In his fabulous book “Outliers”, the journalist Malcolm Gladwell writes that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness". The logic behind this is simple enough. To gain a modicum of mastery within any discipline, you must practice it, diligently, for ten thousand hours.
I’m exhausted today. My legs feel like lead, my eyes are gummy and blurred, my thoughts foggy, jetlagged, disjointed, negative. But I’ve set aside some time to write today. I’ve allotted four hours to write a piece - which is down from the six hours a piece would take me when I first started this project, exactly three years ago this month. But I don't feel like writing today, I feel like sleeping. And eating. Or shopping. Or gossiping. Or maybe browsing the internet to see what “everyone else” (meaning Alec Baldwin's wife, the rest of humanity, and the numerous cute-kitten accounts that I follow on Instagram) is up to.
But here I am - in front of my laptop. Frustrated, bored, suffering what must be the fugue-like state of writer's block. Wondering if I should give up and scrap this blog project? Wondering if ChatGPT could write me a passable Blenderhead post if I feed it enough good lines? Wondering if maybe I should have a scoop of ice cream (or three) instead of just sitting here wasting my time?
I enjoy writing, usually. Putting together a post is like figuring out a puzzle. The ideas and sentences and plot line of any given piece all come to me at once in a furious jumble. They just pour into my mind in a disorganized exuberant wave of words. It is my self-appointed task to untangle them, put them together into sentences, compile those sentences into paragraphs, and then whip the whole lot into a coherent-ish form. But today it feels like a chore. A burden. A drag.
Surely I must have reached the magic number of 10,000 hours that Mr. Gladwell talks about in his wonderful book. Surely, writing 6-8 hours a week, every week for three years has given me those 10,000 required to give me some sort of mastery of the written word. So, with those 10,000 hours under my belt shouldn't this be easier? Shouldn't the words just flow?
But this morning nothing came to me at all. Just this overwhelming sense of boredom and fatigue. Too afraid to even research the monster that is ChatGTP I decided to distract myself another way. Exactly how many hours have I spent writing for this blog so far?
Without checking a calculator I simply assumed that it must be at least 10,000 hours. This morning especially, it feels like 20,000. Because there were also hours and days and weeks thinking about starting the project. Before I even put pen to paper. Those early-days-of-Covid hours spent jotting down ideas and sketches and memories on pads of paper and napkins and in my phone as texts to myself. I spoke with my sponsor. I consulted other members of A.A., “experts” on the traditions and guidelines that keep Alcoholics Anonymous alive and well. I didn't want to cause any trouble but I had this pesky internal nagging question running me around. Would it be okay to write about A.A.? To share my experience, strength and hope as well as some of the incredible things I have learned while sitting in meetings? I consider the program of A.A. as sacred ground. Sacred ground that I did not want to desecrate in any way. The answers I got were pretty much all the same. As long as I am sharing my personal experience and am not trying to make any profit off of the A.A. name it is fine to write about A.A. So I added all those initial “research” hours in as well.
I did the math (twice) and was shocked, dismayed, and really pissed off. Altogether I calculated that I have only been working on this project for about 1,000 hours so far. A tenth of the way to a middling "mastery" in Mr. Gladwell’s words. What the actual hell? So I did some more research into this 10,000 hours theory and, as usual, the internet had all the answers for me. If one was to practice any given discipline for 20 hours a week it would still take them nine and a half years to reach the 10,000 hour mark. For the paltry six to eight hours I devote to weekly writing I should, if I am consistent, be able to achieve some command over the written word in about 20 years. Am I even going to be alive then? I wonder morbidly to myself.
But then I remember a quote from a song by the artist Macklemore, who had his own lyrically clunky but apt take on Mr. Gladwell's theory in his song “10,000 hours”.
“See I observed Escher, I love Basquiat
I watched Keith Haring, you see I study art
The greats weren't great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great 'cause they painted a lot.”
So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll keep on going. I’ll try to “write a lot”. I write not because I want to achieve any sort of greatness but as a way to connect with people. I write because I need discipline in all my affairs. And this weekly writing has become a discipline that I thoroughly enjoy. I don’t always enjoy writing, but I always enjoy having written. I enjoy the detangling of the thoughts. The serpentine unknotting of the chinks in the chain. The gathering of all the puzzle pieces. Fleshing out the edges and corners first and then diving in to work on the center. I enjoy the challenge. Laboring over the harder parts. Puzzling over the structure of the whole. Hunting down the the lost pieces that I know were just there but are now missing - and need to be found if the puzzle hopes to ever be completed.
And when I get discouraged and want to quit this project, realizing that I may never reach that magic 10,000 hours destination, I remind myself that everyone who has achieved something after practicing it for 10,000 hours has inevitably had something else waiting for them once they reach that magical hours-devoted-to milestone. And that is their 10,001st hour of practice. And then their 10,002nd hour of practice, and then their 10,003rd. They just keep on trucking, as will I, one minute, one hour, one day at a time.