I promised a counterpoint to yesterday’s post “Work On Your Weak Areas First“.
Most of us have something we’re really good at and it’s tempting to keep working on that one area of goodness, rather than working on our weak areas and bringing ourselves into a composite balance of goodness. If you’re in fairly decent shape, wearing fairly decent clothes, with a fairly decent job, in a fairly decent house, and you have fairly decent personal interactions with your wife, that whole package adds up to pretty damn good.
If you have something that you can do, that is truly exceptional, you can go in the opposite direction and seek to completely excel in that one thing. The intent and hope being that your excellence in that one area is so profound, that it effectively covers all your other weak areas.
This is in fact what most boys imagine themselves doing “when they grow up”. We all want to be professional baseball players, astronauts, rock stars and in my case, the reincarnation of Sir Edmund Hillary conquering Mt. Everest et al. (Which is awkward in that he was still alive when I was little.)
The catch is you really have to excel at something, there isn’t usually any benefit to being “almost excellent” at something. As an example, getting on your college football team is nice, but you have to make the NFL for the real payoff. Dropping out of med school a year before becoming a doctor is called failing, not “almost succeeding”.
The other half of the catch is you have to practice like crazy. As in you should mentally allocate around 10,000 hours of practice to turn your natural gifts, into practical honed skill that breaks you into the big leagues of whatever it is that you do so well. Or put another way, plan for twenty hours of effort a week for ten years to hit the 10,000 hour mark.
The 10,000 hours comes from research done by Anders Ericsson in the early 1990s. He and his team divided students into three groups ranked by excellence at the Berlin Academy of Music and then correlated achievement with hours of practice. They discovered that the elite all had put in about 10,000 hours of practice, the good 8,000 and the average 4,000 hours. Then after applying it to excellence in other disciplines, the 10,000 hour mark proved to be the key to unlocking the very top tiers of skill.
The hope being once you are at that top tier of skill, you have enough status and make enough money that all your problems with women are reduced to plucking one (or lots) out of your legion of admiring fans and having her meet all your… whims.
The payoff can be huge, but it is a very risky strategy. There’s always a cohort of other guys trying just as hard as you to be “the guy”, and it can only take a bit of bad luck and a nasty injury and there’s no hope for a professional career anymore.
So for 99%+ of us, we’re regular guys and the composite plan is a better option than trying to break into being an awesome stand-up comedian for too many years. In part it sounds like I’m telling you to shelve your dreams and just head back to the grind at the office, and there is an element of truth to that. But if you enjoy an activity, there’s no reason you can’t keep doing it for as long as you like and enjoy it. Don’t stop enjoying playing a round of golf simply because you can’t quite make the pro-tour cut. Don’t stop painting because the galleries aren’t calling for your art.
Don’t stop doing the fun stuff.