10,000 Hours

Have you ever heard that it takes “10,000 hours” to become good at something or that you should “follow your passion” and “do what you love”? If you’re still wondering What Color is Your Parachute? and you still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, it may be time to take stock of your current skillsets and strengths to see how close you are to being an expert and whether or not that field is a vehicle that can economically provide a reliable income into your future.

In 2013, Cal Newport wrote Don’t Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Effort, where he talked about how becoming an expert in something makes you passionate about it, not the other way around. But what if you could have both? In 2001, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton wrote a book called Now, Discover Your Strengths and developed a test called the Clifton Strengths Finder to help you identify your strengths. What if there was a way to test for your “10,000 hours”?

Becoming an expert at something doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you’ve worked on for the last 5-10 years. The accumulation of all of your experiences has led you to the position you’re in today. There is no one else who has had the exact same experience as you. No one else has the exact same perspective as you. There is already something you are an expert in that you can do better than anyone else in your area, if not the world. This experience is your “10,000 hours.”

What do you do that's better than anyone else?
What do you do that’s better than anyone else?

Andy Johns, who was on the user growth team for Facebook, Twitter and Quora, recently wrote about Finding Your Career Economy, in which he says, “Everyone has their inherent strengths and weaknesses. I’m of the camp that believes that people should focus most on playing to their strengths and to align their strengths with a role that requires them to use their strengths regularly.” Shortly thereafter he spoke on Eric Siu’s Growth Everywhere podcast something similar:

When I thought about my career, the mental model I used was an economics one. Where I thought that, “If I go and try and learn be a developer at this point and try and write code just as good as some of the Facebook developers,” like – just a huge fail, it just wasn’t going to happen. And frankly I just wasn’t interested in that. I didn’t think that’s where my heart was, nor was it where my sort of intrinsic abilities were.

Instead I was like, “Well I’ve got to find this thing that I’m interested in that aligns with my strengths, but that also has an economy around it in the sense that someday there is going to be tremendous demand for this skillset – with very little real supply of that – and I wanna own that supply. That’s a position of leverage.

For me the thing that I settled on – the position of leverage that made the most sense for my future potential – was “How can I be one of the best people on the planet in terms of understanding end-to-end, comprehensively from either one million to a billion users, ‘How do you grow something?’” – team building, analytics, experimentation, organization…the whole thing.

That seemed like a tremendously powerful thing because the thesis or the hypothesis I had was that: more consumer Internet companies needed to have growth teams and no one was stepping up to the plate to do that. That’s what I wanted to do…and that’s been my sole objective since then – since I made up my mind about that in 2009.

One thing I’ve noticed from listening to over 600 hours of business podcasts is that a lot of the people who are successful now started in 2009. It took them about 5 years to get from “go” to “grow” to “show”. Coincidentally, people work about 2000 hours a year so 5 years is about 10,000 hours. I read the same business books these guys listened to. I started blogs the same time they did, but somehow the result was different? Why was my 10,000 hours different than theirs? Because the vehicle I chose was different.

The choices we make in life matter. Life is a game and not everybody wins, but everyone who can keep moving forward is capable of learning from their mistakes and doing better the next time. This is what startup culture calls “failing forward” and what normal people call “persistence” or “grit”. Those who are able to leverage their experience, focus on their strengths, and continue to improve will see return on their investments provided they select an economic vehicle capable of sustaining that activity.