10,000 Hours

This is a continuation of my post from earlier in the week, which you can find here.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book, Outliers, he talks about several factors that set high-achievers apart from the rest of the population. One of the main takeaways of the book is something called the “10,000 Hour Rule” – basically, anyone who has ever become an expert at anything has needed to immerse themselves in a task for at least 10,000 hours. This holds whether you’re the Beatles practicing to become the greatest band of all time, or Bill Gates learning to program a computer.

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An interesting read.

Although the premise has been the subject of intense debate, what is beyond argument is that the more you practice or experience something, the more of an expert you become. It’s rather straightforward.

Assuming the 10,000 hour rule is mostly true, I boldly assert that I am an expert at being a patient with muscular dystrophy. It’s an odd thing to say, but ever since it took over my life ten years ago, it’s always been on my mind. It has changed me physically, emotionally and spiritually. Many of my experiences cannot be adequately explained to the general population, no matter how much someone wants to understand.

I’ve dealt with this disease in some form since 2008 – roughly 10 years. That’s 87,600 hours, according to Google. (Let’s just say I haven’t done 10,000 hours of math.) There are many other things I’d rather be an expert in – basketball, effortlessly learning foreign languages, playing the guitar – but it’s not meant to be.

I bring up the 10,000 hour rule because I’ve found that I seem to be at my best when I can leverage my patient experience in a positive way. If I’m going to deal with all these daily frustrations, I might as well put them to good use, and if possible, help others so that they can avoid my pitfalls. When I take this experience and pair it with my marketing and communications background – either in written or speaking form – I am genuinely happy. It makes me feel like everything I’ve been through is worth it, and it validates my purpose in this world.

It’s funny – I was all set to write a profound post, breaking down my thought process during this time of discovery, but the answer was surprisingly simple. For better or worse, I’m a patient. I like helping people. And when I can use my patient experience to help people, I’m happy. A simple equation.

Of course, that is not the end of the story. It’s one thing to figure out what I want to do, it’s another thing to…figure out what to do. How do I incorporate my patient expertise in my day-to-day life? Eventually, I’m going to need to re-enter the workforce, since I can’t be unemployed forever. I’ve done some digging around on different job sites, and there are a few roles where I can leverage my patient background, along with my business experience, but I have yet to find something that I know would set me up for long-term success. That is an important consideration. There are many jobs that, although qualified for, I just can’t do physically for any length of time. Being a product manager in a high-stress environment might work for three months, but it would set me up for failure if I can’t handle the rigors of the job. I don’t want to go through that again. That isn’t fair to the employer. That isn’t fair to me. Trust me, I don’t want to be that guy who is still unemployed a year later because I’m unreasonably picky. But I do have to be smart about what roles I apply to.

In the meantime, I am throwing myself completely into my book. I have written about the book – a memoir of life with this disease – in previous posts, but stalled once I started working. It lay dormant on my computer for a few months, but I have picked it back up now that I have time to work on it.

I don’t know if I had to fall flat on my face at my job to realize the importance of finishing the book, but I have been writing with a renewed vigor. To ensure I didn’t lose momentum or squander this opportunity, I even hired a writing coach, Janna, who has been great at keeping me accountable.

My dream is to write this book, and use it as a launching pad to a speaking career. Long-term, I have a dream of being a motivational speaker, and that is coming to fruition, albeit slowly. I still need a job in the meantime to get through the next few years. Right now, I am still an unknown quantity in the speaking world, but I’m getting there. I have made some great connections in the past couple months, and will even be on TV next week to talk about Rare Disease Day. (More on that to come!)

The last two months have forced me to take a snapshot of where I am at in life, and figure out where I want to go from here. But I do know this – as frustrating as these last 87,600+ hours have been, they have shown me that I cannot settle for anything less than achieving my dreams. It is time to put my expertise to use.

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