Saturday, March 28, 2009

The 10,000 Hour Theory part III

As you can probably tell by now, I've been obsessing about this. For one, my oldest daughter is six years old, for two, this is something I also wanted to shoot for myself but the opportunities were not there for me. But there are so many thoughts that go into this. Is it worthwhile, even, for a person to pursue this level of specialization? As a parent, is it healthy to encourage my children to pursue this level of specialization. Is 10,000 hours even enough for everyone? Is it just quantity, not quantity, does inborn talent, outside of our control, play any factor?

Personally, I think it is healthy, fulfilling, ultimately rewarding, a way to maximize your experience on this planet earth to pursue a mastery in a specific field. I think when trying to measure the amount of hours you personally have put into a specific field, I think quality does matter. I think, for the most part, any hour spent improving yourself (not just doing it) in an area count. Talking to my wife, she emphasizes with her students the importance of really truly practicing the piano and not just playing it. In other words, your continuously pushing yourself into harder and harder pieces and not content to just play what you already know.

Looking back on my basketball experience. I was inordinately small for my age, getting most of my adult size late in life. I lacked confidence, most coaches never took me as someone worth as much of their investment time as someone more physically mature. Although I did push myself to some degree, I also held myself back quite a bit, and I suffered from lack of quality coaching and mentoring. But, despite my physical limitations, with the right mentoring and parental (or otherwise) encouragement, I think I could have mastered basketball. Even still, it would not have propelled me into the NBA. The game is a tall man's game, and I'm not really tall enough.

Thinking of NBA stars, Shaquille O'Neal probably still hasn't gotten to 10,000 hours, the guy still can't hit a free throw, but how many people grow to 7'2" tall and have that much bulk. But I guarantee that every single one of the guards in the NBA have, and many who didn't make the NBA have. That's why you see a lot of seven foot stiffs playing in the NBA, but guys like Tim Duncan, someone whose both tall and incredibly skilled, has mastered it.

But looking back, I wish I would have went for it anyway. I think if things would have went slightly differently for me, I could have gotten to 5,000 to 6,000 hours of basketball practice though high school. Then another 4,000 hours through my twenties would have been reasonable. It would have been an incredibly fun and rewarding hobby. I would have been extremely skilled in the sport, and well positioned to mentor or coach kids for the rest of my life.

Take another look at the table I laid out in part II. You don't have to pick an area too early. When a child is young, they can practice pretty lightly, and with my daughter, violin is obviously not the only thing she's doing. She's reading books well in excess of a half hour a day. She's writing a half hour a day (or so), she's learning science. She's positioned, based on interest to push the hours of practice in any number of different things as she ages. And she can change her mind without too much trouble. The older she gets, though, the harder it becomes.

I think by high school, an area of emphasis is really ideal. I think picking one thing to really focus on, to work 2-3 hours a day on, is not that unreasonable. You still have time for breadth, but you also gain the experience of really honing a skill in one area. By 18, you should have around 5,000 hours under your belt. College and early career years are a time to really crank the hours up and get the second half of the 10,000 hours done in a much more compressed time. You can then enjoy the fruits of your labor the rest of your life.

What about less obvious fields like teaching or parenting. I certainly remember teachers in high school that have been doing it for a long time. They probably easily had 10,000 hours in the classroom, but they were still dismal teachers. Again, just showing up and doing something doesn't count. You have to be pushing yourself. I can't comment much on teaching, I do have teaching experience though. Maybe a few hundred hours of tutoring in my life, but not nearly enough to comment on it.

Its really hard for me to really push toward 10,000 hours of parenting, since I spend so many more hours than my wife away from my kids at work. I can still get there though, but again, I need to push it, and not just be in the same room with them. But I need to recognize that my wife will get there a lot earlier than I will and respect her abilities.

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