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10,000 Hours or Bust

10,000 Hours or Bust

I love the 10,000-Hour Rule.   I love its simplicity and its “what word did you not understand?” clarity. You want to be good at committmentsomething? Then plan to spend 10,000 hours of practice to get to the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert. I did the math. 10,000 hours is equivalent to 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year with no vacation, for nearly 5 years. Sub-text: “A lot of hard work.”

Call me gullible but 10,000 hours sounds about right to me. I’m not looking for loopholes or shortcuts nor will I quibble about the number of hours it might actually take.  I don’t wish to waste precious hours and besides, there are plenty of experts already in that ring fighting it out. I have spent nearly fifteen years working in the realm of HR, five of them with Doctors Without Borders and the change I have to bring about has only just begun. I am now creating something that I can’t yet define that will allow me to continue what I love, share what I have learned and bring worlds together. The struggle now becomes one of transformation and redefinition and this is where I choose to spend my hours. I am fully on board with the rule’s concept and accept its premise and challenge.

As I move forward on this overgrown and scary path of creating a new life, I find that much of my mental meandering time is spent pondering the mechanics of the 10,000-Hour Rule. My meanderings are about how the rule remains relevant and true for those of us who have looked up to find the horizon closer than we ever imagined it would be. In response to this every-creeping horizon many of us now stand with a machete in hand, whacking away to forge a new path.

A natural first meandering is to ask “what might I have already done for 10,000 hours?” Who wants to start from scratch and frankly, how cool would it be to have achieved the level of expert without even realizing it? To have achieved the level of mastery simply because we have been around the block a few times would be most welcome news. I was able to bring to mind a few careers, hobbies and physiological functions like sleeping, eating and breathing that might come close but when I add the qualifiers of “deliberate” and “intentional” hours, nothing comes to mind.

While babysitting the house of some friends, I found myself with time, a desire to procrastinate, and Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers on the bookshelf. I now consider these events to have been the opportunities that led me to read the fine print to the 10,000-Hour Rule. I turned to Chapter Two and within minutes the thought occurred that indeed, I had been gullible. Mr. Gladwell’s featured experts had achieved mastery by the time they were young adults.

It was a natural fight reaction to jump to the “am I too late?” question. I was comforted by the fact that the women in my family live a very long time if they take care of themselves and stay out of traffic. But I was more comforted by the instinctive knowledge that age is not a valid constraint to the rule. When I read about experts in general, it is apparent that most of them have spent their deliberate and intentional hours practicing something that brought them joy. Translation: it is never too late for the pursuit of happiness.

Supporting the rule’s sub-text, Mr. Gladwell offers hope. In the “achievement is talent plus preparation” equation, “the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” This bodes well for those of us holding machetes. We have preparation on our side. Deliberate or not, we have logged practice hours in a variety of areas that will only serve as we forge ahead.

The real silver lining that the rule’s fine print bestows concerns opportunity, extraordinary opportunity.   In the lives of Mr. Gladwell’s featured experts, they were granted extraordinary opportunities that allowed them to accrue practice hours early in life: supportive parents, community support, and what some might call coincidences and others might call fate.

After reading the fine print I am certain that it is opportunity which will keep the 10,000-Hour Rule relevant and true for those clearing new paths. As adults, we are no longer dependent on our parents. We take what we have and do what all parents want their children to do: to do better than they did. We have the power to create and design our communities. We can create communities that act as our foundation and will be as strong as we build them to be. We can build communities in alignment with our values and include honest and supportive individuals who allow us to benefit from their practice hours. We stand on the shoulders of others and help others to stand on ours.

As for coincidence or fate, thankfully, these moments happen all the time in life. In fact, I firmly believe we have the power to create them. The trick is to recognize these moments for what they are when they appear: doors of opportunity.   Doors of all sizes surround us as we go about our day. Some are obvious and swing wide open showing a well-lit path while others are small and easy to overlook. The door is shut and requires action on our part to discover that it is unlocked and the light switch easy to locate.

Enjoy your pursuit of happiness and the 10,000 hours in that thing that makes time just disappear. And remember, as important as the hours are, it is even more important to create your opportunities, recognize the doors around you as opportunities and do what can be a very scary thing, actually walk through them.

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Catherine has been working in and around the Human Resources field as a generalist since starting her career oh so many years ago. In the more recent years she worked with a non-profit organization that provided support services to children and families in crisis where she began to see firsthand that sometimes people just need help. Currently she is working with Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders ( as an HR and Finance generalist. She travels to the countries that MSF sends her to and does her best to support the MSF staff as they provide the help that is so desperately needed in this world.

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