Get Your 10,000 Hours In

I went to go see the Vogue Charity Fashion Show for the first time this year, and for the entirety of the show, I sat in my seat transfixed by the magic of it all. I was absolutely blown away by all that was happening on stage and I had one thought in my head for the entire night: there is an overwhelming amount of talent at Queen’s. I was mesmerized by every pose, every dance move, and every note sung. It brought me back to the Queen’s Dance Club year-end showcase I had attended at the end of last year where I had the same thoughts. It brought me back to the rendition of The Nutcracker that I watched at the National Ballet of Canada this past Christmas break where I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the stage for fear of missing a pirouette or leap. I also remember thinking, “I wish I had something like that in my life. I wish I had a talent that would allow me to get up stage.” I craved the adrenaline rush and the feelings of euphoria they were probably feeling as they were in the spotlight on stage.

I also had the realization that this talent – this ability to get up on stage and impress a crowd – did not just come from nowhere. I couldn’t just get up there and do the same without making a huge fool out of myself.

I was reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule. He talked about this concept in his book, Outliers, which I had just finished reading over the reading week (probably the only reading I did). The rule essentially says that if you put in 10,000 hours of practice to develop a certain skill, whether it is playing the violin, coding, or dancing, this will allow you to become a master at the skill. You will become "world-class" or an "expert." In his book, he gave examples of how playing 8-hour nightly gigs in Hamburg led the Beatles to their success later on and how being able to use a computer in his teen years is what allowed Bill Gates to do what he did later on in life with Microsoft.

This idea was fascinating to me. There is a bit of controversy around it, some of the biggest concerns being the lack of consideration of genetics, when you start practicing the skill, and how you practice.

But one thing still remains to be true: it takes many years of concerted effort and practice to become a true expert in a field. While the 10,000 hour figure may be an oversimplification or just a catchy number, one thing it does represent is the large amount of time it will take to become world-class. That is what they mean by putting your blood, sweat and tears into something. That is what they mean by saying, “Practice makes perfect."

I’m sure that the dancers on stage at the Vogue Charity Fashion Show spent more than their fair share of time in practices, in rehearsals, and in lessons. They likely had to go through plenty of bumps in the road before arriving on stage. I’m sure that all the greats of the world – the great painters, the great violinists, the great hockey players – had their moments of defeat and their moments of humility before reaching their moments of glory. I’m sure that there were days where they had 12-hour practices, days where they questioned their talent and ability, and days where all they had to think about was their craft. Those days eventually accumulated into years, and through years of practice and hard-work came the mastery.

The main point that I want to stress is that I’m sure all of you have one thing that you really enjoy in life. Hopefully, that is also something that you want to become really good at and that you want to keep doing for a really long time.

To do that, you need to get those hours in. Maybe it’ll be 10,000 hours. Maybe it’ll be 5000. The point is that you have to do it. You have to be intentional about your practice and figure out what kind of practice works best for you. Mastery does not come from sitting around, waiting for it to happen. The first step towards mastery comes from picking up the brush or the guitar.

The greats did not get to where they are without the sweat and tears.

The idea of 10,000 hours seems daunting, I know, but if the skill or craft is truly something that you want to work on, it won’t feel like a chore all the time.

I personally have always loved writing, and while I have not been counting how many hours I’ve accumulated over the years, I’ve definitely had the chance and my share of opportunities to practice it. Growing up, for about seven years, I participated in writing contests for short-stories and poetry, which allowed me to practice creative writing. In high school, I wrote for the school’s newspaper, which was another opportunity. Coming to Queen’s, I write for Her Campus on a bi-weekly basis and I write for the Queen’s Business Review within the Commerce Society. On the side, I like to journal and write for my blog. All this has definitely added up to many hours of writing.

Writing has become part of my personal brand.

Whichever skill or craft you take on and own will eventually become part of yours and part of what you can bring to the table. It will become what you are known for. It will become your selling point.

The key is just to get the hours in and to get the practice in any way you can. That is how you can get up on stage and blow a crowd away. That is how you can become the next Bill Gates or Sidney Crosby.