How to Become Successful: 10,000 hours

Yes, that’s right. A portion to success in anything is to clock 10,000 hours, 417 full days into whatever you do. Or so claims Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Blink“, in his latest book “Outliers“. After interviewing many extraordinary people like Bill Gates and the Beatles, he comes to the conclusion that one important component of success is to have 10,000 hours of experience. Bill Gates started programming in 1969 as a 13 year old. And continued to spend all his free time programing – all the way until he set up Microsoft. The Beatles were forced to play 19 hours everyday for years in Germany before they had their big break. And by time they made it big in the US, they had already performed 1,000 gigs.

It’s simple and blatantly obvious, if you think about it. A person with the opportunity and dedication to sing for 10,000 hours or geek out for 10,000 is obviously going to be more skilled than someone (of equal talent) who only sings in the shower or geek out only when s/he majors in Computer Science.

With that said, Gladwell isn’t saying that 10,000 hours guarantees that you will become the next Bill Gates. It’s just that Bill Gates was rich and fortunate enough to clock 10,000 hours of programming in an era where computers were not easily accessible to the public. So social status, cultural background, era of birth, innate talent and the magic 10,000 hours all played critical roles in his success. In short, Bill lead a life of luck, while never forgetting hard work.

However, Gladwell does point out that 10,000 hours is the magic number that gets you good at something – good enough to be the best in your country, or in some cases, the world.

Have I clocked 10,000 hours for anything? Probably.

Surfing the Internet: 20,000 hours
I started surfing at age 9. In 1995, my dad brought home a modem to connect to the Internet. I can still remember the excitement in his eyes. From there I owned a Hotmail account, logged onto mIRC, and regularly scoured Yahoo!. Then at age 11, I stumbled upon a Backstreet Boys fansite hosted on Geocities. It was too pretty for words – then. And that’s how started learning HTML.

Over the past 12 years, I’ve clocked in 20,000 hours in email, chat, surfing and web design. Not sure how many hours I’ve spent with web design, but it’s safe to say somewhere close to 3,000 hours.

Watching Anime: 1,800 hours
I’m sure I’ve spent more time doing other things in my life, but anime deserves an honorable mention. Here’s why: I started watching anime in 2006. According to my anime list, I’ve watched about 75 days worth of anime. That means I’ve clocked 1,800 hours within 2 years. It’s a scary thought, but I now enjoy an interesting byproduct.

Language Mastery at 10,000 hours?

So it struck me. Watching 1,800 hours of anime is probably why I can easily understand colloquial Japanese. It means that I’ve spent 1,800 hours listening to spoken Japanese (while reading subtitles). For the record, I’ve never tried to study Japanese beyond the alphabet system. I can barely read, write or even speak Japanese.

And this also explains certain strengths and weaknesses I have with other foreign languages. I’ve read a lot of French in my life. I’d read up literary works, news and even blogs. But I’ve never had the opportunity to speak. So I couldn’t ever have a decent French conversation without interjecting with “ummm…” after every 5 words. As for Chinese, I’ve always understood it well. That’s ’cause my mom would scold and lecture me in Chinese. But I’d always retort in English, and staunchly refused to read anything with Chinese characters on it. So my strength lies with understanding Chinese but not speaking, reading or writing.

So the key to master a second language is to clock 10,000 hours and divide it equally amongst reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Moral of the story: Get off your lazy butt and start clocking 10,000 hours if you want to be the best. And if you’re learning a second language, spend 2,500 hours watching movies, 2,500 hours reading the newspaper, 2,500 hours skyping with foreigners, and 2,500 writing a blog. When you finally reach 10,000 hours, your second language will have probably become as easy as your first.

In the meantime, I will attempt to get off my lazy butt and clock another 8,000 hours in web design, read more books in Chinese, and practice strumming the guitar.

Have you spent 10,000 hours in an activity? (Please don’t say school, work or sleep. That’s the same for everyone.) What do you think the keys to success are?

  • I’m with you on the speaking colloquial Japanese. I’ve clocked in many hours of watching Japanese animes with subtitles, so I realise that I can pick up phrases but I cannot for the life of read or write their language. X___X;; Those characters all look the same to me!

    I’m trying to think of 10,000 hours I spent on something, and one thing that comes into my mind is reading. Okay, it’s not really a skill, but I can read really quickly by skimming and apparently that’s a skill not everyone has, which shocked me when I discovered. Then again, it makes sense since I grew up reading piles of books. I’m sure I’ve exceeded 10,000 hours on that!

    And same for the internet stuff. Considering the amount of time I spend on the net, chatting, and webdesigning, I’m sure I clocked in a lot of hours there as well. I wish I could get internet related jobs . . . that’d be awesome. 🙂

    But yes, it’s only natural that the more you spend time on a skill or whatever, the more you will grow and expand in it.

