Practice makes perfect, and apparently, 10,000 hours is the magic number. That's how long it takes to be an expert in any given field. At least that's Malcolm Gladwell's claim in Outliers, a book about how there is more to people's success than meets the eye. It's not just talent that makes people successful; it is hard work and determination. Mr. Gladwell provided a few examples, including the Beatles long residency at a club in Hamburg, Germany, playing every night for over a year, along with the amount of time Bill Gates put into his programming skills growing up. The claim was that both were successful due to the long hours, not just raw talent.
So, I thought to myself, what would it take for me to be an expert in a new area of study at this point in my life?
My life had to lead me down different paths. I specialized in skills that were more practical to my success as a marketer, but I always fantasized about being a world-famous musician. Now, as far as musicianship goes, I’m a somewhat competent drummer. I’ve been playing for many years and put most of my efforts into the art, but I’ve always wanted to be a world-famous guitarist. I had a natural talent for drumming, so that’s what I was known for and continued to develop. The problem is that drumming is a supporting role, it’s nearly impossible to take the lead as a drummer, but I always dreamed of being a guitarist. I imagined myself as a great and powerful guitar god, playing with such speed, grace, and virtuosity to thousands of screaming fans with a mighty band of musical minions backing me up. Alas, my journey was spent beating on drums and cymbals, but is it too late to achieve guitar god status?
If I followed Malcolm Gladwell’s claim of 10,000 hours, with my current work and family activities, I calculate that it would take just about twenty-seven years to reach expert status if I practiced an hour each day. I would be at the very top of my game only in time for retirement. By then, I’d have all the time to tour around like an old guitar master. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a lot of interest in seeing an old rocker they’ve never heard before. Is there a way to speed this up?
I already have about 700 hours of practice under my belt. So, I only have 9,300 more to go. That equates to about twenty-five years. Again, I’ll be ready when I retire. I could be more efficient with my practices and push myself each time. Maybe instead of focusing on quantity, I concentrate my efforts on the quality of my practice sessions. That might shave a few thousand hours off to becoming a mighty guitar god. Instead of noodling around with pieces that I already exhibit a high proficiency level, I would work on challenging parts, creating goals, and a plan. Maybe I could add a few extra hours, add some on the weekends, and multi-task during the week. While watching TV, I could work on fingering some scales to gain speed and skill. I found a way to bump my practices to roughly twenty hours a week and created a well laid out plan with strict yet achievable goals. I bet I could squeeze it down to five years. That would be more like it, a late forties rock guitar god.
Honestly, though, I would settle for just being a middle-aged blues guy who jams with his buddies on the weekends. I guess all I really want is to be good enough to hang with all my talented friends without being behind a drum set and actually leading and propelling jams. I wish it was as easy as downloading a program directly into your brain, similar to how Neo learned martial arts in the Matrix movie.
Brian Lundgren is a marketing professional, musician, and family man living in the Southeast region of Massachusetts.