It’s the classic story of a good thing gone bad.

In his fantastic book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell made mention of a study by Anders Ericsson which revealed that masters in all different fields held something in common: they all put in massive amounts of practice. This practice seemed to be the factor that separated the greats from the merely good in many different areas of work. The Beatles’ time spent learning their chops in Hamburg was the primary case in point. “10,000 hours” was the shorthand Gladwell used for this phenomenon, and it quickly entered the public consciousness.

Somewhere along the way, the meaning of this “10,000 hours” thing subtly changed. What started out as a description of what masters seemed to have in common soon became a piece of advice kicked around the internet. If you just put in your 10,000 hours, the internet experts say, you can be a master too.

I don’t think it works exactly like that.

Take The Beatles for example. It doesn’t matter how many hours a band practices now, they will never be The Beatles. So much of The Beatles’ success had to do with the times they lived in. The fledgling rock and roll format needed a face and The Beatles provided it. Nowadays we’ve already got a Beatles. We don’t need another one.

It’s also important to remember that masters like The Beatles started with a healthy dose of innate talent. Practice will get you so far, but there’s no substitute for mad skills. I know in my case, I am not very good at sports. At all. I’m sure if I put in 10,000 hours of practice, I could learn to hit a baseball pretty well. But it doesn’t matter how much I practice – Chipper Jones I am not.

I’ve had many conversations after Third Day shows that went something like this.

“How long were you guys together before you got signed?”
“About five years.”
“Oh cool. My band has been together for three years. I guess we’ll get signed in another two years.”

I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way either.

“10,000 hours” is a great description for the journey taken by masters of the craft; meanwhile we’ve turned it into a destination. In doing so, we’ve taken the life out of it.

Here are a couple of ideas for redeeming the great idea behind “10,000 hours”. I’m using music as an example because that’s what I know. Feel free to substitute whatever “your thing” is:

1) Instead of focusing on the destination, focus on the journey – If you’re in a band and want a record contract, take a look at what bands with deals do. They make music and they do shows. Make a genuine effort to get really good at those two things. Get obsessed with it – obsession can be a good thing, you know. Make sure to get feedback from people who know what they’re talking about: A&R people, music publishers, etc. Then and only then is the time to start thinking about putting in 10,000 hours.

2) Why wait 10,000 hours? Go ahead and live your dream now – Ask yourself “what do I want?” What do you want to gain by achieving this goal? You say you want a record deal, but why? After thinking it through, you may find that you want to get up and play in front of people. Find an open mic night at a local coffee shop, and you won’t have to wait 10,000 hours.

3) Who cares what anybody thinks. Do what makes you happy. – If you love singing but you’re not a great singer, sing anyway. If that brings joy to your life that translates into other areas where you’re a “master”, I say go for it!

OK, I’ll step off my soapbox. Tomorrow I’m going to tie this all together with a post about what I’m passionate about: books and blogs and the written word. I sure hope you’ll join me…

Are you with me on this whole 10,000 hours thing? Or do you think I’m off my rocker? Either way, I’d love to hear about it. Use the comments section below to keep the discussion going!