Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ten Thousand Hours

I just read a fascinating book by Malcolm Gladwell called "Outliers". I could rave about the whole thing but really, you should just read it yourself. There's too much interesting stuff to go into here, but basically he's writing about how there's no such thing as a self-made man; that our background and economic class and antecedents and culture help to shape us into successes or failures (or pilots who crash planes- see, there's even a chapter about plane crashes! I have a morbid fascination with plane crashes so I couldn't help but be hooked).
But in one chapter, Gladwell mentions the theory of 10000 hours, which I've read about elsewhere, in Daniel Levitin's very cool "This is Your Brain on Music". Meaning that ten thousand hours of work is what it takes for pretty much anyone to become an expert at anything. Ten thousand hours of math. Or painting. Or practicing, say, the accordion. The theory being that there are no 'prodigies' or 'geniuses' but rather people who apply themselves while others slack off. Oh sure, there are some people who are innately more talented than others. But ten thousand hours is the great equalizer: after you've put in that much hard work you are going to be damn good, whatever you do, or so the theory goes.
I like the democracy of this theory, but it daunts me too. I am coming to the end of my first week in this Career Evolutions course I'm doing, and all this self-evaluation is waving some uncomfortable truths in my face, even though my facilitator is encouraging and supportive.
I can be lazy. I can be easily discouraged. I would rather seek the new shiny thing than apply myself to the old standby which has lost its novelty. And yeah, I know that these bad qualities are hardly unique to me, that I'm in good company. But it strikes me that there's really no outside fix for this stuff. The hard work lies with me; I must make changes within myself or all these golden opportunities I have will pass me by.
But I AM learning some wisdom in my old age. I am slowly learning not to get too discouraged by these harsh truths and to focus on the baby steps rather than the big picture. Need to network? Start attending the city's Squeezebox Circle to meet other accordion players. Want to write? Spend a little time doing some form of writing, even if it's just blogging. Sketch out the idea for a song. Don't get discouraged if nothing clicks right away. Revisit later. Read new books rather than lazily re-reading the same old favorites. Squirrel away new ideas and phrases for future songs. Don't beat yourself up if you're too tired/run-down to jog; go for a walk instead.
Although I am still worried about money and work, I am encouraged to see that I'm not wasting time getting depressed and upset, as I have in the past. I feel so incredibly lucky to have the time to do all this self-evaluation and exploration. I'm writing songs with an incredible person who can teach me a lot about creative songwriting and expression. I have the time to play my guitar, to write, to go for long walks, to learn how to drive (I took the car out on the road today! And survived!). I'm spending time with some amazing friends, and also with someone who makes me feel sexy and admired, which is a real boost.
As I write this, I realize that the reason I probably feel less depressed is that I feel more in control. And yes, there are still lots of things I want to work on: spending less time on the computer is a biggie (that means YOU, Facebook!). But it feels as though changes ARE happening, and if I can keep going this way, then the next few months won't be a waste, even if I don't find meaningful work before I leave town for the summer.

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