My daughter is reading “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell for her AP Literature class this coming fall. The book discusses what it takes to become a high-achiever. My daughter translated it to me in her 16-year-old perspective (I have not read the book), “Mom, to be successful, a person must put 10,000 hours in the activity they choose. In fact, parents start their kids playing hockey, at 5 years old, so they can put in enough hours to go Pro.” As an athlete, I know the value of time and effort. But I also know that there are tons of kids that put in the time and don’t make it to the professional level and sometimes even if they do, is it true success?
Does a 5-year-old child really know what they want to do, want to be, when they grow up?
I encourage my kids to play several sports, to try different things, play an instrument, read, make an attempt at art. My daughter wanted to take drama last year but got put in to a wood shop class and found out she LOVED it. How fun to try something new and find that you love it. It might be hard to put in 10,000 hours and still get out and try new things.
I have a story I have told a million times. It explains why I’m careful about pushing my kids. My husband would say I don’t push enough, so I know there is no perfect answer. But here is my story.
My mom went to college to study voice, to become an opera singer. She loved singing. A classmate of hers started singing at a young age with much pressure from her mother. She also studied voice at the Mozarteum in Austria. My mom met my dad in Austria, fell in love, got married and started a family. She did not become an opera singer. She has no regrets. Her classmate became a very famous opera singer, who was never happy in her career and hated her mother until the day she died.
This may be an extreme example, but one I heard growing up and that stuck with me. I sang when I was young, and was even pretty good. I’m sure my mom suggested it but I was never pushed and when I started playing basketball, something clicked. I just loved basketball and naturally started putting in more practice hours. As a junior in high school I quit choir because of my basketball schedule. My mom never batted an eye. She wanted me to follow my dreams.
Reading Outliers was good for my daughter. The knowledge of the path to success is helpful to encourage practice time. But there is a strong argument for having the opportunity to find joy in something new and to boldly blaze ones own path. Perhaps you won’t end up being quite as proficient, quite as successful, but does that really matter if you find happiness?