10,000 hours is way too many hours

This post embarrasses me in many ways. The first is that I’ll be making extensive Rocket League analogies, which is a fantastic game I play on PS4 (but available on almost every platform). The game is supremely well made, and offers infinite room for self-improvement. There will always be someone better than you, which gives you the incentive to keep playing. The second is because despite having spent many, many hours playing this game, I have today I realized I am pathetically under-skilled.

To date, the game tells me that I have spent about 2 days and 2 hours playing the game, which equates to about an hour a day for the last two months. Sounds reasonably healthy. In this time, I’ve gotten to level 34 in the game, which bestows upon me the title of “Veteran", an honor that my mother ultimately refuses to recognize. I did some of the in-game training, but spent most of the time learning how to get better just by playing. And I thought it was working. I felt like I was getting pretty good.

Recently, unable to connect to the online servers, I figured I would watch a live stream of other players. This one particular player was also a level 34, which means we probably spent the same amount of time playing the game. This ought to be interesting—I wonder if my skills will match his.

I spent the next 45 minutes with my jaws dropped below my waist. This player was profoundly more skilled than I was. He did tricks I didn’t even expect to get close to within the next year. He showed a deep understanding of the game and its strategies. I spent a lot of time being impressed, but even more time embarrassed that I had spent the same amount of time as him without developing the same level of skill.

But just then, he exits the game lobby, enters into the training section of the game, and goes into “Custom Training”, a part of the game that I never bothered to venture into. Custom training allows you to download training courses created by other players to practice really specific parts of your game. He instinctually glided his way through the menu to a particular training course, and immediately begins doing the same move over and over again in an effort to get the ball to the goal. He did this for the next ten minutes.

Well holy shit. There it is.

All this while, there were “brain modules” available for you to install to increase your brain’s ability to play the game. All you had to do was download the training module, loop through it hundreds of times, and you brain learns to perfect it.

All I had to do was do the training.

For the last 2 days and 2 hours of total playing time, I was playing completely instinctually, hoping to get better by practice alone. 10,000 hours right?

It turns out, that’s one way to do it. But probably not the best way. You can go the raw route of just expending time and repetition to improve your comprehension of something. That can take a long time. Or you can take specialized training and skip lightyears. You can install brain modules that take out the guess work and show you exactly the thing you should be training.

Books. People. Articles. Classes. Podcasts. Speeches. Observing. These are all things that can cut time off your 10,000 hours.

I had been going about this all so very wrong. And I refer not to this game, but my own personal growth. I’m a huge “I learn best when I figure it out myself” proponent, but sometimes, that just takes too long. And often times, especially in the technology and startup world, there are just too many things you must be able to do well in order to succeed.

So I say now to myself: Do the training. Go to school when it’s time to learn. It’s too pedantic to try to figure everything out yourself.

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