There is a saying that to be really good at something, you have to spend 10,000 dedicated hours at it. Malcolm Gladwell popularized this concept in his “Outliers” book and now it can also be seen referenced in many personal development and artist-focused books.
While traveling in Japan two years ago, I came across this concept quite a bit. The travel books that I read and the interactions I had there all spoke of Japanese master-apprentice and Kaizen (continuous improvement) philosophies. These basically say that to be good at anything, you need to apprentice with a master for a “very long time” and bring continuous improvements to whatever skill, ability or product you’re working on.
Because I was mesmerized by the Japanese culture, on my return to the U.S. I started digging more on this subject and it finally dawned on me the phenomena that happens after you put in the necessary hours, have the proper teacher/mentor/master and focus on continuous improvement.
What happens is that you let go of you and connect with something bigger…
As we’re developing our skills, we’re first very focused on the skill, tool or instrument we’re learning. Then we become focused on what others have done and try to emulate and/or best them at it. As our confidence in our abilities increases, we arrive at a point at which we let go, we just let whatever is inside of us shine through. Mixing analogies here, I’ll use another term/concept from Malcolm Gladwell and call that point the “tipping point”. When the forces of mastery in a skill, exposure to competitive influences and self-confidence collide, we tip over to a different zone, an utterly creative, uninhibited and powerfully expressive zone. In Japan, some describe it as a meditative state, a state in which we connect with a bigger reality, a bigger truth. I like to call it connecting with universal energy.
We sometimes wonder how amazing pieces of art are made. When we dig deeper and explore the life and history of the artists, it easily becomes clear that they put in the necessary hours, they absorbed all the competing influences and reached a point of meditative, zen-like artistic freedom.
I was in the corporate world for a long time and that gained skill-set is still paying my bills. But a couple of years ago, I finally listened to the voice inside of me and embarked on a path of artistic self-expression. I’m early in my journey and have many more hours (and years) to put under my belt, but I’m confident that with persistence (taking baby steps every day) and trust in the universe (non-judgmental acceptance of what comes ahead), one day I will take off the apprentice cap (and belt) and proudly wear the master’s badge!