“If you knew the time it took me to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful.”
I reread this quote often as I take one step forward followed by one step back in my writing class. Not only do I look to this for reassurance, I believe the lesson from the quote should be taught in U. S. schools, where kids often give up when they don’t understand or can’t achieve something within a few minutes of the teacher’s explanation.
There is a strong belief in this culture that you’re either born intelligent or not and that your genetic makeup determines what you can accomplish in school and life. Contrast this to a belief among many Chinese, Japanese and Korean parents (I’m sure there are examples from other countries, but these are some of the parent groups I’ve worked with most closely) that hard work is the key to success and can overcome the lack of genius genes. Test scores, college admissions, success in Advanced Placement courses, and admission to gifted programs by students from these ethnic groups, supports the parents’ belief.
In his book, Outliers, writer Malcolm Gladwell refers to the work of Anders Ericsson, a Swedish scholar who, according to Wikipedia, studies “expert performance in domains such as music, chess and sports, and how expert performers acquire their superior performance by extended deliberate practice.” Ericsson says it takes 10,000 hours to achieve greatness in a field. Gladwell counts how many hours The Beatles, Bill Gates and legends in other areas spent preparing for their futures and says his total matches Ericsson’s. He doesn’t deny that factors like having wealthy parents, a good education and natural abilities come into play for people who reach the top of their game, but that dedication to mastery of their subjects is equally or sometimes more important.
I did my own calculations: writing, on average 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, times 52 weeks equals just over 1,000 hours. I will not be young when I complete 10,000 hours of practice. I hope I’m alive and mentally alert long enough to hit that milestone. And I hope that Michelangelo will give me comfort in the intervening years.