SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – In a course I once took about the function that music plays in society, the text book stated that a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice is required to become a concert quality musician. It goes without saying that a person must have talent as well, but doing some quick math it means that for anyone to reach that level of excellence, he or she must practice about three to four hours every day of every week for 10 years. To most of us that would seem to be not just dedication but rather an obsession, devoting virtually every free moment to a musical instrument.
Other fields requiring skilled performances such as acting or sports are basically the same, for while the truly gifted are thought of as natural athletes or overnight sensations, no one sees or realizes the thousands of hours spent in preparation for their success. It’s so much easier to believe that some are just born lucky and to blame fate or inferior genes or bad parenting than to admit personal failure, for although a fortunate few may seem to have gotten all the breaks, nobody waltzes through life unscathed.
What leads me to write about such a serious topic or to sound so preachy is something that occurred not too long ago while at my post at UMASS Medical Center in Worcester where I volunteer once a week as a greeter.
As a volunteer I stand behind a podium with a sign that says “Ask Me,” to assist people in finding their way around the hospital. Many times visitors come over and jokingly ask the most off the wall questions, like what is the winning lottery number, who will win that night’s ballgame, the meaning of life, etc. I always reply in kind, going along with the humor by making up numbers or telling them things they want to hear. Not too long ago a guy came over and asked me where the “Easy Button” was, obviously referring to a current commercial on TV. I must have been in a somber mood for some reason for rather than playing along, I told him in all seriousness that in life there’s no such thing as an Easy Button, that you have to work for everything you get. I could see he didn’t like my response since he frowned and merely walked away without a reply. Tough luck fella, that’s reality.
Thinking about this, I’m reminded of an ex-neighbor’s son who was awarded a full-tuition football scholarship at Syracuse University as their 1st string punter. Athletically he really was no more gifted than some of the other boys around, but he would literally spend hour after hour, day after day in the field behind my house practicing and honing his kicking skills. That’s why he was so good. Upon graduation he wasn’t drafted by any pro team but was invited to the Dallas Cowboys’ training camp, only to be eventually sent home. This was in 1987, the year of the brief NFL strike, and although he was invited back as a replacement player he chose not to seize the opportunity, letting his big chance go to waste along with all those years of practice. Whether he was afraid of the regular players’ retaliation or didn’t want to be a scab on ethical grounds is moot, for he never got another chance. He must not have wanted it enough to risk everything, verifying that Easy Buttons don’t come easy and no one gets a free ride.