The story of Microsoft is legend: two guys drop out of college, start writing software (presumably in a garage), and become billionaires. Simple, right?
But if we look beyond the legend, we find that it took Bill Gates and Paul Allen tons of work and hours upon hours of pursuing their passion. The pair met at Lakeside, an elite Seattle private school. In 1968, the school bought a terminal for their lab, at a time when such machines were extremely rare. Gates and Allen had access to a sophisticated computer as early as eighth grade. And they were hooked. By Microsoft’s launch in 1975, Gates and Allen had each logged tens of thousands of hours behind a terminal.
In 1960, when they were still unknowns on the scene, the Beatles traveled to Hamburg, Germany to play the local club circuit. It was rocky at first: the dingy venues had terrible acoustics, the audiences were unenthused, and the band was severely underpaid. But they kept playing. As the lads from Liverpool got better, audiences demanded more performances – more hours of practice. By 1964, when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” finally cracked the charts, the band had already played over 1,200 concerts together.
In his 2008 book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something. He looked at the Microsofts and the Beatles of the world and found that there was a quantifiable point when experts became experts – just around the 10,000 hour-mark of practice. It might sound daunting, but the findings are actually quite inspiring: it means that elites aren’t just naturally better at their given passion – they fall in love with what they’re doing and practice a lot in order to get there. At some point, what they’re doing no longer feels like work.
Macklemore, who struggled with addiction for much of his early adulthood, only found success once he got clean and dedicated himself to rapping. He even wrote a song titled “10,000 Hours”, in which he raps about how practice and dedication gave him purpose and a reason to live. Those hours paid off: Macklemore is now a multi-platinum artist who hasn’t stopped honing his craft and who hasn’t lost sight of his sobriety.
Practice with a purpose can offer a deeper sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in our lives. Choosing something to get good at, and sticking with it, can be a source of powerful change – it doesn’t matter if it’s surfing, woodworking, or golfing. And while impatience can cause us to doubt our abilities and give up, Gladwell’s concept is a good reminder that expertise doesn’t happen overnight. So next time you want to throw in the towel, instead throw on Macklemore’s “10,000 Hours”, turn it up loud, and remind yourself that practice and dedication will get you where you want to be.