Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, suggests that it takes ten thousand hours of practicing something -- purposefully and single-mindedly with the intent to get better -- before you can “hit your stride” and achieve true mastery. Ten thousand hours!
Man. That means, when I was sixteen years old and wanted to follow in the folk-singing footsteps of Judy Collins and Joan Baez, I should have been practicing upwards of twenty hours a week after I got out of school at 3:30 each afternoon. Let me tell you, I was way more into my boyfriend coming over every afternoon to “help me” with my Algebra II homework.
Gladwell references a long-term study done by K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues in the 1990s. One of the conclusions of that research is that practicing isn’t something you do once you’re good, it’s the thing that makes you good. But he goes on to write that to be a “world class expert” in any field, it takes more than passion, talent, and hard work. He presents another variable of success: seizing unusual or extraordinary opportunities.
I am reminded of part of a sermon preached by my former pastor, Dr. Dave Hardy. “Preparation,” he said, holding out his right hand to illustrate, “is our part. It is our responsibility to do the work. But this,” and here he held out his left hand, “is God’s part. God provides the opportunity.” He then brought his hands together and clasped them victoriously. “When our preparation and God’s opportunities come together, that’s success!”
What is it that I am preparing for? What have I spent ten thousand hours doing, or what am I doing now -- purposefully and single-mindedly with the intent to get better -- that is getting even close to ten thousand hours? Our measure of success may be somewhat different from the examples in Gladwell's Outlier's; but it is still important to ask ourselves, "What does my use of time say about my goals?"
Am I alert to the unusual or extraordinary opportunities God provides? Years ago when my dad would lead me through the woods of the hunting lease, he’d say excitedly, “Look at those quail!” or “Did you see that deer?” I usually hadn’t seen them. Why? Because I was not looking for anything -- I was just walking rather mindlessly behind him. “You’ve got to look fast or you’ll miss something!” he taught me.
Will I seize new opportunities that God brings? God caused a bush to burn without being consumed. Moses saw it, but he also had to “turn aside” in order to hear God through it. He acted on the opportunity.
I definitely want to do my part, because I’m quite certain that God is designing numerous opportunities for me. After all, His thoughts toward me are for good, with a future and a hope.