10.000 Hours Later
If you ever thought about trying something that would potentially change your life for good, this one’s for you.
Some might say I’m an idealist because I believe in a better world. I think we actually have a chance but it all starts with you. Before loving someone, you have to love yourself. Before teaching someone, you have to teach yourself. Similarly, before each flight, the attendants announce that in case of a God forbid emergency, you have to put your mask first. Why? Because before helping someone, you have to help yourself. There’s no way around it.
It was March 2017 and I was already a few personal development books deep at the time. However, it felt like I was barely scratching the surface. Questions like ‘What is life’s meaning?’ or ‘What’s my real purpose?’ were still awaiting their answers. So, I took a personal vow. I had to find a way to answer those questions and do it asap. I knew I had to do something different.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein
I started, as anyone would, by looking for books that could help me achieve this goal. I spent a couple of weeks researching and had a long list of potential winners, but I wasn’t sure which. Then I remembered. My mother had given me a book for my 23rd birthday with a small note inside, “This will change things”. It was Daniel Coyle’s “The Talent Code”, the book in which he explains and proves how you can achieve mastery in any field. It only takes 10.000 hours of deliberate practice.
Oh, really? Just that? I know it sounds like a lot but, as you should do with all your goals, chop them up and crunch it in. It’s a 20 hours a week effort, for ten years. Believe me, your brain will thank you for breaking it down into small chunks.
Before reading the book, it was my right to be skeptical. Wouldn’t you? So I started by reading all the articles I could find on the matter and realized this. Most people talk their talk and never turn it into a walk. It’s an endeavor doubted by many, believed by some, tried by few and done by almost none. I told myself fuck it, read it and I was hooked. Since Bill Gates, The Beatles and Einstein did it, it seemed like a good idea. They’ve been successful for a reason, and this could have been it.
Since my only true talent has always been curiosity, I’ve reinforced my decision with an incredible work ethic. I was going to do it. In the end, what was there to lose?
On my own
Then life happened. At the time I was working as a Marketing Manager with a global coffee shop. The company was expanding to Europe from Middle East and we had to adjust the brand’s offering to a new market. I was a 24-year-old kid in charge with such a task which turned to be my holy grail. I’m grateful and indebted for the rest of my life to the people who’d given me the opportunity. They’ve been kind and crazy enough to believe in me. I’ve learned a great deal throughout the entire experience and we’ve also accomplished at least as many. But… There’s always a but. I’ve never been an employee type and that’s due to my upbringing. Thanks, mom.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” — J. R. R. Tolkien
It was May 2017, after almost two years in the role, when I decided to part ways with the company. Some of my friends were already making a living working online so why wouldn’t I, right? Well, I wasn’t particularly good at anything. I only had some surface level understanding of many fields. Business, marketing, and advertising, plus some graphic design, photography and product design experience. It might seem that there’s a common thread and it is, but you can’t master them all, especially at the same time. I had to choose. Only then have I realized I had no job, no plan, and little savings. I was fucked. Literally.
Given the choice
Although I was better at photography than all the others, for some bohemian reason, I kept it for my soul. I couldn’t do it online and I wanted the ultimate level of freedom. There were still a few other paths to choose I was equally passionate about. So I decided I would become a graphic designer. The other skills could have been used as an edge among other freelancers, anyways. It made sense. Also, I had already designed logos for a couple of friends and some marketing campaigns on the job. I was so confident in my abilities and wanted to keep this promise to myself. I’ll never work for someone else again. That wasn’t me.
“You can have it all. Just not all at once.” ―Oprah Winfrey
For two whole weeks, I prepared my personal profile and portfolio. I opened an account on each freelance platform I could find online and came to realize this. Focusing on a single platform made my life so much easier. If you’re a freelancer working on such platforms, focus on the one and only. You’ll thank me later. Few weeks flew by and I was applying for projects, but still nothing. Not even a reply, but I didn’t lose hope. It was close to 6 weeks since I left my stable job when it finally happened.
There’s always a first
My first freelance project was here and I remember the moment so vividly. I was so happy. It was a small assignment of designing a book cover and got a whole $10 for it. After taxes, I had $7.60 in my bank account and that’s a venti latte with a couple of extras but life was good. I was my own boss leaving the dream. By the way, Carmen, if you read this, I want you to know that I’m forever grateful. You’ve been my lucky charm because this project was the turning point in my life. I changed overnight from a boy with a dream into a man with a plan. I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life. The 10.000-hour journey had begun.
“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.” — Thomas A. Edison
Working hard is second nature for me and I wanted to become the best in my field. So I challenged myself to do it in 2 years. That’s 17.520 hours to hit the target, but I was optimistic. Even if I knew I was shooting for the moon, at least if I had missed, I’d have landed among the stars. Sounded like a no-brainer.
If you average 8 hours of sleep a night, and I sleep far less, plus 2 hours for other tasks each day, you’re left with 11.680. There are a mere 1.680 hours for your favorite activities. Meeting friends, video gaming, binge-watching Game of Thrones or any other. Choose wisely.
