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It only takes 10,000 hours

Here’s a question you should ask yourself: If you could be really, really good at one thing, what would it be?

Over the years I keep hearing a little factoid cited by a lot of different people–you need to spend 10,000 hours doing something before you get really good at it.

This used to leave me dismayed. If you spend 3 hours a day, say, studying a language or playing a guitar, you’ll need close to a decade to master it. But there’s a bright side to this.

You probably spend way more than 3 hours a day on some things. You probably spend 6-8 hours or more selling, strategizing, tinkering and inventing, counseling, chiropracting or whatever else you do to earn an income.

When I lived in Italy, I lived with Italian roommates, and dated an Italian woman who didn’t (or wouldn’t) speak English. I read books and magazines during the 45-minute commute to work each day, and usually managed to squeeze in another hour or so of studying Italian. Around my 3rd year there, I was practically bilingual, I had dreams in Italian, and all kinds of opportunities were open to me in teaching, tourism, and sales.

Now take it to the next level. Your clients pay you because you spend hours doing something that they’ve only dabbled in, at best.

You can become a master by deliberately ramping up your hours on one particular skill. There are lots of realtors, but suppose you spend a few extra hours a day studying old buildings or a historical district. If you’re managing an IT company, you could become a master at a specific type of programming.

Likewise, 10,000 hours of selling is an investment that will pay you back ten thousand times in almost any industry or career.

And there’s one more aspect to this. Most people actually don’t reach the 10,000 hour level until late in their career, if at all. You could play a decent golf game after just 2,000 hours, but 10,000 hours is the Tiger Woods level. If you had to spend 10,000 hours mastering something, what would you want it to be?

Outside of your career, progress is slow, but not impossible. I put in about half an hour a day drawing and cutting with the katana. I’m not going to become a great swordsman anytime soon. But when most people are getting old and crackly, I’ll be like Gandalf.

Meanwhile, I’ll just keep writing for 8-9 hours a day, and maybe I’ll be able to retire a little sooner and have more time to practice.

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  1. Armando Tapia
    September 30th, 2009 at 19:00 | #1

    Interesting stuff. But here’s the problem with business learning. I know I’m an expert at the marketing and writing things that I do, but how do I show my prospects that I’m a 10,000-hour expert?

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