The Essence of Life

“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.” –  Bruce Lee, Martial Arts Expert and Actor

alarm_clockThere’s some wisdom for you from what may seem like an unlikely source.  But then you know what they say about books and covers.  Whatever your opinion of  him, Bruce was definitely on to something pretty profound.  Life itself is made of the seconds, minutes, days, and weeks that we take too easily for granted, and thus they all too quickly turn into months and years, and then decades during which we often fail to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves to us every single day.

That time is the stuff of life is a concept we all struggle with, the more so in our youth when a real gut-level grasp of it could change the directions of our lives.  We know that “time is money”, and that “a stitch in time saves nine”, and that “time flies when you’re having fun”.   But in general, life is long enough that when we’re young, or relatively young, there seems to be so much time available to us that we are comfortable filling our “free” time with all sorts of amusements and dalliances.

One of the toughest concepts to teach children when we have plenty of food, plenty of money, and plenty of time, is that gratification delayed almost always leads to a greater reward and greater satisfaction than instant gratification.  This is a principal that applies to time as well as to money.   A fellow named Malcolm Gladwell wrote a fascinating book called “Outliers“.   In it, he explores the relationship between practice and mastery.  In one of his examples, a group of budding young violinists was studied over several years.  After age 8, the time the individual violinists spent in practice began to diverge until, by age 20, the most accomplished violinists had practiced an average of 10,000 hours, while their less able counterparts had practiced only 4,000 hours or less.  The violinists that devoted the most time to their music were masters, leaving those who had devoted less time behind them in relative mediocrity.

The most fascinating aspect of Gladwell’s research was that a “gifted” set did not emerge, instead the most able players were those that devoted themselves to improving.  In other words, no one in the study group appeared to have been born with so much talent that they could get by on less practice than the masters.  Get it?  Practice really DOES make perfect, and the way you spend your time determines your abilities.

So 10,000 hours of watching your favorite TV shows won’t make you an outlier.  But 10,000 hours of practicing your serve on the tennis court could put you right up there with Roger Federer and Serena Williams.