A Glorious Waste Of Time

We were in the middle of a conversation around the table at a restaurant when our first year art student made a comment about her classes. "You might be a better artist than you know," I said. "You’ve just got to put the time in. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something." She looked at me with the kind of skepticism only a teenager could muster, her eyes widening in disbelief.


"It takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at something."

I couldn’t remember where I’d heard that phrase, or read it, but it had been long enough ago that I’d judged numerous hobbies and avocations by this yardstick for years. "My golf game is only so-so," I had long reasoned, "because I hadn’t put in enough hours." On the flip side, I’ve put in more than 10,000 hours putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard describing people, places and things -- some of them real, some of them fictional -- and I am nowhere near being an expert writer.

So where did this idea come from?

"The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours."

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

I had to stop and think for a minute. In a world full of mixed signals, was my attempt at suggesting to our budding student that she rethink how she looked at how she used her time liable to be misread as a mandate that she had to become an expert?

The good thing about children who grow up in a typical suburban American oasis is the access they have to a good school system and the myriad activities available that are aimed at promoting teamwork, fostering personal development, and providing academic enrichment. It is through the sheer number of activities suburbia’s preteens and teens are often engaged in that many of these kids are introduced to the concept of time. Time, they learn, is not to be wasted.

During my own childhood, time was something that could be wasted gloriously in play. Modern day children, by contrast, seem to have a different view of time that often replicates the preoccupation with time management and productivity their parents are likely to have.

A ceramics professor comes in on the first day of class and divides the students into two sections. He tells one half of the class that their final grade will be based exclusively on the volume of their production; the more they make, the better their grade. The professor tells the other half of the class that they will be graded more traditionally, based solely on the quality of their best piece.

At the end of the semester, the professor discovered that the students who were focused on making as many pots as possible also ended up creating the best pots, much better than the pots made by the students who spent all semester trying to create that one perfect pot.

Bill Buxton, Sketching User Experiences

I don’t know who this Bill Buxton fellow is, but I am immensely impressed with the ceramics professor he has chronicled in the excerpt above from his book. I can only hope that among our art student’s instructors one of them will encourage the same kind of glorious "wasting of time" in practicing her craft.

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Calling out Cersei Lannister: Elizabeth Warren reviews Game of Thrones

The real Game of Thrones might be who best leverages the hit HBO show to shape political narratives.

Photo credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren argues that Game of Thrones is primarily about women in her review of the wildly popular HBO show.
  • Warren also touches on other parallels between the show and our modern world, such as inequality, political favoritism of the elite, and the dire impact of different leadership styles on the lives of the people.
  • Her review serves as another example of using Game of Thrones as a political analogy and a tool for framing political narratives.
Keep reading Show less

Following sex, some men have unexpected feelings – study

A new study shows that some men's reaction to sex is not what you'd expect, resulting in a condition previously observed in women.

Credit: Pixabay
Sex & Relationships
  • A new study shows men's feelings after sex can be complex.
  • Some men reportedly get sad and upset.
  • The condition affected 41% of men in the study
Keep reading Show less
Videos
  • Climate change is no longer a financial problem, just a political one.
  • Mitigating climate change by decarbonizing our economy would add trillions of dollars in new investments.
  • Public attitudes toward climate change have shifted steadily in favor of action. Now it's up to elected leaders.