This or That

In The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes about success. What makes someone successful? How are they so successful, especially at a young age? Is it innate talent, luck, dogged persistence or drive? Gladwell makes an elegant proposition that it is a bit of all of those things plus environment and the simple application of time. Do something for ten years or ten thousands hours and you become an expert at it. Tiger Woods swinging a golf club at the age of three meant that by the time he was 15 he could kick the ass of almost any semi-serious golfer in the land. Same applies to Andre Agassi, Tom Petty, Tim Tebow, Mary Lou Reaton, Mikhail Barishnikov, Annie Leibowitz, Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard. People at the top of their fields, masters of their schtick are masters because they keep doing that schtick over and over for years. After ten years, they’ve trained their body and mind to do the act fluently and fluidly. Then they can start with the finesse. Then it gets interesting. The ten year rule applies to other things too. Flying jets and airplanes is not the skill set of a rookie. They put in hours and hours of simulator time. A general surgeon has a minimum of four years of general surgery training, logging cases and procedures before they are proficient, before THEY feel proficient. A top chef isn’t made from some dude that cooks on a Coleman gas stove while camping twice a year. A top chef is in the trenches of restaurants…..or cooking for a family… day after day for years.

There are things I wish to learn, become proficient, even master beyond my current skill set. I have practiced medicine since graduating med school in 1993. But by the time I had graduated, I had spent three years rotating through different specialities and talking to patients. Regardless of the service, the one uniform experience was the patient. So, by the time I finished my residency, I had 3 years of med school, 1 year of internship and then two more years of residency. Six years of asking questions and listening to patients’ answers, watching their body language and hearing the things they want to say but cannot speak: their fear, their anxiety, their dread. And so to some, I seem like a soothsayer, oddly intuitive and freakishly perceptive. None of that is true. The science of it is that I read people. Like John Gottman, I thin slice facial expressions and see the emotions embedded in people, even when they are doing their damnedest to conceal. It isn’t some divine talent….it is the by product of TIME spent doing what I do.I ask and then listen.

But I want to do OTHER stuff too. I want to sew and create. I want to garden and grow my own food. Reading and looking at photos and books is the simulator equivalent and not real. I have to eventually get into the dirt and try. I want to write…write more…polish my novel and write the other stories I tool around in my head. But, I can’t find the 10,000 hours to devote to those things and the realization that 10 years from this vantage point seems far different than where you are 25 looking forward 10 years. I feel the press of time to get in gear and at those things I want to learn and master. And then I feel the press of “why bother”. I am master of THIS. Why isn’t THIS enough? Why can’t I just be satisfied with THIS. Why must I always want THAT? Once I get THAT, I’ll want something ELSE. So, I should just focus on THIS. Except………I already GET THIS. THIS I know. THIS is less challenging. And there is a lot of time ahead of me to have only THIS to do.



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