Years ago, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. In it, he told the stories of a wide variety of “masters” of their crafts — some famous, some not so much. In that book, Gladwell takes the concept of the “10,000 Hour Rule” and runs with it. (This idea of 10,000 hours to become a “master” of a particular craft was initiated by Colorado professor, Anders Ericsson in 1993, though Gladwell put a different spin on it.) While many have disputed the actual number, it’s hard to argue with the notion that there’s real meaning in spending this much time on pursuing a particular endeavor in an effort to “master” it. In fact, a “Master’s Degree” in higher education typically involves roughly 10,000 hours of study. Spending a mere 4,000, 5,000, or 8,000 hours does not appear to be enough to truly achieve a master level of proficiency.
To get a better idea of how this has played out historically, Gladwell gives several notable examples in his book. Why did The Beatles rocket to fame the way they did? Were they an overnight success? No. It turns out, they agreed to a unique opportunity early on where they were contracted to play eight hours per day, six days per week in Hamburg, Germany for roughly 2 years between 1960-62. Eight hours per day! While most bands would play no more than 2-3 hours at a time, the “Fab Four” found themselves having to improvise, coming up with new styles, sounds, riffs, and arrangements. Their “overnight success” came about through 10,000 hours of mastering their skills at a very early stage in their career.
What about mastering technology or business? Bill Gates grew up in Seattle and attended a high school in the early 1970s that was one of only very few nationwide that had computers. (Even most universities didn’t have computers then.) Bill was fascinated with this emerging technology and would sneak out at night and work with these computers, coming home just before he was supposed to “wake up” and go to school. He was in a unique position to spend time learning something few others had the chance to, and he took full advantage of it. His 10,000 hours were invested and he “mastered” his skill in this area.
The amount of time we spend in athletic pursuits also has a lot to do with the end result. Former legendary golfer Lee Trevino once said, “There is no such thing as a natural touch. Touch is something you create by hitting millions of golf balls.” Most top-tier professional golfers spend eight hours per day practicing. Even at that level, it would still take five years to achieve 10,000 hours (to which most weekend hackers would never devote such time, even if they wanted to).
So, is it possible that this idea of 10,000 hours could apply to holiness — to mastering one’s growth in the faith? Maybe. Maybe not. However, if all we ever do to work on our spiritual development is to go to Mass every Sunday and pray 5 minutes per day (which is higher than average), then it would take about 116 years to achieve that master level. And we wonder why our spiritual life feels flat, so often. But what if we spent 30 minutes per day in a combination of prayer and Scripture study, along with daily Mass? Even if that were just done four days per week (to add to Sunday Mass attendance), that would bring us to 10,000 hours in about 38 years. Suddenly, we have an achievable goal, assuming we live long enough. Add in some Adoration time and some apologetics or patristics reading each week, and we might be able to get this down closer to 20 years. We could take this a step further still, and apply tithing to our time — 2.4 hours per day — then we achieve master-level holiness in about 11 years!
While you and I may not actually be canonized by putting in this quantity of time working on our spiritual development, how might your life change if you do make this investment? What effect would this effort have on everyone around you? What would your relationship with God look like if he became this much of a priority? We spend time on what genuinely matters to us. May we all put our Lord and Savior at the very top of that list!