Tuesday, March 8, 2011

10,000 hours

"How we spend out days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time...... There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet."- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Today I spent 2 hours with a friend who introduced me to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 Hour Rule. In a nutshell, Gladwell studied people this society would consider successful and discovered that you have to spend 10,000 hours in any given field if you want to become an expert, an "outlier." (Even a nutshell should be more complicated than that, but I'll leave the twisted little nut in its pod for now.)

10,000 hours is a long time. But it is a lot less than eternity, which is the number that I had previously been working with in regards to improving my skills as a writer. I left feeling encouraged (on multiple fronts) and a desire to continue to chip away at the monumental task before me, like a prisoner digging for freedom with a sharpened toothbrush. The difference is that, for the most part, I enjoy the digging. Perhaps I will dig for years only to end up in another prisoner's cell. So be it. I am seeking God's glory and not my own, which is a little frightening when you consider the vast range of human conditions that He has used to glorify Himself. Christ was an "outlier," not in worldly expertise like the Pharisees nor Roman success, but in suffering.

I hope to use this blog again as a mini-workshop, accountability, and structure for chipping away. I look at my previous posts back when I was so uncertain of the future, I see my similar state and think, "Hot damn! I really did dig only to come up three years later in another prison cell." Maybe. Maybe not. Here is a poem by Czeslaw Milosz I was introduced to three years ago.


Under a starry sky I was taking a walk,
On a ridge overlooking neon cities,
With my companion, the spirit of desolation,
Who was running around and sermonizing,
Saying that I was not necessary, for if not I, then someone else
Would be walking here, trying to understand his age.
Had I died long ago nothing would have changed.
The same stars, cities, and countries
Would have been seen with other eyes.
The world and its labors would go on as they do.
For Christ's sake, get away from me.
You've tormented me enough, I said.
It's not up to me to judge the calling of men.
And my merits, if any, I won't know anyway.

Perhaps only after the holy resignation Milosz describes can we pick back up the pieces and the hours of our lives, not to stand as judge but as a delighted steward, crafting our life and our art with tenacity and freedom.

My pastor once spoke on the parable of the talents and his former frustration that Jesus never addressed the possibility of a man who tried to invest his talents and failed. He suggested that perhaps in the divine economy there is no such thing as trying to invest for the kingdom and failing. What a concept.

9,999 hours to go.....

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