“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert-in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or twenty hours a week, of practice over ten years… no one has yet found a case in which world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”
–This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel Levitin.
I just read this quote and it got me thinking: I’ve lived 42 years now. What have I practiced for 10,000 hours?
Of course, there is my job. I have easily worked 10,000 hours. So there you have it: customer service. I have worked in customer service for 21 years, maybe more. I am a world-class customer service representative. I could customer service anyone right under the table. Too bad there is no Olympic event.
But seriously, I have gained a lot from that skill. People rarely get mad at me (teenage sons don’t count). I have an ability to calm people who are upset. I also can talk to anyone in a genuine and easy way. I can make conversation about anything and nothing and yet never be offensive. I also have job security. I know no matter what happens, I will always have a job, even if I am asking, “Would you like some fries with that?”
My second world-class event is reading. I have been reading since I was five. That is over thirty-five years. It is a rare week that I haven’t read a book, most of the time two a week, and more times than I can count more than two. I can’t even imagine how much time that is or how many books that is.
So what have I gained from all that reading? Well, knowledge. Mostly the kind that helps you make inoffensive conversation or play trivia. Although I can’t yet beat my dad and my husband in trivia, I can make them say, “I’m surprised she knew that.” When my husband and were talking about this, he said, “Well, isn’t reading the inverse of writing?” There is some truth to that. By exposing myself to different kinds of writing over the years, I probably have become a better writer.
While there is something to gain from being well read, I am not a great writer. I know I do not have 10,000 hours of writing experience. Writing is hard work. It is painful work that requires thought, research and time. It can be soul-cleansing, but never is it easy. It is also rarely fun. However, it is rewarding and it is a skill I want to improve on.
Now what about art making in general? Now, art-making is fun to me. I have been a quilter for over twenty years. I have made many quilts, but I doubt I have made more than one hundred. When I include craft projects in general I have completed more projects than I can count. However, with the exception of my time in design college, where things are by necessity sped up, I probably only spend 3-4 hours a week on craft or sewing projects. There are times when I have spent more, and many times when children and work needs interceded: none. Yet at the same time, my art-making is improving. I have always been able to make interesting objects, but I feel like my techniques are starting to reach the quality I want them to have. I am able to think of my idea, and successfully execute it at the level I want. I see that most clearly in the first angel quilt which is the culmination of ideas I had in my head for years and years, but couldn’t fully execute until this year.
So what does this all mean to me? It means that even though I am 42 years old, I have a long way to go to achieve a high level of excellence I want for myself. I don’t expect to become world-class at writing and art-making, but I am constantly trying to improve. If all it takes is 9000 more hours of practice, well, here I go!