A while ago I was shootin' the shit with a friend, talking about circus and life and junk, when I started to fidget with a contact juggling ball. As a fidgety person and a contact juggler, it's one of my go-tos...
I'm going to pause this story for a second so we can avoid the whole "WTF is this crazy lady talking about and why does she like balls so much" thing. Contact juggling is a strange form of juggling that uses one ball (sometimes more) and manipulates it to look like it's floating or has a mind of its own. It's also often referred to as "that crazy ball thing that David Bowie did in The Labyrinth". *Video link in notes
Anyhow... As I was saying...
A while ago I was shootin' the shit with a friend, talking about circus and life and junk, when I started to fidget with a contact juggling ball. As a fidgety person and a contact juggler, it's one of my go-tos. My friend took a keen interest in what I was doing. He said he had tried many times in the past to learn but had always given up. He asked if I might be willing to teach him some moves and I happily agreed.
I dived into some of the beginner friendly stuff but he seemed uninterested. I tried to teach him a flashier trick thinking that maybe he just wanted a couple of power moves. Still he seemed bored and frustrated.
"What's the trick?" He asked.
"Well no it's not a trick. It's a lot of practice."
"Well I know it's not a trick I'm just saying that there's probably a short cut or secret. How do you get good really fast?"
I think my eye twitched.
There is no shortcut to skill and the concept of practice is not a secret.
In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell published a book called Outliers and in it he outlines the "10,000 Hour Rule". The book is based off of a study by Anders Ericsson who studied people at the very tippy top of their competitive fields. These were people who really stood out from the crowd in terms talent, and he found that they all had invested around 10,000 hours into learning their craft.
However... we don't always need to be world-class-elite. The idea of sinking 10,000 hours into anything and everything you ever want to learn is crazy (and this is not what Gladwell or Ericsson were suggesting either!)
Josh Kaufman is an author and expert on learning. As a self proclaimed nerd, learning new skills is one of his favorite things to do. Upon the birth of his daughter his time became very limited so he became extra curious about how he might accelerate the learning process. If someone just wanted to be able to do something well then how could they get good fast? And how many hours would it take?
Kaufman came to the conclusion that it only takes about 20 hours to become good at something. What a relief! That works out to around 40 minutes a day for a month which is much less intimidating than 10,000 hours.
Still, this is not a shortcut. We don't get credit just for showing up, we have to put in the work and in some cases we even have to relearn how to learn. In his book, The First 20 Hours, Kaufman explains the difference between practice and GOOD practice. These have to be diligent and intentional hours. Then, we also have to be persistent in our practice, no matter how stupid we feel or how much we fail.
Contact juggling was not something I was born able to do. When I first tried my hands at it I sucked balls (sorry, not sorry for the pun). I looked like an idiot! My arms were like flailing T-Rex arms, my concentration face looked like constipation face and I dropped the ball all the time. People around me got really nervous about their breakable possessions/limbs and I've hit myself in every square inch of my body... yes, you pervert, even there.
Still I kept practicing. I used to juggle on my break at work and once even while waiting in line to vote. In 2010 I was traveling and got stranded in Vancouver for 3 months with no money. living entirely off of tips from strangers, I would lay out my hat and juggle for hours. That is probably where I was when I hit the 20 hour mark. Things went from looking shaky and foreign to fluid and funky pretty quick.
Proper learning methods and instruction can save you a lot of time and headaches but no one can do the work for you. This is true of any skill! If you can't quite seem to commit the time to learn then it's time to admit one of two things... Either learning that particular skill is not really a priority for you (I used to think I really wanted to learn how to sew but I was wrong. I hate sewing and that's OK with me) or you are afraid of looking stupid.
Nobody likes looking or feeling stupid but it's a natural part of the learning experience. We don't just wake up one day magically good at stuff! As Macklemore would say...
"The greats weren't great because at birth they could paint
The great were great cause they paint a lot."
-Macklemore, lyrics from Ten Thousand Hours
"Practice" is not the sexy answer that people are looking for. I wish I had a secret pocket full of confetti that I could throw into the air every time someone asked "How do you do that?"
In a world of fast food, speed dating and everything shiny, we're wired for instant gratification and that really comes to bite us in the ass when we try to learn something new. Just start, be patient and keep chipping away at it. You can do the thing but if you never start, or if you give up, you'll never know.
PS: Cool stuff to check out!
--->David Bowie contact juggling in The Labrynth (the juggling is actually done blind by Michael Moschen who is standing behind David Bowie)
--->Josh Kaufman's Ted Talk: The First 20 Hours