10,000 Hours

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Years ago I heard an interview with actor Will Smith, who shared about honing his craft as an actor. He quoted Malcolm Gladwell’s work that it takes 10,000 hours to finally begin to become comfortable with something new.

10,000 hours.

That’s 40 hours a week for five straight years.

When I read it, I was six years into being a full-time co-pastor of The Refuge, and I remember how much it resonated. For the first five years, I remember so many moments of wanting to give up, turn back, change courses, do almost anything I could to not feel so inadequate or confused.

These kinds of thoughts were always swirling around in my head:

“What am I doing? Maybe I’m not really cut out for this?”

“What if they find out how much I really don’t know?”

“I’m not enough. I’m not enough. I’m not enough.”

“I’m too much. I’m too much. I’m too much.”

“Why did I just say that?”

“Why did I just do that?”

“OMG OMG OMG, that sounded so dumb.”

“Maybe you should just call it a day and get a real job with a real paycheck and give up this dream.”

Thought any of these before?

When we are finding our way into a new profession or dream or endeavor or chapter in our lives that requires us to build capacity, to learn, to practice, to risk, to put ourselves out there, to be more “us,” we are sure to think all kinds of crazy thoughts and line up 10,000 reasons to give up.

But here’s what I keep learning: we have to focus on the 10,000 hours in front of us, one hour at a time.

One step at a time.

One day at a time.

One experience at a time.

One risk at a time.

One “God, please help me in this” at a time.

That’s how we begin to develop the foundation that will help us feel a bit more secure and confident as we move toward new things.

Yet, 10,000 hours doesn’t mean we’re “done,” either.

Here’s the reality—even if I have well over 20,000 hours under my belt in this one particular area of pastoring a wild and messy faith community dedicated to folks on the margins, I’m still learning, I’m still fumbling. I’m still bumbling. I’m still practicing.

I still am living with the reality that most things can’t be “mastered” and that’s the big idea.

Living into who we were meant to be, finding our vocation, living a dream, learning something new, developing a new skill, practicing parenting or empty-nesting or caring for an elderly parent, showing up in bolder ways, following God’s stirring in our hearts, will always test us, try us, strengthen us, grow us.

And I’m glad.

But here’s what 10,000 hours will indeed give us—data, experience, and a little bit more confidence.

Data is helpful. I have good data indicating I can make it through hard situations, that the sun rises after difficult nights, and that on the whole, most tricky moments don’t turn out to be the end of the world.

Experience translates in a lot of different ways, too. Once I did one funeral, I knew I could do another one, even though each one has a unique twist. The same is true for almost every other situation; each experience helps strengthen us.

With data and experience comes a little more confidence as well. As women, a lot of us have been taught that confidence was a bad thing, that we need to “only rely on the Lord” and that we need to be careful about being “haughty or prideful.” I know that sometimes rolls through my head when I’m feeling pretty good about my strengths and abilities, this nagging little feeling that it’s not okay to feel okay. This twisted theology has robbed a lot of us from freedom and from feeling good about the work we are doing, and it does make me really sad and mad! However, I keep healing from that damaging message and see so many other women doing the same thing, learning that confidence is beautiful, not bad.

The confidence that comes from 10,000 hours reminds me of a tree—rooted, grounded, resilient, strong. Able to bear adversity and survive. Filled with stories of weather and wear over tens of thousands of hours over time.

That’s us, my SheLovely friends. Building branches, strengthening roots, growing more free and strong every day.

As we start this new year together, I hope we will keep showing up and working toward our dreams, our hopes, our passions, our callings, our realities, one hour at a time, one day at a time, one learning moment at a time.

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Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver. A trained spiritual director, speaker, and advocate, she also blogs regularly about life and faith at kathyescobar.com and is the author of Faith Shift and Down We Go—Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus. A mom of 5 young adults and teens, she is married to Jose and lives in Arvada, Colorado.
Kathy Escobar

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  • I so appreciate this reminder that the 10,000 hours accumulate one at a time, and the growth and progress may be slow – even undetectable in the moment. By grace, I want to look back someday on this autumn of my life and say, with thanksgiving, that they have been building years, not wasted like Jude’s cautionary words about “late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead.”

    • thanks, michele. always appreciate your sharing and wisdom!

  • Thank you! I want to have it all instantly and need this reminder that growth is going to take a lot of time!

    • yeah, i like fast and easy, too. too bad it never works that way, ha!

  • Love this! We were just talking about the 10k hours at church Sunday, and it is such a good reminder that “mastery” is not quickly or easily attained, but the journey is so valuable.

  • Melissa Henderson

    Great message. 🙂

  • Thank you so much!! I’ve been working as a special education teacher since August while not having trained to be one, so it’s a massively steep learning curve. Just about to start the college courses (while continuing to work), and although it’s all overwhelming, the chance to get a bit more background to my job will be great. And these words here help me to adjust my expectations of myself. It isn’t supposed to be smooth and easy yet….I’m still learning and that’s ok.

    • congratulations on the job & starting classes. love hearing this. and yes, be gentle with yourself. it’s a big transition and takes a long time…peace & courage to you from colorado

  • “Data is helpful. I have good data indicating I can make it through hard situations, that the sun rises after difficult nights, and that on the whole, most tricky moments don’t turn out to be the end of the world.” So good. How necessary it is to pan out to the big picture when we feel muddled in the details. Thanks for this encouragement!