10,000 Hours

When the Beatles were a fledgling band, they went to Hamburg, Germany, and spent several years playing more than 1,200 live shows in clubs and bars, accumulating over 10,000 hours of playing time. When they returned to England, they were a slick, professional band with a startling new sound no one had heard before. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve expertise in any specific field.

Many of us would like to perform as well as the Beatles did at something – but who has the time? We’ve got jobs to work, kids to raise, bills to pay; taking time to pursue a dream is often nothing but a pipe dream itself. How many adults who are now accountants would rather be artists? How many lawyers would rather be authors? For that matter, how many secretaries might rather be accountants or lawyers?

Homeschooling, however, offers the unique opportunity for children to become experts in a field – maybe even more than one – if they have the desire and drive to achieve it, before becoming bogged down in the details of everyday adult life. In particular, unschooling gives the child even more time and space in which to achieve mastery.

At about the age of nine, my now sixteen-year-old daughter began trying to draw seriously. Her perfectionism frustrated her attempts until I got an artist’s light box for her, and showed her how to use it to trace and save the good parts of a drawing with which she was dissatisfied. That tool was the spark needed to light the fire.

Drawing quickly began to consume her thoughts. In less than a year she was drawing every day. She has carried a drawing bag with her everywhere – and I do mean everywhere! – for years. She draws in charcoal, colored pencil, and ink, or using her graphics pad on the computer, or her fingertip on my iPad. Failing that, she sketches on her own skin with a ball point pen! She has an account on Facebook that she rarely accesses, but is on her Deviant Art account (think: Facebook for artists) every day, interacting with her friends and fellow artists, viewing and commenting on artwork and receiving comments on her own.

For at least the past six years she has drawn an average of five hours a day (and five hours is a conservative estimate, I assure you). Even this very low estimate yields well over the 10,000 hours needed to become an expert in her chosen field: illustration.

I think it shows, don’t you?

Moonlit Flight by Nova

And I can’t help but look at this and wonder: how would it have been possible if she had been in public school, or even in a school-at-home program that took all her hours and energy?

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

0 thoughts on “10,000 Hours

  1. That is awesome! She will surely excel in any artistic field she chooses! It is a good example for me and an essential reminder that ideas truly do “originate in the muscles”! NOthing beats hard work and determination.

    1. Jeremy, I agree. I think we do a real disservice to our kids in public school by never letting them really sink their teeth into something. The bells signal to stop whatever they are doing, no matter where they are in the study or project, and move to a new subject. We’re training them that nothing is worthy of sustained attention.

  2. I’m no expert on art, but I know something good when I see it. Wow! It’s wonderful that you’re able to provide her with the opportunity as well as the encouragement. Homeschooling rocks!

    1. I’m no expert on art either! Fortunately when a kid has this much drive for a subject, all you have to do is offer opportunity and encouragement. If she needed me to teach her, all would be lost. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *