Ten Thousand Hours

To All,

I hope you are all doing well and have had a Merry Christmas, or other holiday, and a Happy New Year. Recently, I have spent some time thinking about the difficulty of graduate school. Engineering graduate school is very hard. Then, I came across this article discussing how many students find the sciences exciting, but they change majors because, well, … its difficult.

NY Times article

This brings me to the piece of wisdom that is takes 10,000 hours of practice before you can get really good at something. Did you get that 10,000 hours!

I did some quick math and working 40 hours a week (but who works only 40 hours?) and 5 days a week, it would take about 5 years. Five years folks, five years of full time hard work in order to actually be good at something. I find this reminder both encouraging and discouraging. Lets start with the discouraging so we can end on a high note.

This is discouraging for obvious reasons, 5 years is a lot of training. That means I have a ways to go and a lot of work to do in order to actually have a skill. It is a daunting task to patiently train for 5 years. Sure, you get better along the way, and it will hopefully be on the job training, but nevertheless, knowing the commitment it takes to develop a skill is intimidating.

Now lets talk about why it is encouraging. It is encouraging because it reminds me that I am in exactly the right place.  When I honestly evaluate myself, I find my skills inadequate, my knowledge limited, and my understanding only partial. Therefore, since I am in my first year of grad school, with about 4 more years after this, I find I am in exactly the right place. My current abilities are appropriate for my position. It is also encouraging when science does not feel fun. The above article is right in that studying engineering and science is difficult, and it loses the excitement when you are buried in math homework. I appreciate the reminder that all training is hard, not usually fun, and time consuming.  Knowing that it takes 5 years encourages me to be patient and keep plodding being confident in the hope that I will eventually hone my skill and knowledge.

One last thought regarding the ten thousand hours is the shortness of life. Lets say I live to 80, with all my years from 20 onward spent diligently working at a skill. If I worked each job for 10 years, 5 years will be becoming skilled, and for only 5 more I will be hitting my stride. That is only 50% in my stride and only time do develop 6 skills. I would like to be a pilot, carpenter, race car driver, engineering, author, speaker, photographer, potter, chef, hunter, machinist, politician, and painter. That is 13 I can name off from the top of my head. What a bummer, I can only choose 6 at best.

For now, I am trying to become an engineer and scientist, and I still have a lot of work ahead of me. I hope you can take this piece of wisdom to heart, apply yourself to learning a skill, and be encouraged when training is difficult. Ten Thousand Hours, thats what it takes.

Best Regards,
Ben Washington

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One Response to Ten Thousand Hours

  1. Really nice post! I enjoyed a lot. I’m a not an English native speaker, and so I fell jealous when I read something writing in the way I would like to do myself in English. Maybe in 8000 hours more, I will be able too. ;-)

    Best regards,

    Raquel Somavilla

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