I had a birthday this week and turned something-still-starting-with-a-3-but-dangerously-close-to-a-4. When you have distinct memories of your parents when they were your current age, that’s when the encroaching oldness more or less beats you upside the head. Because your parents have been aging and decrepit since you’ve known them, yes? In other news, as I said to my husband, I’ll never have the opportunity to be anyone’s inappropriately younger wife.

Everyone says with age comes wisdom, at least until the point where it all starts going in reverse. But there’s some truth to the cliche, which is why it’s a cliche in the first place. If nothing else, the older you get, the more you have your sh*t down. The more hours you put into something (anything!) the better you get at it.

I think about this ALL the time when hours seem wasted at some middling level of proficiency (e.g. when you’re parenting like crap, writing like crap, investor relating like crap). It’s all still practice, even if the outcome feels less than fruitful. The more you do it, the better you are. Or, as I remind myself a dozen times a week, “10,000 hours.

10,000 Hours (comes from a tennis website; appropriate as I played competitive tennis growing up)

The concept comes from the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Basically the gist is this. What makes someone an “outlier” (Bill Gates, professional hockey players, engineering wizards) is some talent, yes, but also a bunch of lucky breaks and time. A whole lot of time. 10,000 hours to be exact.

Gladwell’s thesis is you need 10,000 hours of practice to gain true mastery of something.

At age 13 Bill Gates had access to a high school computer lab (in 1968 not a lot of high school computing going on) and spent 10,000 hours programming on it. Gates himself states that this was a big reason for his success. He was the only kid doing this. Gladwell hypothesizes that while Gates would’ve still probably ended up “a highly intelligent, driven, charming person and a successful professional”, he probably wouldn’t have been worth $50 billion. Hard to say, of course, but it makes the reader (at least this reader) think.

Gladwell shares many other examples. The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time.

He talks about hockey All Stars. Most All Stars are born in January or February. At a young age a few months’ age difference is a big deal in terms of size. Bigger kids = more playing time. More playing time = improvement = separation from the pack. Separation from the pack = more playing time (via All Stars) = yet more separation from the pack (and so on). For the record, 10,000 hours was my big argument in convincing my husband to allow our girls to do All Stars Softball. All the girls their same level would get that much more playing time via All Stars and then start next season that much better. The All Stars would’ve had all this practice, would therefore get more playing time in the new season, and then improve evermore from there. At a certain point you can’t recover from that. At the top of the batting order you’re going to get1.5-2x the at bats versus the bottom of the order (at least in 8U fastpitch).

Think about your work environment. You might work 40, 50, 60 hours a week in the office, but how much time do you spend actually doing the task that is your primary job? For me, that’s building financial models. I spend maybe 30 hours a week mucking  around Excel. 30 x 50 x 7 years = 10,500. Seven years it took me to gain Excel mastery. This makes sense.

And this goes for writing, too. I don’t know that I’ve written for 10,000 hours or even close to it. I’ve never tracked it, which is weird, because that’s totally something I would do. In any case, this is why I never look at any writing I’ve done as a “waste.” Sure, there are tens of thousands of words I’ve deleted. There are books that didn’t sell. There are books my agent read and said “Yeah, um. No. Not even.” It’s all still practice. It’s all still words and pages and hours to get you to the magical 10,000. Same goes for Excel modeling. For parenting. For being a general cresting-the-hill old lady. It’s all about the practice. You can be uber-talented and that is great but you HAVE to put in the time.

Now excuse me while I teach my 7 year old Excel and other computing skills and then drill her in softball, followed by three sets of tennis.