  • Hehehe, I’ve probably spent SOO much time online, and watching movies/TV. LOL.

  • Success is subjective; for me, having a happy and functional family is a success, which I can never achieve.

  • Wow thanks for sharing that! I’m not a really an avid reader so if you didn’t mention about that I wouldn’t have known the magic number. So far the only thing that can come to my mind is 10,000 hours worth of Internet I guess – but I never spent 10,000 hours in my life doing something with a definitive purpose. I bet I’ve spend at least 2,500 hours watching YouTube, another 2,500 designing and 5,000 hours trying to figure out why my layout doesn’t work in IE6. Just joking!

    I only knew Internet existed when I was 13 – pretty late for a person, not to mention a guy. I have to admit that I was one of the tech-averse guy in primary school. I never liked computer, I couldn’t figure out how the work – so much so I don’t even know how to install a game (and my brother knew how to do it when he was 9. And he’s 2 years younger). We had a noisy computer at home that runs on MS-DOS back then, and I didn’t quite like it.

    Then came secondary school. We had intranet, each student was given a network account and I remembered we were still using Windows ME back then (in 2001). I remembered the grey blocky interface and all 😛 haha! When we started computing lessons I found that I actually do love HTML, Javascript and Flash (but after years of disuse the last two reverted back into primordial soup). I started designing pages – I could still remember the first page I did was a roller coaster fan page and my favourite colour was #c8d9ff (it’s light sky blue). That hex code got stuck in my mind since then – worse than songs in my cranial jukebox (I can get songs unstuck after a month or so).

    And beyond the Internet, I guess I didn’t do anything for more than 10,000. I have a short attention span and my life goals change all the time. I’ve never stuck to something for so long except for web design. It’s weird that while I’m majoring in biological sciences, I’m dreaming about being a part time designer next time. How funny. But haha I do use Photoshop to touch up my lab report photos 😀 now I find something in common between the two.

    1,800 hours of anime watching and you’ve learned conversational Japanese. Wow, that’s awesome Ivy! I’ve watched quite a lot of anime and I can only recognise a few words. Besides the normal greetings like okairinasai and the must-say itadakimasu before meals, I understand a few more like namida, yume, kimochi and etc 😛 I still suck at Jap, hah!

    p/s: I’ve modified my blog footer after your suggestion. Thank you so much Ivy! It looks a lot nicer now 😉 heh!

  • I probably at one point had more than 10,000 hours of something… that’s probably in Piano while I was playing from age 7 until 17. Now, not so much anymore but once I can get my piano to my plaec, I will be playing more and more.

    I think I also did put in at least over 20,000 hours of reading, both internet, and books since I was like 7. I’ve always been a reader, and I’m glad that even until now, I am still reading, even though it’s not as consistent as I would like it to be.

    I probably had over 1,000 hours of anime as well… all those series and reading subtitles as well!! Hahaha, we have so many things in common! Well… I guess if I add in Korean drama as well, it would push me over 2,000 hours.

  • If there is anything, I think I have spent 10,000 hours reading books and watching drama series.

  • I think i’ve spent 10,000 hours surfing the internet, watching tv/ chinese series & eating.. hahaha =) great post! i liked it

  • Interesting, 10000 hours is so inefficient.
    I have just blogged about it 🙂

  • hello ^^ your blog is sooo interesting!

  • Hi Ivy! Finally grab some time to read other people’s blog!
    So, you understand conversational Japanese by now?
    Very quick! sugoine- – – 🙄

    But I like the way you learned it.
    That’s the way you can learn while you have fun! 🙂

  • Liz

    Interesting idea. At first when I read this I thought 10,000 hours sounds little for learning a language. But in fact it’s like 8 hours a day for almost 4 years so I suppose it should be enough. Some languages have got to take more time than others though. I mean, if you have to learn a new writing system that is just extra time isn’t it?

    Nice that you got Japanese as a bonus while watching anime. The only thing I think I’ve put anything like that amount of time in is learning the piano. Now that I don’t really play any more I’ve forgotten it all as well. Quite depressing really.

  • This reminds me of a quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson. “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

    If you’re willing to put 10,000 hours into something…or to repeat something 10,000 times…you’re bound to get really freaking good at it.

  • saeed

    i like to study english for speak with evry body , thanks for the healp .

  • saeed

    i like to study english for sbeak with evry body .

  • tomo

    the activity i have spent the most time doing is sleeping and i have become a pro at it but i don’t know how to measure success at sleeping. I can now fall asleep practically anywhere as long as i’m sleepy enough which just requires having very little sleep during the week. oh, the other thing is breathing… i do that pretty well. and walking….