Friday, June 26, 2009

It's Only a Matter of Time

This article was originally published at

Whipping time into shapeHave you read that book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

You haven’t? You must not want your kids to succeed. In it Gladwell provides evidence that the only difference between so-so violin players and master violin players is the amount of hours they practiced. The masters put in about 10,000 hours of practice before hitting twenty years old. The so-so players? Only 8000. That’s only 1.466 hours of practice a day, seven days a week for fifteen years. What slackers! If only their parents had driven them from age five on to practice a measly .366 hours a day more — a mere sixteen or so minutes.

Learning that I wondered if I had failed as a parent and doomed my children to mediocrity for the rest of their lives.

“I’m so sorry, girls! You’ll never amount to anything!”

They stared at me slack jawed and wide eyed and I knew that it was true. Clearly they were all brain damaged.

“But it’s not too late!” said I. Quickly calculating, I realized that if I put my seven year old with Cerebral Palsy into ice skating today, she could be a master by twenty with only two hours of daily practice. My ten year old, who wanted to play the harp, would only need to practice 2.75 hours a day for the next ten years if she wanted to amount to anything in the harp world. She could fit all that practice in while we were at the skating rink and during the ride home. Most kids spend more time watching TV than that, so it was completely doable.

My fourteen year old was a dancer who wanted to compete in the Irish stepdancing on the world level. She’s already put in about 2000 hours since she was eleven, so she’d need 3.66 hours of rigorous dancing a day to hit 10,000. Easy. We could just leave her at home with some plywood planks, a mirror, and some food. She doesn’t like doing homework anyway…

My seventeen year old posed a problem, though. She’d been singing since she was two, but not with a dedicated daily regimen. She’d only amassed 6000 hours of practice — such an abject failure. I was deeply ashamed for her. She, too, would need to squeeze in 3.66 hours of daily practice if she wanted to be a master vocalist in three short years.
But she could do it. I mean, she’ll have to if she doesn’t want to grow up to be a complete loser.

In fact, they could all do it if they did nothing but practice non-stop. Who needs playtime?
Fortunately, it’s not too late to shape and mold my seven year old. I can just imagine the conversations we’ll have when I prepare her for Charter High School next year…
“But Dad, I don’t want to major in system administration, pharmacology, and neuroscience!”

“You’ll do as you’re told. Now hush, we have to get you to the skating rink for your Olympics training.”