How Long Does it Take to be the Best?

The 10,000 Hour Rule takes more than 10,000 hours.

by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
Ten thousand hours of quality effort makes a master.
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
Ten thousand hours of quality effort makes a master.

It’s 5:30 in the morning. The dew is heavy on the grass. The twilight glow of the approaching sun is getting stronger over the eastern hills. It will be another hour before the temperature reaches its overnight low of 54°.

The distinct sound of a driver hitting a golf ball rings through the still morning air. This will be the first of 84 holes of golf we play today.

It’s something some friends and I have been doing for several years now. Pick the Saturday in June that’s closest to the solstice, but not Father’s Day weekend—we made that mistake once. Tee off as soon as the course opens. Keep playing until the sun goes down, it’s too dark to see, and they turn the sprinklers on.

(Pro tip: Yellow balls are easier to see in low light. We’ve tried glow-in-the-dark balls; they’re fun, but they’re like hitting rocks.)

One year, a friend of a friend joined us. He was semi-professional. Later in the day, when we would need to wait a few minutes for the group ahead of us to get out of range before we could tee off, most of us would stand around and just chat. This guy would take practice swing after practice swing. We were there to have a good time. So was he, but he was making every shot count.

In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell proposes The 10,000-Hour Rule: it takes 10,000 hours to develop your natural talents into a world-class level of ability. This 10,000-hour figure isn’t a hard and fast rule, but he found it was surprisingly consistent across a large range of fields.

This rule is often invoked and often misunderstood. It’s not automatic that you’re going to be world-class after 10,000 hours. If that’s all it took, everyone would be a respected, highly-paid thought leader in their field after just five years on the job.

It takes deliberate, focused, intentional development. This is what Cal Newport calls “deliberate practice” in So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

How long does it take to put in 10,000 hours of deliberate, focused, intentional development? That’s completely up to you.

  • Do you have measurable results that define your win condition every day? Or are you just running out the clock?
  • Do you bring your “A” game? Or do you bring just enough game that you don’t get yelled at?
  • Do you make every shot count? Or are you just taking a 27,000-yard walk with your buddies and taking a swing at a little white ball every now and then?

I’ve got to say: that last one hits close to home.

After five years, or even ten, it’s unlikely that any of us are going to be world-class experts on the job. But we do want to have five years of experience from our time on the job, not just one year of experience lived five times over.

When we first start out, we make progress quickly. Leveling up is easy. Then it gets harder. It’s hard to maintain that momentum—and your enthusiasm—for long.

Which is why so few actually put in the full 10,000 hours.

It takes time. There are no shortcuts, but there are certainly scenic detours.

If you stick with it, you’ll get there. Focus on the results, not the clock. Let the clock take care of itself. You do you.

Get a little better—even just a little bit—every day. It adds up.

One day, you’ll still be shooting par on your 84th hole of the day.

Question: What 10,000 hours will you work towards today? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.