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It’s poker night. It’s 9pm and several of my friends are upstairs having a great time.I imagine there’s at least one cigar being smoked, a few potent potables sitting around on coasters, and a good deal of laughter.
Meanwhile, I’m at the kitchen table with my laptop, it’s quiet, I’m alone, and I’m writing. There’s a big part of me that would much rather be upstairs. I’ve heard a lot of accusations in the last few months that I’m antisocial because I don’t go out to fellowship with the other guys very often and instead choose to spend those evening hours writing.
It’s not a matter of being antisocial, though. It’s a matter of self-discipline.
I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell a while back that made a big impact on the way I look at my writing. In the book, titled Outliers, Gladwell investigates the lives of highly successful people and looks at some of the factors that have contributed to their rise to the top of their respective fields. One chapter deals with something called “The Ten Thousand Hour Rule”. The idea is that a person needs to spend a minimum of ten thousand hours doing a particular thing before they achieve mastery of it. Only after that level of mastery is attained are they able to make the breakthroughs necessary to genuine success.
Whether the subject is Bill Gates working on computers for hours a day as a young boy, or Mozart composing a wealth of mediocrity before ever writing a timeless note, the story is that they’ve all done their time. Success at a skill requires practice and persistence and a minimum of ten thousand hours before you can expect to see the fruit of your labor.
That got me thinking that I spend every minute of the day getting better at something. If I’m brushing my teeth for two minutes, I’m getting more efficient at it. If I’m building a table for three hours in the afternoon, I’m learning how to be a better carpenter. If I’m sitting on the couch watching TV, I’m getting better at doing that too. So what is it, I ask myself, that I really want to get better at doing, and why am I not doing that instead of practicing my channel surfing form.
So every evening when I get home from the day job, it’s time to get to work doing what counts. It’s time to write. It’s time to get better at what I love to do. It’s time to tick off a few more of those ten thousand hours.
The side effect is that the people around me have come to expect it of me just as much as I expect it of myself. Sometimes that expectation comes in the form of an encouragement or a reminder, but more often it comes in the shape of an accusation that I’m being antisocial. So be it. That’s something I can live with.I’m willing to let my poker skills wane in the short term because I’m betting my chips on the future.I’m refining my skills, I’m defining myself in my true occupation, I’m challenging myself, I’m creating something that I believe has an intrinsic worth far beyond that of an evening on the town.
So here I sit, metaphorical pen in hand, practicing my craft and watching the hands on the clock tick ever closer to the hour of mastery.
Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.