I was just watching a video of the Piano Guys - one of their typical, which is to say, absolutely phenomenal performances. And fantasizing about achieving that level of talent.
Today many people crave the instant success offered by a successful YouTube video - world renown, recognition - all it takes is that one video. Talking to one young man, he had taken up the violin and was pretty sure that in a couple of years he would be ready to play with the best symphonic maestros. But life got in the way and he didn't practice.
My mind wanders in a dozen directions on this subject - my clock-making skills. How many hours have I put into this effort? Let’s approximate. Say 20 years, perhaps 300 days per year, and OK, 2 hours per day. So, perhaps 10,000 hours. It blows me away how I can sit down today and do something, first try, that would have taken me a dozen hours 15 years ago. Thing just work now, first try. But, flip side, I also know there are no short cuts - you start out and plan to take every step, in the appropriate order, and the rest just works. Or, my clock-case restoration work. When matching the color, texture, patina, you just can’t skip steps. While it may seem, when looking at a project, that there are an unbelievable number of steps to take, at the end, it is all worth it.
In the clock world I have perhaps made it to a masters level. In one genre of clocks. Or maybe two.
Music? Let’s try the math again. I have been playing the hammered dulcimer since May of 2007. Being fair, lets go for 45 minutes per day, and say again 300 days per year. So, perhaps 1,500 hours. Get that? 1,500 hours. My music gives me a massive sense of satisfaction, of being able to create something special, and being able to totally focus, letting the current worries drift off while I practice. But, a master? Nope.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers”, posits that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in a field. In my mind, it may well. But I have to point out that 10,000 hours of practicing the same, simple things, will result in the mastery of simple things. 10,000 hours of constantly challenging oneself, of taking on tasks that are progressively harder, will give one a chance at true mastery. I see this in the hammered dulcimer world. There are folks who have been playing 20 years, but who have never progressed past simple tunes. And there are players who have focused on making stunning music. And they have succeeded.
So, where is this going? Part of me wants to share the satisfaction that comes from learning to do something truly well. And, more importantly, that such satisfaction doesn't come from just sitting down and doing something a few times. It comes from truly learning, in all its varied aspect. Finding what is most challenging and going for it. Not being satisfied with where one is, but striving to learn what perfection is, and then spending the time to achieve it. I’m talking life-long fascinations.
What keeps one going? Again, to my mind, it has to be satisfaction. Each step of the way, each skill attained, and then improved, each challenge overcome. I suppose baby steps is not a bad analogy. But equally important - vision of where you want to be - what you want to achieve. Critically, I believe you have to find your fascination years before you retire. You have to have this well begun so you can step into retirement and not suddenly find yourself set adrift with nothing to give purpose to your life.
There is another aspect to gratification. That is the concept of self actualization. Are you trying to achieve something to impress others, or are you doing it for yourself? Hey, the world is a fickle place. It might not notice that you can now play that difficult passage. But, if your focus is on being satisfied, well, there are few things quite so wonderful as success in something you have been working on.
Flip side, if your focus is impressing others there are wonderful outlets - Facebook comes to mind. But, well, you really need to have something to share tomorrow, and the next day to keep your friends aware of how great you are. Keep those positive vibes flowing - keep up with your friends and their postings.
I don’t believe that Facebook can give life-long satisfaction. I suppose a parallel, for me, would be working out. I get a massive dose of positive feedback when I am at the gym. But what about those days that I don’t have 6 people following me around (one of my gym buds has given me the nick-name “Pied Piper”). Working out by oneself is a completely different reality. One where we have to self-actualize, where we need something more than others accolades to keep going.
What keeps me going back is what I see in the morning when I am getting ready for the day. A fit body, one that doesn't look anywhere near 60 (which is where I will be in 3 months). It’s the way I can do things and not feel worn out. The way I can do things no sane 60 year old would even think about attempting.
Take-home message from all of this. Every one of us needs the satisfaction of doing something exceptionally well. Such an accomplishment takes time, and devotion. I believe this satisfaction is the key to long-term happiness.