Why it takes more than 10,000 hours to perfect a skill

Practice makes perfect, but networking, pushing boundaries and taking risks are needed if you want to make a living from your ability

The first time I seriously thought about venturing into professional writing was back in the summer of 2008. I started by setting up my online portfolio and published some of my articles on it. It was also during that year that Canadian writer Malcolm Gladwell, promoted the 10,000-hour-rule in his book Outliers. In his book, Gladwell explains how enough practice will help anyone to master a skill – be it music, sports or anything else. “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness”, he wrote.

Fast forward to 13 years later and having invested more than 10,000 hours to develop my writing, I believe that it takes more than that amount of time practising a skill to achieve greatness, and making a decent living out of it.

From my youth, I have been curious. I loved exploring new hobbies and interests, and I believe that has helped me become a better writer. For instance, after I graduated from university and had more time on my hands, I enrolled in oil painting, photography and sewing classes.

Spending three hours a week with my photography instructor helped me look at life in a different light. He taught me to appreciate the small details and seek beauty in the ordinary. A water fountain, captured at a slow shutter speed, results in a tranquil piece of work that conveys movement in a still image.

Though my photography class only lasted a few months, the lessons learned help me with my writing to this day. Beautiful stories can also be found in ordinary places, and changing my perspective every now and then helps me when seeking inspiration.

Other pursuits provided more lessons. Three months spent with my sewing teacher taught me to be precise and patient during the garment-making process. I applied the same lessons to my writing process. Just like making an extraordinary piece of clothing takes time and patience, so does a great piece of writing. It is OK to work on your article, leave it for some time and come back when you have the mental capacity for it.

Learning how to paint in oils from a master painter taught me how important it is to have a mentor and a sounding board when writing. I dedicated time to enhance my creative writing skills with an editor and a writer from New York who helped me find my creative voice and fine-tune my first published book. My sister, a fellow writer, is my sounding board and always provides honest feedback on my work.

Dedicating enough time every day to master a skill – be it writing, playing the piano or photography – is necessary. I know, for example, that when it comes to writing, practice makes perfect but we cannot depend on that alone for a living. When it came to my writing journey, it was networking, being proactive and seeking opportunities that helped me reach an international audience and making a living out of it.

Exploring different interests, continuously challenging my capabilities and pushing my boundaries helped me think about incorporating my writing skill into other ventures. My passion for marketing and branding, in addition to my writing, inspired me to establish my consultancy. The more interests I explored, the more I realised that these skills could come in handy throughout your career. Lessons from my photography classes helped me perceive things differently when writing and strengthened my creativity when coming up with marketing ideas.

So, here’s the bottom line: Practice makes perfect, but it is networking, pushing your boundaries, accepting challenges and taking risks that ultimately help you to make a living and develop a professional career.

Updated: July 25th 2021, 3:30 AM