10,000 Hours of Failure


By: Michelle Kusel

I was asked to join this blog about six months ago.  And I procrastinated. But this was beyond the “I should clean my entire apartment before I study for finals procrastination.”  It was half a year!  Why did I take so long?  Sure, I can insert many “valid” excuses, but that’s really what they are:  excuses.  There was more to my procrastination and I needed to figure it out.  And truthfully, thinking about why I procrastinated allowed me to procrastinate even more (looks down in shame with a small smirk).

When I figured out what was going on, I was both surprised and excited to share:  I was procrastinating because I was a product of the exact topic that I was going to discuss in this blog.  Weird, right?

I was afraid of failing so I chose to do nothing.  I was worried that I wasn’t the right person to write about this topic or any topic.  After all, I’ve been away from campus for over a year, did I really have a legitimate voice to join the conversation?  And how can I write about something that I’m not an expert in?  There must be plenty of people that are far more qualified than I am to speak on this topic.

So instead of doing something, I did nothing (well, nothing productive).  I sat on a half-baked idea.  I didn’t talk it out with anyone.  I didn’t write anything down.  How was doing nothing better than doing something?

Sadly, there is too much of this happening all around us.  Have you thought something but didn’t say anything because you didn’t know if you had all the facts?  Perhaps you didn’t want to upset someone?  Maybe you didn’t know how to say what you wanted to say?  Were you worried about the consequences?  We rationalize staying silent.  But dig deeper. Was it really about the other person(s) or was it about YOU?  Was it about how you didn’t want to fail?

So often, we strive for perfection.  But we forget that perfection is a journey, not a destination.  The path to perfection is often messy, uncomfortable, and involves failure.  And if we don’t experience failure, we can’t get better and we can’t appreciate success.

Sometimes I look at people that speak so eloquently and think, “I’ll let them speak.  They will say what I mean way better than I can say it.”  Or how about the person in the room everyone always seems to listen to, it’s MUCH better if they say it, right?


In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he discusses the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that if you want to excel at something, you will need to practice for at least 10,000 hours.  This means that for 9,999 hours you will have some success, but you will also have some failure.  You will speak and no one will hear you.  You will use the wrong words.  You will likely offend someone.  Your voice will shake, you will stutter, and you will fumble.  You will be wrong.  But if you don’t speak, you aren’t banking time to become better.  Too often, we think some folks just “have it” and others “don’t.”  We forget that those folks once started where we are now.

It’s important to find the voice that best fits you.  You may not be the person at the microphone.  Maybe you are the person wearing the t-shirt.  Maybe you are the person asking the question.  Maybe you are the one that makes Thanksgiving dinner awkward.  Make it real and true to who you are.

Who am I?  I’m still figuring that out.  I spent a good part of my college years not caring so I’m a little late to the party.

One of my first “huh” moments happened at a leadership retreat I was facilitating.  One of my co-facilitators mentioned he was trans*.  I thought to myself, “huh.  I don’t even know what that means.”  So, I went home and became a sponge.  I read, watched movies (I recommend Boys Don’t Cry with Hilary Swank), and talked with him.  I’m confident my questions were messy but as I learned more, I grew more.  I slowly began to educate others and involve myself.  I realized that I was becoming one of those people that I thought just “had it.”

I expanded my curiosity around gender stereotypes and society’s construction of gender binaries.  I was banking my 10,000 hours and I was stumbling less and realizing that I didn’t need to have all the answers to have the conversation.  I was still failing (and a lot) but I realized that failing didn’t mean I was a failure nor was it terminal.

So what is it that you are saying “huh” to?  What don’t you know?  Or are you able to answer someone else’s “huh?”  If nothing else sticks in this post, think of this.  People aren’t going to research in great depth a topic that YOU care passionately about.  They have something THEY care about more that will absorb their time.  Therefore, if you don’t speak about it, they will never know anything more than they already know.

Don’t be afraid to mess up.  We all do.  That’s what makes us beautiful.  Because when we fall and we get back up, the dirt on our knees never looked so fashion forward.


One thought on “10,000 Hours of Failure

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s