When Life Taps You on the Shoulder

10,000 hours.
That’s a lot of hours.
1,428 days of school. 2,500 football games. 20,000 episodes of The Big Bang Theory.
Like I said, a lot hours.
But that’s what Malcom Gladwell theorizes it takes to become the best at something. In his book Outliers, Gladwell chronicles the rise of the Beatles, Bill Gates, and others as they became the very best in the world at their given trade. Garage bands are a dime a dozen, so how were the Beatles able to rise above the rest and become the most popular band of all time? How was Bill Gates, one of hundreds and hundreds of aspiring programmers, able to buck the norm and create a billion dollar company?
By chance? By pure luck? Did the stars just magically align?
Yes, luck and good fortune factor into our successes, just as bad luck and misfortune factor into our failures.
And certainly the Beatles and Bill Gates had natural skills and ability.
But luck and skills can’t stand alone. The key ingredient, according to Gladwell, was work.
And not just a little work, A LOT of work. The most successful people in the world don’t just work harder than their competitors, they work much, much harder.
Gladwell quantified “hard work” with the approximate figure of 10,000 hours. That’s the number of hours that the Beatles played, practiced, and performed—including for months at a time in tiny strip clubs in Hamburg, Germany—before they got their big break on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Fortuitous timing and good luck played a big role in the Beatles’ success story. But without the 10,000 hours of preparation and performance, all the good luck and timing would have been for naught.
What would have happened if the Beatles were invited to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show and they hadn’t developed the charisma, charm, and chemistry from performing at so many hundreds of shows in German strip clubs the previous 5 years? Their performance would have fallen on deaf ears and they might have simply been a small blip on the American
The Beatles, Bill Gates, and others were ready to seize the opportunity when the opportunity came.
Winston Churchill famously said, “To every man, there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he is tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing; unique, and fitted to his talents . . . What a tragedy, if that moment finds him unprepared and unqualified for the work that would be his finest hour.”
The world is full of things we can’t control. So that’s why it’s even more important to control the things we can control. Our attitude. Our decisions. Our work ethic. Our decisions.
It’s our choice if we want to take our hobby and turn it into a world-class skill and asset. There are no guarantees of success, but we are guaranteed failure if we aren’t willing to put in the time.
If—and that’s a big IF—you want to be the best, to really stand out and achieve greatness, then there is no substitute for hard work; 10,000 hours of work, dedication, practice, performance, blood, sweat, and tears.
We have to develop the skills. We need some good luck and fortunate timing. But we absolutely need to put in the 10,000 hours of work.
With the right combination of those three ingredients we can achieve greatness.
So when life taps you on the shoulder, will you be ready?

Alex Stoddard

Alex Stoddard is the President and CEO of CS Music and Classical Singer magazine. Since 2003 Alex has been involved heavily with CS in advertising sales, the CS Vocal Competition, the CS Convention, and the development of the website www.csmusic.net. Alex graduated with a B.A. from Brigham Young University and a M.S. from Utah State University. He currently lives in Lehi, UT with his wife Becky and their 6 children and is a high school basketball coach on the side.