning of true humility, and I think, for reasons I will not explain in this reply, I probably choose a broader distribution.
    There is much more to said on all of this, but it is late, and I’m off to the land of nod. Thanks for the conversation. Uncle Jim

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