Last week I discovered a new rule (of the thumb variety). It impressed me. It’s sourced from a book called ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’, by a chap named Malcolm Gladwell, and it was described to me by a chap named Jeff Vogel as follows:
To master any non-trivial field requires 10000 hours of dedicated practice and study.
And I sat down for a minute and did some quick sums, regarding my skillset.
I develop iPhone applications for a living. My office hours per day add up to 7 hours and 15 minutes. My working days per year adds up to about 230 (52 weeks minus holiday allowance, public holidays and weekends). If I’ve erred in these sums I’ve probably underestimated, but that’s not a bad thing. Multiply the two numbers and I develop iPhone applications for 1667.5 hours a year – or one sixth of the 10,000. I’ve been developing apps for a bit over 18 months now (and my exploration of this skill isn’t limited to my working hours), so I’m apparently about a quarter of the way to mastery.
Obviously it’s not as simple as working six years and then instantly acquiring a halo effect. But it was a nice little status indicator.
In comparison, any time I’ve spent writing over the last however many years has been off the meter. I might gauge that the number of hours is probably about the same – but over a far longer time period.
With my iPhone stuff, I’m at an uplifting point where I wrote a first attempt at an app, missed a target, and have gone back to basics. Gone through documentation and conference videos on new features, and really gone to town on getting things right where before, in ignorance, I went off-track and made up my own faulty shortcuts. I am appreciating stuff I missed in my first quarter, and finding better ways to do things.
I’m having that strange but wonderful feeling of leaving work on a Friday with almost a regret that on Saturday I can’t come in and keep at it. (I will find things to do.)
I hope this inspiration moves back to my writing. Another quotation – also mentioned in the same blog entry linked to earlier:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
— Ira Glass
This is the thing. Punch through. Find the work more fun than fun, and your life is rich.