Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Success - 10,000 Hours and Concerted Cultivation

Two things continue to reverberate in my head - 10,000 hours and concerted cultivation.

When I visited my family for Christmas, my parents were listening to Outliers on CD. Seeing as they commute about an hour daily, they like to catch up on the reading for which they rarely have time.  As such, I ended up listening to some of the book.  It has left a lasting impression.  How do I know if I am guaranteed success in writing?

It is clear that most people will never be successful in any kind of comparative way.  Success means different things to different people, but culturally, outstanding achievement is an agreed upon state.  If you have outsold so many people in your service or product, if you have the car, the house, the spouse, the amazing children, the bank account, and the list goes on, you are considered successful.  Blown out of the water, balls to the wall successful. This is a rarefied state.  Mr. Gladwell sheds some light on just how rare it is. You see, talent, carefully honed by thousands and thousands of hours of practice, that leads to success.  That is, when it is combined by the right place and time.  There is an element of chance.  Yes, it is possible for people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, at least in theory.  But even still, all systems have to be go.  Everything has to work in that person's favor in order for them to reach the top of heap in whatever area of expertise in which they compete.

A certain style of parenting helps that (concerted cultivation).  That is, when parents see a child's interest in a thing and then facilitate the development of that child's skills in the activity.  So, I blame my parents that I am not a better dancer.  Let me explain.  I don't mean that it is all their fault that I never really tried at dance.  And honestly I have no delusions about my body shape infiltrating the ballet.  Truly, they wouldn't know what to do with these curves.  However, when I was a very small child, I told my mother I wanted to dance.  Rather than taking me to dance classes at the age of three, they thought it was cute and let me play with whatever toy I had at the time.  My parents never took me to any dance classes. 

Now, I did go on to learn how to dance some things, but it has taken some concerted effort on my part to even be a reasonable dancer.  I had to learn street dance from the kids in my schools.  I had to seek out lessons on my own, which I rarely felt comfortable doing because I never really learned how to use my body movement to its fullest advantage.  As it is, I am not very quick at picking up steps (or at least not quick in any kind of competitive way, though I might be faster than the average person).  I love to dance.  When I dance at a club, I really perform to the people there.  I dance hard.  When I am at home, by myself, if I dance I don't go nearly to the extent I might if I were dancing in front of a large group.  I love the performance of the thing.  If I had started dancing when I was three, I might have been a performer.  Maybe I would have gone to Bard for dance instead of art.  Maybe I would have gone on to choreograph or start my own company.  It's hard to know.  My parents didn't think it a good thing to do for a child, start them out so young on an activity.  That they didn't reward me by taking me to dance classes encouraged my silence on other things I wanted to do. 

I did however, spend hours and hours drawing and painting.  I did spend hours and hours singing.  I spent hours and hours writing.  All of these things I continue to do to this day on a daily basis.  These things were encouraged and so I was well on my way to mastery (and continue to be so).   They were also things that I could do without the aid of a class (though of course, classes helped hone these skills).  They were things with which no one could interfere or take away from me.  Short of rendering me brain damaged, removing my vocal chords, or cutting off my hands, I will always be able to do these things.  Concerted cultivation.  Damn it.

The one thing I think was very interesting about Outliers was the discussion of ages and cut-offs for grades and activities. This really got me thinking.  I barely made the age cut-off for my grade!  Mid-November was the youngest you could be to go into kindergarten.  My mother, seeing how sharp I was, put me in anyway.  After all, I was sharp for my age.  Why should I be held back when I could hack it with the other kids? 

Even though I was almost an entire year younger than my classmates, I graduated in the top 10% of my class in high school.  I always made As.  I always did well, even without the 11 extra months holding back would have given me, I still gave the older more mature kids a run for their money.  I wonder what would have happened if my mother would have held me back one year...what would have changed.  Well, for one thing, the Academically Talented Program at P.S. 16 in Albany wouldn't have been in existence for my grade.  I would have missed it.  That would have meant a lot less interesting classwork from 4th - 6th grade.  Then who knows how junior high would have turned out... it could have gone either way.  Everything is chance.  Do I regret that my mother put me in school when I could absolutely handle it? Not at all.  I think I would have been bored in school if my parents hadn't put me in when they did.  Still, I am a little disappointed about not taking dance classes. 

Knowing what I know now, I want to make sure all doors are open for any children I may have (adopted or biological). The earlier a child expresses interest in a thing, the earlier I want to allow them to participate in activities that hone those skills.  That extra time gives that child an edge towards mastery that otherwise wouldn't exist.  With an edge, you are more likely to go on to be highly successful.  BOOM! There it is.  The advantage.  The more advantages the better. Because let's be honest.  This is not a meritocracy.  Success is reliant on a convergence of very specific circumstances.  Better to stack the ones you have control over as much as possible, and deal with the ones you can't.

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