A few days ago, I found a brown package tucked behind a planter on my front porch.
Could it be one of those two books I ordered from Walmart?
I had received an email from them informing me that my orders had been cancelled the day after taking advantage of price glitches on their website to order $50 worth of books for about $11, including a small shipping charge. So I guess they screwed up twice. Yay me.
I had made the joke in the first post that I was going to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers—which I’ve never read—and use its contents to propel me to unimaginable success as I continue to move forward in my personal and professional life.
I wrote this:
“I’ll pick up the package. I’ll smile. Hell yeah, I’ll think. I just got a good deal.
Then, you know what I’m going to do?
I’m going to read Gladwell’s Outliers. Then I’m going to spend 10,000 hours doing something.
And a decade from now?
I’m going to be so rad at something, you’re not even going to be able to recognize me.
I’ll be tall and rich and smart and funny and getting laid and happy. Everyone’s going to be like: “Hey Matt! You’re so amazing and happy and sexually active! How ever did you pull off this magnificent life!?!?”
And I’ll say: “Walmart.com, baby. A glitch in The Matrix. I seized opportunity.”
They won’t know what the hell I’m talking about.
But you will.
So, I picked up that package. I smiled. I opened it.
And sure enough, it was Outliers. And I thought to myself: Hell yeah. I just got a good deal. Because I try hard to keep my promises.
And then I got excited.
Because I’m going to be so freaking tall and rich and sexually active now.
The world is mine.
There are many nuanced, well-researched and brilliant observations made by Gladwell in this book (Which I haven’t started reading yet. I’m afraid of the growth spurt and having to buy all new clothes).
But the one most people seem to focus on is the idea that to master something, we need to spend 10,000 hours doing it.
All the greats do.
Adult film actors.
And I wondered: How close am I to putting in my 10,000 hours?
So, I began a crude analysis based on lots and lots of possibly incorrect guesswork.
It looked like this.
1. I’ve been writing quasi-professionally or professionally for 15 years.
2. In those 15 years, I have:
Written and edited news stories.
Written and edited shitty poetry.
Written and edited marketing materials, including email, brochures, web copy, advertisements and video scripts.
Written and edited blog posts—both corporately, and here.
3. From age 19-21, during my college years, including countless hours in the college newspaper’s newsroom and my summer and winter break internships, I estimate spending about 1.5 hours per day writing. For three years. That’s 1,643 hours.
4. From age 22-34, during my professional career, including even more hours in daily newspaper and weekly business publication newsrooms, operating my own freelance copywriting business, working in internet marketing in my current job, and all of my private writing including what I do here, I estimate an average of 2 hours per day writing. For 12 years. That’s 8,760 hours.
5. If my math is correct, and I have no reason to think it’s not damn close, that’s 10,403 hours.
6. Holy shit. I’m an expert.
The Definition of Success
My mom always defined success as getting paid to do something you love.
And I do.
In the grand scheme of writers, I’m probably even paid well.
But I want more. Because I’m selfish and greedy and want to go on vacations and have an in-ground swimming pool and maybe even a really fast car I don’t drive very often.
Also, I wouldn’t mind having financial security for my son.
Okay, fine. And maybe I would try to do a little good with it when I wasn’t busy sipping fine tequila by my pool while writing books people actually wanted to read.
And while I appreciate what my mother is saying, I can’t agree. I won’t agree. Because I don’t feel successful.
I feel grateful. But not successful.
My dad probably defines success more in financial terms.
He makes a lot of money now after pulling himself out of poverty and making a good career move in his late 30s. He reminds me all the time that we were all just as happy back when we were clipping coupons, driving shitty cars, and living in mega-humble conditions along a Mississippi River tributary. And he’s right. We were very happy despite the absence of money.
I know that money will not make me happy. I still want some. But I know there are wealthy people who are miserable. Money does not fill the voids in their minds, hearts and souls.
That can only come from love. And spiritual balance. And good health. And family and friends. And gratitude. And generosity.
Merriam-Webster defines success as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame,” and “the correct or desired result of an attempt.”
I think I like that second definition best.
Because that’s what I always want to happen—no matter what we’re talking about. The correct thing. Whatever’s best.
That’s my desired result.
Since the day I decided to pursue writing people have asked me what my goals were.
It’s so easy to say you want to have a novel published. And I always have. That was always my canned response.
But that’s bullshit. Because I can write a terrible book tomorrow, self-publish it, and fire it out to the world in hopes that a sucker or two reads a third of it.
Writers don’t want to write books.
Writers want to be read.
And I remember always saying that, too.
If just one person reads something I wrote and likes it. If just one person reads something I wrote and feels better. If just one person reads something I wrote and it compels them to be better, stronger, wiser, braver.
Then I’ll have done something. I’ll have been successful.
I’ve put in my 10,000 hours. Paid my dues. And I’ll continue to pay them because I have a love affair with the keyboard.
Think about all of the things in your life you’ve put 10,000 hours into.
Thinking. Loving. Tasting. Caring. Feeling. Praying. Hoping.
You’re a master of something.
Just like that guy over there. Just like this lady over here. Just like me.
It took a Walmart pricing glitch to see it.
But I’m just a little bit taller today.
And so are you.
Let’s go dunk on somebody. And be awesome.