For the first couple of months, I used to work the whole day and learn as much as possible during the night. I found myself several times waking up in the morning on the same chair I had been working on. And back at it again.
Whatever I was learning, I was using. This kind of learning-applying loop does wonders. I recommend getting proper rest, tho. In the short run, it might work. Doing it over an extended period of time, it damages your performance and health. Your cortisol level increases and everything goes sideways. You won’t be able to focus, your retention drops, not to mention the everlasting fight or flight mood. I’ve been there and it’s no fun.
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” — Jim Rohn
Then, when I got to a place where I was making enough money to pay the debt I’d previously created, I ramped it up. I started reducing my work time to the point where I was spending half of my wake time learning. This approach pays dividends in the long run and I still do it. Just try it yourself.
Finally, it’s been a little less than 2 years and I’m here. I’ve made it. At first, it seemed like a huge mountain to climb but as I got closer to my goal, I realized it. This was merely a little hill. Looking back and connecting the dots, it wasn’t even the peak I’d been looking for. It was the journey, without even knowing. In the process, I read thousands of books and articles, watched endless hours of tutorials, attended as many online courses, class seminars, conferences, and workshops, as humanly possible and applied all those learnings in my day to day work. They all live in the same neighborhood as my area of expertise: Design, Branding & Co.
“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” — Bruce Lee
Just in the past month, I’ve read three books, tons of articles, took five online courses and watched a ridiculous number of videos. As a tip, set your playback speed to 1.5x and you’ll get used to it. You will increase your learning speed by half.
Did I achieve mastery?
Not even close. As you learn more and acquire knowledge in a certain field, they might see you as an expert. You know you’re still a fool. There’s only so much you can know. It’s a never-ending but never-losing game.
“You don’t know what you don’t know.” — Socrates
How hard was it?
Nothing worth having ever comes easy, the cliche goes, but it’s been tried and true. If you set a goal and keep your eyes on the prize, you gain clarity and focus. That’s everything you need. In all fairness, I had to skip most invites from friends going out, living life, having fun. Don’t worry because the real ones will stick around.
“Birds of a feather flock together.” — William Turner
I worked Monday to Sunday and rarely took a day off but I’ve learned how to prioritize what is important. I got to know myself in the process, which changed my life forever.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” — Warren Buffett
Saying no to dumb shit is so underrated.
Was it worth it?
Definitely. I found my purpose, my true why and that’s also thanks to Simon Sinek’s book. If you don’t know which, I’ll let you find it yourself. Then, I started as an unemployed aspiring designer. Now I am a Brand Strategist and Designer, serving companies around the world. I am not the only one who rips the benefits because all my clients are happy with the results. In return, I’m happy too.
“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” — David Henry Thoreau
I haven’t doubled, tripled or quadrupled my rates, I’ve actually 500X’ed them. Sorry Mr. Cardone, but your 10X book will comfortably sit in my library as a dust holder for now. There’s only one way this is going and you’ve guessed it already. Up. The sky is not the limit, brothers and sisters. That’s a lie. There’s actually none and if you want to become valued, please become valuable.
Follow your passion and solve bigger problems. That’s it.
Would I do things differently?
First, I would take resting more seriously, which I now do. Against one or two odds, I am a human being and I procrastinated at times. Thus, I had to compensate for my focus incompetence with lack of sleep. For the same reason, I had to skip most of my workouts. Yes, I was following my goal. Remember? But I was doing it stupidly.
“Well-arranged time is the surest mark of a well-arranged mind.“ — Isaac Pitman
Advice for a few
What I advise everyone, in case you consider the challenge, is to adjust it to your current life scenario. To avoid any confusion, mind the difference. Lifestyle is heavily depending on your daily habits, good or bad. Circumstances are mainly out of your grasp. You can change your lifestyle in seconds while circumstances might take a while. Unless you’re a workhorse, doing it in such a short time is outrageous. But it’s doable.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde
There’s no one size fits all approach to almost anything. Find yours.
This one’s for you
I’ll begin my acknowledgments with the top of the list, my mother. I’m really glad she made her life’s biggest mistake close to 30 years ago. She gave birth to the one and only me. She’s always been my inspiration and most prized resource of love, support, and advice. She laid the foundation of who I am. The second in the row is my girlfriend to which I thank for being such a supportive and caring human being. I still don’t understand to this day how she does it. Last but not least, I’d like to congratulate my friends for being so understanding. Although we’ve rarely seen each other, our bonds are stronger than ever.
Now it’s time to take those guys out for a beer because they deserve it and wins must be celebrated. Find your support system and support it. Then we’re back to the same grind.
“Being honest may not get you a lot of friends but it’ll always get you the right ones.” — John Lennon
I also thank you for patiently reading and sticking around for my longest article to date. It means the world to me.
In the end, I’ll leave you with this...
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Chinese Proverb
What’s your excuse?
PS: Be curious, keep quiet and let your results do the talking.