Last week I wrote about how easy it is to see the exceptional. The example I gave was Evan Spiegel, the then-23-year-old founder of Snapchat, or Mark Zuckerberg…but there is a standard distribution curve for ability in anything you’re interested in.
Those at the far right of the distribution curve – people with abnormal results – are very few, but they are highly visible.
Visible enough that they often make us (or at least me) question whether we are doing enough.
This week, I went to a panel that a local Chamber of Commerce put together featuring three entrepreneurs in town. One of them was my friend James, the author of Atomic Habits.
Another friend of mine who was on the panel asked afterwards, “When’s your book coming out? You have to have one in the pipe, right?”
She was mostly joking, but the truth is that I do believe a book is in the cards, someday. And my response to her actually surprised myself:
“Yeah, someday for sure. But I’m just trying not to rush right now, as a general rule.”
And it’s true, I just hadn’t said it out loud.
In grade school, my teachers would always tell my parents that I did good work – but I rushed. I would be the first one done, but at the expense of a dumb mistake. This carried on through college and honestly most of my adult life to this point.
But lately I’ve been heads down on just doing good work and letting it take the time that it needs. Between the three courses that I’m building, I’ve had to create outlines and then visual content for 49 videos. Forty-nine.
It’s not uncommon these days for me to spend an entire day in PowerPoint, and end the day having completed three lessons. Three of 49.
I’m a completist, which means that once I start something, I’m just not satisfied (and honestly a little manic) until it’s completed. So, you can see how this exercise would be a little maddening.
In this interview, Ryan Holiday says that writing a book is one of the most demoralizing things he’s ever done due to the insane amount of time and work put into nearly imperceptible progress.
But most things just take time. You can’t get nine women together and have a one-month pregnancy.
And so instead of rushing to get to whatever end I think there is up ahead, I’m trying to spend the time necessary to do my work well.
Of course, you can try to compress that time. If it’s going to take 80 productive hours to do something, you can reach that in eight ten-hour days, or you can reach that in ten eigh-hour days.
Extrapolate that out, and if you want to be the “10,000 hour expert” at something, you can reach that in just under four years of ten-hour days OR five years of eight-hour days.
In more realistic terms, that’s eight years of five-hour days, or ten years of four-hour days.
Bottom line: over the long run, if you work harder than the next guy, time is on your side.
There’s no shortcut to 10,000 (or any number of) hours. You have to put in the time to be technically good at something – faking it until you make it only works for an audience with a non-discerning eye.
As we get older, we become less likely to put that time in. When a kid looks at a basketball, he doesn’t expect to look like LeBron on the court – he’s just happy to play and get better.
Adults hate to look “bad” at something. We hate to look incompetent.
But being incompetent is a natural and necessary part of learning and getting good at anything!
Take comfort in knowing that the time you spend getting better is time well spent. You’re raising the baseline.
Compress the time as much as you want, but rushing probably won’t help.