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10,000 Hours of Self-Study

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, gave us a new language to understand “expertise” and the “study of” a subject.  I found it fascinating to think about the subjects that I had dedicated that kind of time to.

While we may gain wisdom and consciousness through the study of ourselves over a lifetime, we also become more concluded about who we think we are.  I hear it lots of times, “It’s just the way I am.”  Or, “I know what I’m good at and what I’m not.”  Maybe even, “I’ve learned my lessons through my experiences, I know what I’m doing now”.

Think about spending 10,000 hours to:

  1. Learn how to protect our vulnerabilities.
  2. Perfect behavioral strategies for getting what we want.
  3. Prove that we’re right about how we’ve chosen to live.
  4. Decide who to blame for the pain and suffering in our lives.
  5. Develop a communication style that ensures that we are in control of the interaction.

The more hours we invest in our internal schooling.

The more skilled we become at protecting, defending and manipulating our environments.

Inside of this conversation about internal schooling, I’d like to share a bit about what I discovered:

  • I am a master in avoidance tactics.
  • I have a basic insecurity and fear of being alive, of being exposed and at risk.
  • I have come to see that I’m terrified of being in relationship with others.
  • I carefully manage my life to avoid getting hurt or criticized.
  • I manage situations and events so that I don’t have to actually feel any of these things.
  • The more I avoid the awareness of them – the more I reinforce my sense of comfort and safety.
  • Allowed to act autonomously, I will choose to avoid relationship-laden activities; I only interact with people that I assess as “safe”; I agree to challenges in my work that are ones that will produce positive feedback.

I have perfected being “me”. But what if the “me” I’ve practiced and trained with is nothing more than a well constructed brick wall that appears to be successful to the outside world and keeps me, well… the same. (and safe)

My early life was characterized by a bunch of “unsafe stuff” – kids, parents, relatives, teachers. Lots of cruel, unloving, goading, teasing, undermining, humiliating actions directed at each other and me. 10,000 hours spent constructing a life to protect myself took some real skill and attention.

Especially, given that the more I constructed that life – the smaller my life became.

Think about the strategy. Avoid mean people, avoid scenarios that I don’t want to encounter “mean” and act in a way that keeps others from wanting to unhappy in such a way as to instigate an unsafe experience.

Those 10,000 hours were spent erecting defenses and making “right” decisions for myself.  These right decisions were validated by my “gut” feelings and even acknowledged by those around me.  But it didn’t develop the  kind of expertise that produces a life of possibility, of novelty or profound wonder. It didn’t produce a life where I’m at the source of what happens and able to experience the true power of being “me”.

No… that expertise only produced my existing, surviving and feeling vital as a by product of playing it safe and organizing myself to win.

I would propose an alternative way to study during the 10,000 hours.

One where we undo, question, challenge and explore.  What would happen if we studied the way that we defend, the way that we avoid pain, the conclusions we formed about who we are and why?  What if we engaged in an investigation designed to dislodge the learning from the 10,000 hours spent confirming our legitimate claim on “knowing” ourselves? What could life look then? Hmmm…


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