Half Mastery

Halfway- the point where it would take just as long to go back as to go forward.

Halfway- the point at which it would take just as long to go back as to go forward.

A few years ago I read Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers” in which he promotes the idea that it is possible to achieve mastery in a field of in any field of interest after about 10,000 hours of practice. By now this theory has become a common enough idea to make its way into popular media- usually as the perhaps-foolish dogma of starry-eyed optimists who believe they have found The Key To Success.

In the present day, this idea (as presented with the aforementioned condescending tone) makes me wince, but when I first read about the idea I found it strangely appealing. I was in my late twenties when I read the book and what had I done with my life? I wasn’t rich. I wasn’t famous. I wasn’t one of the “30 Under 30” entrepreneurial geniuses who had made billions of dollars out of their dorm rooms (I’m looking at you Zuckerberg.) I’d made a few films, but didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with them… I felt that I was having a Quarter Life Crisis that went on for about seven years. I doubted my talents: if I was really talented, shouldn’t someone have noticed by now? Maybe I wasn’t *meant* to be a filmmaker and I was just pursuing a fools errand.

When I read about the 10,000 hours theory I found the idea to be reassuring: could it really be that hard work alone could make me a success? Was it possible that I didn’t need to be a prodigy to still make a go of being a filmmaker? I decided there was only one way to find out. I would have to do 10,000 hours of filmmaking and see whether I came out on the other side as a success.

So I began logging my hours. At first I just estimated them in fifteen minute increments, trying to be very diligent about only doing film related tasks when I was “on the clock”. Later I downloaded a time-clock app for my cell phone so that I could actually log my time down to the minute. It was late in 2010 when I began the process and I started at zero even though I’d already spent several years making films because I wanted to be very objective with my timekeeping and I didn’t think I could accurately estimate how much time I had already dedicated to the cause. I kept a running total of my hours in a notebook labeled by date and, wherever possible, with a brief notation of what I did during those hours.

I just reached 5,000 hours. ( 5,000 hours, 11 minutes as of Friday, June 13th to be exact.)

Supposedly, I’m halfway to mastery.

Looking back from the halfway point I do see a significant difference in my work from when I began to where I am today. By far the biggest difference has been attending graduate school by allowing me to focus on filmmaking full time and by holding me accountable to external standards- not to mention encouraging me to collaborate with other filmmakers who are just as dedicated to the art form as I am. I suppose that by the time I graduate I might be pretty close to the 10,000 hour goal… in which case I guess the theory would be true: after 10,000 hours I would have my Master’s degree.


~ by Gwydhar Gebien on June 18, 2014.

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