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.


The Apple Tree

I woke up this morning to a direct conversation with God. I was facing the window, which has no shades, and outside the window is the apple tree. It has not bared fruit for two years and I have been planning to cut it down to allow the sapling maples growing around it to thrive. When people would come over I would say, “I’m going to cut down that apple tree,” but I never would. I made excuses to myself about not having the right tools or the time. I don’t own a chainsaw and the resource I’ve used for one in the past moved out of town. This left me with a goal without execution.

God told me to cut down the apple tree. I said, “I have stuff to do. I have an appointment this afternoon with a client and I can’t be out cutting down apple trees. I have to prepare!” God then said something about “obedience” and so I said, “Just to make sure I’m not talking to myself right now, I’d like you to confirm this conversation by having someone in my house repeat the word “apple” to me this morning. I made a commitment that if I heard the word apple, I would know that I had indeed had a conversation with God and would cut down that apple tree.

Let me back up. The night before, as I laid down to go to sleep, I believe God spoke to me by simply saying, “Read my book.” I said, “I am tired. I’m already comfortable, all snuggly in my covers, the light is off, I don’t want to get up, be cold, and have to read. I know what it says.” God tugged on my heart that I didn’t really know what it said and spoke again, “Read my book.” I’ve been keeping my bible under my bed for easy access, so I sat up in bed and opened up to the beginning of the gospel of John (I had John 1:1 on my mind). Instead of starting at the beginning, I read this (John 1:19-:42 NIV):

John the Baptist Denies Being the Christ
19Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.”

21They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”

22Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”

24Now some Pharisees who had been sent 25questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26″I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Jesus the Lamb of God
29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
Jesus’ First Disciples
35The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”

39″Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.

40Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

I had read this passage before, but what struck me this time were these lines:

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

Before, when I read these lines, I thought Jesus was being short with them for following him in the way that someone who is being followed eventually turns around and screams, “What do you want?!” But last night, I read it as a two-part function of Jesus’ personality:

  1. They followed Jesus.
  2. Jesus asked them what they wanted.

When they responded to Jesus, they were praying in the literal sense, so lets look at what they prayed after Jesus asked them what they wanted:

Where are you staying?

The wanted information. They wanted to know where he would be in the future. Jesus’ response is just as interesting:

Come and you will see.

So it starts with following Jesus and it ends with following Jesus. It’s all about obedience to Him. And through obedience, Jesus wants to know what we want. When we pray to him we are asking for things we want, but what I am learning is that we also have to be obedient and follow Him. God had asked me to cut down an apple tree, but for now it was time for breakfast.

My wife had surgery yesterday, but even if she wouldn’t have, I normally make breakfast on Saturday mornings. I grabbed the last four eggs, some butter, and some cheese and made scrambled eggs with cheese, plus toast with grape jelly, and orange juice. I called the girls down to eat and we sat down to pray. I thanked the Father for our home and our vehicles and the health of our children and my wife’s successful surgery. I then asked for guidance on how to spend my day. In the middle of my prayer, my oldest daughter yelled out, “Apple tree!” I was a little taken aback by it and had trouble praying, but continued, only to be interrupted again by another round of, “Apple tree!”. I finished praying, then asked why she was saying “apple tree.” She said she had found two apple seeds yesterday and wanted to plant them. I was going to cut down the apple tree.

I went down to my shop and gathered up my largest whet stone and some honing oil in order to sharpen my axe. They were all my wife’s father’s tools that we inherited when we moved into their home after my wife’s mother got remarried. My wife’s father died when she was 12 and her mother planted a tree every year afterward to honor him. One of the trees was the apple tree I was about to cut down. While the tree had been planted in his honor, it would be his tools that would cut it down.

I sharpened the blade.

By this time, my children had become involved, mostly as spectators. It was a brisk morning so my oldest daughter fetched me a coat. I swung the ax and began cutting into the tree. My children went and got cardboard boxes to play and sit in. I was not sure if I would be able to finish cutting down this tree. It was about 30 inches in circumference and my ax, although sharpened, was still making long-work of the process. I prayed for strength to finish it.

I had cut a wedge about a quarter of the way through into the leaning side of the tree when I considered starting to cut the other side. At that moment, my oldest daughter yelled, “Do the other side now!” I asked her to pray for strength for me to finish and I began to work on the other side. I chipped into the tree, working about an eighth of the way in, then circled around the side, connecting the front and the back. I worked back to the front, then began hitting it as hard as I could, repeatedly. I was in a groove and I thought this would do the trick until a hit rocked my bones to the core. What I thought would work did not, but instead of giving up I decided to switch tools.

I took the ax down to my shop and retrieved an antique hand saw instead. It was my grandfather’s and is made for cutting dried wood, but it was all I had and since I was mostly through the stickier exterior of the tree, I thought it would work. After choosing the thinnest spot, I began to saw. It was slow work. It reminded me of paying off a debt. With every stroke (or payment) I couldn’t see much progress and it was depressing, but continuing to saw, every once in a while, I saw a large chunk fall off. I was making progress, it was just slow progress – and it was almost all that I could take. I asked my oldest daughter to pray for strength. I continued to cut, my arms were burning. I was exhausted from axing and sawing, so I asked my other daughter to pray for strength too. They both began to pray and I heard God say, “Cut 40 more times and the tree will fall.” I didn’t know if I could cut 40 more times, but I continued to cut, 20, 30, the tree was starting to lean, 38, 39, “Move!”

The Apple TreeThe tree fell towards the house and towards my daughters. They were safe, just outside the fall line in their card board boxes, but it scared them. I was exhausted, but God had delivered the tree to me. It had been a spiritual journey that I wanted to share. God is good and we can all learn to obey him more.

By the way, when I went to write this story, my oldest daughter brought me the “apple seeds” she wanted to plant. They were sunflower seeds. We will plant them next spring and remember this day.