What would you do with ten thousand hours?
It’s a serious question. If you were granted an extra 14 months, 417 days to spend however you wanted, how would you spend them? Maybe you’d use the spare time to travel home and visit your family or maybe you’d use it to catch up on the work you’ve been putting off until the last minute. To binge-watch that show on Netflix that everyone’s been raving about. To sleep. Maybe you might even use it to learn a new skill, or to strength-train an old one. After all, who among us hasn’t desperately wished for more hours in the day? Imagine having ten thousand!
Ten thousand hours is how much time author and renowned pop-psychologist Malcolm Gladwell says is necessary for one to become an expert in their field. Gladwell popularized his now infamous 10,000 Hours rule in his book Outliers, where he extolled the necessity of practicing in order to excel. The theory states that people who are “masters” at what they do put in ten thousand hours of work before they could claim the title, so whatever it is you want to master, you just have to do it for ten thousand hours. Simple enough, right?
But as with all popular ideas, his has faced intense scrutiny, with criticism coming in over his interpretation of the original study and accusations of oversimplification. Although his rule is highly divisive and has been contested and “debunked” by dozens of sources, the overall moral of the story still stands: to succeed, one must put in a lot of work over a long time.
Being raised in a highly technological age, we struggle often with the idea of “delayed gratification”. Patience is not something that comes easily to us because we don’t often need to use it. We get notified instantly of messages from friends, we get two-day shipping with Prime, and every internet carrier boasts high speeds. And having all that immediate access means more is expected of us by our parents, teachers, and bosses. Our to-do lists become too long to handle, and that leaves little precious free time for us to pursue hobbies or self-improvement endeavors. So we want those ten minute ab workouts, and we want to see that six pack by the end of the week, or else we give up.
Contrary to common belief, the giving up does not come from a place of laziness, but rather a place of self-preservation. Our brains tend to steer us away from things that can hurt us, and that includes emotional pains as well. And what hurts more than failure? It ruins our self-esteem, makes us second guess ourselves, and fills us with guilt and fear. If we start a project and don’t see any kind of result right away, our brains, anticipating a failure, warn us to jump ship. If we don’t see some success after ten hours, why would we do it for another nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety?
Yet Gladwell’s ten-thousand hour “masters” manage to do it. So what makes them different from the rest of us?
The answer is nothing. People who are at the top of their field feel the same trepidation, get the same messages from their brains to walk away and give up…they just don’t. They suffer set-backs and small failures day in and day out, but they push forward until they succeed, because they have something bigger than their fear: their passion.
Without passion, we can do nothing. Passion is what motivates us to do everything, big or small. We may not think of what we’re doing as being passion-driven, but it always is at the root. Sure, you may not have passion for doing your homework, but you do it because you are passionate about your GPA. It’s that same passion which sustains us through ten thousand hours of repetitious practice until we succeed. And that passion can only be found in challenging ourselves.
Nelson Mandela once said, “There is no passion to be found…in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” If we find ourselves settling because we are afraid to fail, we cannot find passion to overcome obstacles. Fear in one area of our life can hold us back in all others. You know what you’re capable of; don’t set goals that allow you to coast through life just because it’s easy and comfortable. The only way to be an all-around success is to set high standards and capitalize on your passion.
There’s an age-old saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day. That saying doesn’t just refer to the city itself, but to the entire empire. You can’t make history overnight. Greatness takes time. No one ever woke up one day and found that they were suddenly successful. It was days, weeks, months, or years of working to the brink of exhaustion before they saw the fruits of their labors. So don’t feel discouraged if you have to work longer and harder than you thought: it’s normal, and it means you’re on the right track. Just hold on tight to your passion and let it push you into the future of your dreams– even if it takes ten thousand hours to get there.