How about those 10,000 hours?

If you can’t do something right the first time, you must have the time to do it again

Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, our society has become uniquely obsessed with the 10,000 Hour Rule. For those unfamiliar, practicing 10,000 hours on a particular craft will essentially guarantee success. My gripe is about the more hidden side of practice, the side where one endlessly practices to only build poor habits. In fact, even Freakonomics spent a segment lamenting Gladwell's overgeneralization. 

As Cal Newport has mentioned, it isn't so much how many hours you spend. Rather, it is the quality of those hours and the purpose behind them. Having spent the majority of my adolescent years as an athlete, I naturally assumed I'd learn any academic subject as quickly as I could pick up a new sport. Unfortunately, my ego was humbled when I failed nearly every exam during my first month of undergrad. Moreover, the solution was obviously to spend more time studying. I spent far too many hours trying to learn my undergraduate physics. I was horrible at it. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I would just work through every problem I could find with the solutions manual nearby until I could solve every problem. I didn't memorize each problem, but I also didn't truly understand what I was doing. And, it wasn't until graduate school that I learned how to learn. 

It was another late night in my office; I think around 3am. I was working on statistical mechanics and I just couldn't solve this one problem. Hell, I had no idea what the problem was asking for beyond the first few lines of a solution. So, I messaged a friend for some insight and he gave me something to check my intuition. It was that struggle to just understand this simple check that opened my eyes to the learning process. I realized, if you can't do something right the first time, you must have the time to do it again; I was out of time.