10,000 hours

April 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

I was taking the shuttle from Cambridge to the Longwood Medical Area yesterday afternoon with some of my classmates when my friend P started telling me about his ongoing research in a basic science lab, one that he started at as an undergrad.

“Is your work related to a specialty you might be interested in?” I asked.

“No, I’m just really interested in this stuff,” he said. “Some of the things that we’re learning in class, like the hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow for instance, are the kinds of things we study in lab. Did you know that red blood cells aren’t actually formed in the bone marrow, but rather in the aorta? The bone marrow is just where they end up right before their final maturation. And that’s the step that is clinically relevant too, of course.”

I was so impressed. “Damn,” I said. “You just took it to a whole new level.”

He laughed. “It’s where I invest my time.”

“10,000 hours?” I asked, referring to Malcolm Gladwell’s now oft-quoted argument that 10,000 hours of practice are necessary for mastering any skill set.

“Probably!” he said, chuckling. “Yeah I guess I meet the criteria for that.”

“What are we talking about?” interjected another friend, PK. “FABRIC?”

FABRIC is Harvard’s variety show celebrating the pan-African diaspora that the first years put on for prospective students during their revisit weekend. The show’s set for Friday.

P and I started laughing uncontrollably. “No,” I said, with emphasis. “We are not talking about putting in 10,000 hours for FABRIC.

But it wasn’t a completely ludicrous joke. Our event organizers had already emailed the class earlier in the week, informing us that our lives this week would be in the service of FABRIC and FABRIC alone. This is the week we really embrace Pass/Fail, the email had read. Understand that your organizers are basically medical school dropouts this week. Try not to tempt your friends with fun study nights in TMEC and postpone those wicked parties and romantic dates until after the show.

My dance team was already planning on meeting for roughly 12-15 hours for practice this week. Earlier in the school year, during our Epidemiology block, my class had Focused Exercises built into our curriculum. In the course of that month, the class transitioned to calling them Forced Exercises. There was a great sense of deja-vu as I plugged the times and dates for dance rehearsal into my iCal, the blocks eating up entire evenings at a time.

Yet, even though there’s a sense of insanity during practice, during rehearsal, I know that it’ll feel like it was worth it when we rock the stage on Friday. P, who’s working on a publication in lab, will feel it when he gets published in Nature or something.

Recently on a sunny Saturday, ten of my classmates gathered at the Arts@29 Garden learning space in Cambridge to spend eight hours together sketching a model under the tutelage of an instructor who had come all the way from Montreal for this purpose. I had approached the day with great apprehension and a slight sense of guilt for the fact that I was investing all this time in learning how to draw when I had other, perhaps more important commitments like Immunology, for instance. Yet, at the close of the day, when we lined a series of portraits on the wall, etched with eraser from sheets scrubbed with charcoal, I had a sense of bewilderment and awe at the fact that my classmates and I had actually produced art this sophisticated in one day. I could only imagine how far some of us could go if we kept at it, practicing every single day.

“Yeah, there’s no such thing as innate talent,” P said sagely. “People who say that someone’s born with it are really only saying that that someone has been doing it all his life.”

Preach it, P.

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