Friday, January 8, 2010

10,000 Hours

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell posits that to achieve true success at anything, one needs 10,000 hours of experience in that discipline. I was captivated by this hypothesis when I read the book two years ago, but had never related to my career. Then the other day I read a post by Jonathan Fields ( and started to think about how the 10,000 hours applies to my life; especially now.

In the past three months I have clocked 282 hours in beauty school. I am filled with excite
ment, and enthusiasm for this new chapter in my life. The last time I felt like this I had just gotten a job at DMB&B as an Assistant Account Executive on P&G's Always brand. There was so much to learn, all of it new. I was good at it; and I loved it. I loved it for a really long time. Seven years later -- at about the 10,000 hour mark -- I was "at the top of my game." I got two big promotions in rapid succession, was assigned prestigious accounts, had clients who wouldn't make a (advertising) move without consulting me, I grew existing business and won new business. I had a blast. I loved everything about the ad business. This lasted for about another 4,000 hours. Then it seemed that nothing was new, nothing was exciting. Every day, every "challenge," every client was just the same. An international move -- to a younger, hipper office where I had to learn a new language and how to drive a stick shift lighted a fire for a bit. But 1500 hours later I was back in the U.S. and the bloom was wearing off.

There's a lot of talk, and hundreds of blogs and books and magazine articles, about how the business of advertising has changed. I'm not so sure. Maybe it's that the people writing those blogs, and books and articles, are so far past their peak of 10,000 hours that they've changed. I have friends (much younger friends) working in ad agencies who are on that upward slope to 10,000; they are as exhilarated as I ever was. Their passion is palatable. It's infectious. Of course there's the insecurity of losing a client, losing billings, not getting the account, getting fired, your client or creative director getting fired (and you along with him) but it's ALWAYS been like that; that's the business. It hasn't changed at all. But back to the 10,000 hours thing....

What happens beyond the 10,000 hours? How long does one sustain that peak, and then what? What happens at 20,000 hours? (I'm sure someone could get a big fat grant to research this. But not me.)

Now that I'm in hair world I've met a lot of stylists who are way beyond 10,000 hours. They remember how great it use to be. They're talented, make a lot of money, but have just lost the joy of it. My brother, the pilot became a lawyer two years ago; his wife is a new nurse. I have two ex-ad executive friends in school studying to become counselors. There are so many stories of career change. And the happiness and energy that comes with moving up the slope to that 10,000 hour mark. It's a wonderful thing to look forward to.

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