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February 21, 2019

Fellow Kenyans, Overnight Success Takes 10 Years

Baby Nduku with her mom
Baby Nduku with her mom

A year ago as my daughter Nduku was beginning to talk and walk and use my iPhone with ridiculous ease, a friend decided to give me a book to help focus my efforts and also those of my daughter.

Like most women, I have received enough copies of The Power Of A Praying Parent, The Contended Baby etc. This book was different. It was Malcolm Gladwell’s – Outliers. This book (I have it on both audio and paperback) took me calmly on a journey through the world of "outliers" - the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful.

It doesn’t matter what version of the synopsis of the book you find online, Gladwell asks the same question over and over again: what makes high-achievers different?

Our problem and especially that of Generation Y is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from. The journey to where they are today. I can’t break down every little bit of the book here, but I do know this: the 10,000-hour rule hit me like a brick. I had to re-read the segment just to ensure I hadn’t misunderstood it at all.

Here’s the deal: 10,000 hours is the minimum amount of time it takes to achieve ‘success’ at something. It is important to note that this is not just 10,000 hours of isolated work. Those hours must include constant feedback, improvement and even, repeated failures.

Before you run away crying, wailing or cursing me for bringing this up, let me break down 10,000 hours to you: 10, 000 hours = 3 hours/day x 10 years. Robin Sharma who was in Kenya a few years ago always puts it down to 10 years.

The only reason I find it necessary to share and also open this theory up for debate and discussion is because Generation Y is clear about being “self-employed”, clear about not wanting a traditional desk job and clear about work that allows them to express themselves. I hear many of them trying to mould themselves on musicians (local and international), artists, enterprenuers, stand-up comedians, designers etc yet the journey to now seems totally irrelevant. My fellow Kenyans, friends, good neighbours – overnight success takes 10 years; 10,000 hours.

This is where you will maximise your talent. In this time, you will get knocked about, you will fail, you will get up and try again, in fact try different and try better and even go back to the drawing board. If you look at the story, the journey of anyone worth talking about, you will see the 10 years that led to their overnight success.

However, for those who do get the 10-year/10,000-hour rule, it’s important I also add that you will need passion and ambition to even make it through the first 100 hours of the 10,000 hours. Too often a young person is given a chance to embark on their 10-year success story and the first thing they do is throw it back in everyone’s face. They want it all and they want it now. Can’t happen – it will crush you.

Before you embark on your 10-year journey, find your passion. Ask yourself what do you absolutely enjoying doing. Don’t go into anything #justcoz. If you don’t have passion for what you do, then the 10 years will be a drag. However if you are smart enough to take the time to discover what you love to do, time flies.

Beyond passion, you must have ambition. Ambition is what takes you from three hours a day to four or five hours a day. Too many of us are clock watchers. "5pm ikifika we are off. Hii kampuni sii ya baba yangu” we love to say. Your need and drive to prefect what you say you’re good at, your commitment to making it better and also to get up when you fail spectacularly is what makes the 10,000 hours worth it.

Without passion and ambition (also known as drive) you are wasting 10 years of your time and everyone’s time. I need to highlight this point because some so-so musician, creative writer, painter, start-up, broadcaster etc is reading this with a smirk saying “I’ve put in 10 years” and I don’t have what (insert name) has.

Then we start the illuminati stories – nkt. Question: are you doing time or gaining momentum. Was there passion and drive in your 10 years, or were you just cruising along? Did you take risks and get burnt, learned from the mistakes and the consequences and soldiered on or were you just cruising along?

It took Bill Gates 10 years to get to his first major breakthrough in building an operating system.

It took the Beatles 10,000 hours of playing in Hamburg strip clubs before they became famous.

Mozart’s earliest masterpiece was not composed until he was 21, some 10 years after he first started composing concertos.

If you run into Martin Dunford, say hi, but do ask him how long he had been training his boys to swim competitively before we took notice of them.

The same goes for business. It’s about the hours you spend making mistakes and correcting them. It’s about learning the systems of business so well, that we know intuitively what every squeak and squeal means and how we should react. I often tell some of my clients and even colleagues – “what you are suggesting won’t work but go right ahead”. Not because I want to see them fail, but because they too need to put in their 10,000 hours and own the process – I know what the squeaks mean, but unless you encounter it, I’m just baying at the moon..

Overnight success takes 10 years. Buy Malcom Gladwell’s book if you can. However let me conclude by borrowing from him: “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good”.

On this cold Monday morning, let this be your motivation – it is the humility to take the opportunity, to get started and the persistence to keep going that creates the overnight success.

Begin your 10,000-hour journey today. Sitting on the sofa, lying in bed, bitching about a lack of the job you want isn’t going to get you anywhere. Start now, start anywhere, start anyhow - you have nothing to lose, and so much to gain!


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