I'm a pretty tough mom when it comes to academics, so 9 months ago, when Alex decided that she wanted to learn how to play guitar, I promised myself (and her, although I didn't actually tell her, in so many words) that I would stay out of her guitar practice. I wanted her to create her own relationship with the guitar, so I told her awesome instructor, Leland, that I wouldn't be pushing her about her guitar lessons, or keeping on top of what she was supposed to be learning or practicing -- it would be between him and her. My only rule was that I had to hear her pick up her guitar every day -- her lessons aren't cheap, so I had to have some indication that she was still enjoying playing the guitar. I trusted that if Leland had anything that I needed to know, he'd tell me.
For the most part I stayed true to my word, only occasionally saying, "Alex, have you practiced today?" To her credit, she has stayed on top of it without much prompting from me, and every day I've heard the muffled sounds of her guitar coming from her room. I never paid much attention, honestly, until suddenly, a couple of weeks ago, I realized I totally recognized what she was playing -- Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi!
I was so excited, I asked her if I could video her playing it -- and bless her, she let me (click on this link to watch and listen). I was surprised that she was playing something so recognizable in such a short amount of time: her first lesson was August 27th, 2014, and she practices for 30 minutes every day, which means that her current skillset comes to her after only about 139 hours of practice, give or take. This doesn't seem like very much time to me -- but I guess that's what focused work and practice will get you.
Several years ago, I read Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, which contains stories of how extraordinary people (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, those sorts of folks) achieve their amazing success (it's a great book, and I strongly recommend it). While Gladwell asserts that prodigious success is often helped along by advantages, opportunities and cultural legacies that we don't see right away, at several points in the book, Gladwell also maintains that the key to achieving world-class expertise at any skill is to put in a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. To break down the math, what Gladwell is saying is that if you practice something -- anything -- for only hour a day, you too would achieve world class mastery at that skill in approximately 27 years. He posits that the reason that Olympians and rock stars and yes, technology moguls are so mindblowingly good is because they spend hours upon hours ever day doing the basics -- and the best have put in the 10,000 hours.
I don't know about you, but 27 years seems like an awfully long time. (If it makes you feel better, if you choose to practice 5 hours a day, you cut the time down considerably, to a mere 5-1/2 years, or so. My Olympic dreams might not be over yet!)
Serendipitously and seemingly unrelated, late last week, I came across this talk by Sean Wes on "how to grow your audience." I was flipping idly through his slides, but sat up when I noticed that his first bit of advice wasn't about engaging social media, or directly contacting potential clients, but simply to show up every day for two years. Is it me, or does this sound a lot like Gladwell's advice (although admittedly, not quite as punishing)? And then I thought of Alex, and her daily commitment, and her progress.
I couldn't help but wonder if the universe is trying to tell me something.
And so, I've been thinking about what I want to recommit to showing up to do every day. Because far be it from me to ignore signs from the universe.
(What about you? Is there something you'd like to master that you want to show up for every day? You don't have to respond -- just something to think about, yes?)