Ten Thousand Hours

In his 2008 book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell states that “Ten thousand hours is the magic number needed to achieve greatness or expertise.” Gladwell explains that Bill Gates, one of the richest men of all time, had the access, experience, and, most importantly, time, with a variety of computers and software, which gave him the advantage of becoming an expert in computers — where few others were able to do the same.

It is important to note how the ten-thousand-hour rule is not merely a timing issue. Many people who have practiced their area of knowledge for ten thousand hours have not developed into experts. It takes both time or experience and an aspiration for continued development to create expertise. Imagine if Bill Gates would have stopped developing software in the 1990s, his Microsoft empire would likely be a smaller part of history as opposed to a leader in today’s industry. Gates, like all experts, needed to continue aspiring, developing, and learning.

If you think about this so-called “ten-thousand-hour rule,” you may be wondering, have I ever done anything for ten thousand hours? The answer may very well be “no,” but consider this; by the age of thirty, many Jewish people have spent over ten thousand hours praying. On average a person may spend an hour per weekday davening, plus Shabbos and Yom Tov. Throw in a few Yom Kippurs and that quickly adds up to a lot of davening hours. If that is the case, we should know many more expert daveners. If there were more experts in the field of davening, we would likely experience more inspiring davening all around us.

Mastering a craft takes time, energy, and experience. No thinking person would fathom that their marriage was set for life because they merely live in the same house for ten years. Any good marriage takes focus, patience, and humility. Being able to fix a leaky faucet and being a master plumber is not quite the same thing. Putting together an Ikea bed does not transform a person into a carpenter. So it is with tefillah: we are developing a relationship with Hashem, and it takes time, energy and experience.

Rabbi Shimshon Pincus compares our work in davening to a person driving a manual car. Most of our cars today are automatic, meaning you press the gas, and the car automatically shifts up and down between gears, depending on a variety of factors, such as engine load, throttle position, speed of the vehicle, engine speed, etc. A manual car, on the other hand, is not quite so simple. To shift you need to step down on the clutch and manually shift into a higher or lower gear, depending on your speed. The higher the gear, the faster the car will be able to travel. Growing in tefillah is like shifting into a higher gear. Sure, a person could live his entire life in a low gear, feeling like he’s making progress, but, as with a car, real progress comes when we’re able to shift into a higher gear and travel at a higher speed. Putting effort into developing ourselves in davening will eventually allow us to progress forward in our life’s journey and reach further destinations.

Excerpted with permission from Rabbi Tenenbaum's new book, Three Steps Forward, from Mosaica Press.