Just a couple of weeks ago, in my seventh quick take, I mentioned that I’m not a believer in that oft-spouted mantra: “Hey kids! You can be anything you want to be!”
Well, I still believe that (or I still don’t believe it, I guess), but I recently read something that really changed my understanding of how God gives us his gifts.
In the July 29, 2013 issue, Sports Illustrated ran an excerpt from The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
by David Epistein. I found it fascinating. I really recommend it if you like science and having your mind blown.
As both an athlete and a mother I have a great interest in the concept of how people achieve greatness, whether it be in sports, or music, or anything else. I have always assumed that some people are just gifted with excellence in a particular field. That God has given them a better eye or a better ear or quicker reflexes or better balance than other people. But it turns out that that’s not what the research says.
Of course, some people are more suited physically for some pursuits than others. But when elite athletes and grandmaster chess players were tested by scientists, it wasn’t better-than-average reflexes that set them apart, it was a learned ability to read the signs in the game — to be able to tell by just the tiniest clues around them what was likely to happen next.
In every case, it was not an innate inborn ability that gave the most talented people in their fields a leg-up on everyone else. It was practice — hours and hours and hours and hours of practice.
The researchers found that what set champions apart from their rivals, whether they were athletes or musicians or chess players, was experience. Ten thousand hours of experience, to be precise. They discovered that those children who would become the most elite in their fields had gotten to that magic number of 10,000 hours well before those who would become good but never great. The champions were the ones who chose to spend much more of their time practicing.
So what God has gifted these people with isn’t a particular talent for something, but rather a particular love for it — the desire to do the work necessary to become great.
I think that’s even more beautiful. There God goes letting us participate again.
We’ve all heard that we should tell our kids that the effort is what counts. But it turns out that that one isn’t just new age-y nonsense. Not only is effort and hard work something to be celebrated as a great good on its own, it’s also scientifically proven to be the only way I could possibly help my children achieve excellence in anything.
Okay, fine, you may be saying. That’s all well and good for kids. But what about ME? I can hardly spend 10,000 hours becoming great at something now. I have a baby.
Well, I’ve got good news for you: All of this science applies equally well to achievement in mothering.
Let’s say your baby gets the recommended average of fifteen hours of sleep per day for his first year of life, that means you’re getting in a solid nine hours of baby-parenting each day. So, to get to that magic number of 10,000 hours, you’ll need almost exactly three years. But since babies have a habit of growing up, you’ll actually need three babies to get to 10,000 hours of baby-parenting.
The math just happens to line up perfectly with the conventional wisdom among mothers of many (not to mention the post I wrote here!) that says that it takes three babies before you finally feel like you know what you’re doing.
I can’t tell you how awesome it feels to have my unfounded blog assertions proven by exhaustive scientific research.
But it turns out that that’s the big secret to mastering everything — experience and practice. In the same way that Albert Pujols knows what it means when a pitcher tweaks his elbow just so, and Rodger Federer knows what it means when the guy across the net angles his racket ever-so-slightly, and Viswanathan Anand knows what it means when the other guy does some chess thing (sorry, I don’t know much about chess), *I* know how to get my toddler down for a nap before she completely loses it, and I know what it means when my baby makes that one particular face. Because I have put in the hours.
|yeah, this face. you know you know it.|
God has given the best athletes and musicians in the world the gift of a great desire to do the thing they love. He has given them the willingness to put in the time it takes to be a champion. My desire to dedicate my life to the upbringing of my children is no less a gift from God. Those champions want to put in the hours and become the best. Well, so do I. If this is what I’m going to be doing, I might as well be awesome at it.
|Hey, look: it’s me running track and cross country for USC!|
Hopefully even awesomer than I was at running, which was: not all that awesome (but if you’re going to judge me based on that upper left photo, please remember the stagger). Pro tip: If you want to make a Division I track team, run the 400 hurdles. Ain’t nobody want to run the 400 hurdles.