Your Bi-Weekly Rant: Practice not perfect


Allison Neal, Co-editor

Practice makes perfect is easier said than done. Journalist Malcolm Gladwell proposed that achieving true skill in something takes 10,000 hours of practice. I often hear the classic “if you practiced x for five minutes every day you’d be an expert by now.” I think that’s naive. There’s something more than simple practice that creates talent: perseverance. You can talk all you want about practicing a little each day, but how many people have the discipline to actually do so? Certainly not me.

Of all the things people oversimplify (and the list is long) this simplistic view of developing talent bothers me in particular. Practice doesn’t simply make perfect. Resources, status, self-discipline and the oft forgotten natural ability are all important factors. Say you want to be a track star. You can run and run and practice and practice all you want but if you don’t have resources to join a track club, or to buy shoes, you aren’t going anywhere. If you have stubby little legs, I’m sorry but a world record may not be in the cards. If you can’t catch the eye of a well to do coach, your career may be over before it has begun.

This isn’t to knock practice. I’ve known I wanted to be a professional writer since I was 10. So I practiced. I write all the time because I know the more I do it, the better I get. But it isn’t all practice, my brain is wired to understand the written word. My brain is wired to relate to text more than numbers. I can write you an essay but don’t ask me to do calculus, as much as I could practice my brain would always give me a slight learning curve.

I think when we look at someone who is talented, we don’t see it all. Of course there is an incredible amount of work involved, but there are also societal factors contributing to success. There are music lessons paid for and math tutors hired and encouragement from supportive and present parents. Some people overcome amazing odds, and others get a leg up. Both camps have amazing talent, but there is a marked difference in the journey.

So yeah, I’ll practice my scales, but don’t tell me that’s all I need to be a concert pianist.