If You Want to Succeed, You Must Heed

I’ve been thinking about Malcolm Gladwell and the 10,000-hour rule. This is a concept that comes from one of his books, Outliers. Recently, this idea came under fire after an article in Time earlier this year in May. After some time, Gladwell wrote a response (a few days ago) that seems to adequately account for the critiques in the Time article. Nonetheless, it got me thinking about the idea of 10,000 hours and what it represents.

In case you’re not familiar, the 10,000-hour rule is the idea that in order to be “great” at something, one has to put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. After the 10,000 hours (approximately), one will likely be at the pinnacle or very near to, of the field. Ten thousand hours.

That’s 20 hours a week for 10 years.

You have to really like something — a lot — or really want to do well at something, in order to remain committed to the goal of becoming an expert. Twenty hours a week. Ten years. Nowadays, people might not even spend that much time at the same job (if we compress it to 40 hours a week and 5 years)!

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Then I got to thinking about Daniel Day-Lewis. Certainly one of the premier actors of our time. Since 1989, Day-Lewis has appeared in 11 movies. Of those 11 movies, he’s won the Academy Award for Best Actorthree times — making him the only male actor to win the award three times. He was also nominated for Best Actor two other times. So, of the 11 movies he’s been in during the last 20+ years, he’s been up for the award for Best Actor five times. From what I understand, most people are pretty happy to simply have been nominated once, much less 5 times — and then win three times!

Daniel Day-Lewis is certainly someone who is at the top of his field. He has put in the hours and done the work to become one of the best actors.

And then there’s Meryl Streep. She’s received more nominations for Academy Awards (17) and more nominations for Golden Globes (27) than anyone in the history. She’s also won 3 Academy Awards and 8 Golden Globes. Clearly, someone else who is at the top of their field.

But why have I highlighted both performers?

They continue to win awards. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for Best Actor back in 1989. And then again in 2007. Do you think he ‘rested on his laurels?’ No, how else would he have been able to pull off such a convincing Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s flick last year. And Meryl Streep won her first Academy Award in 1979. Again, in 1982. She wouldn’t win again until 2011 for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Between 1982 and 2011, she was nominated 12 other times. 12!

Both of these performers are stunning examples of the idea that even though you’ve won, even though you’ve made it to the top of your field, that doesn’t mean you can’t still keep working. That doesn’t mean you can’t still keep getting better. Practicing. Perfecting.

If you want to be good at something, really good at something, you’ve got to put in the work even if you think you’ve already made it. If Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep don’t rest on their laurels, what makes you think you can?

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