Photograph by Jim Richardson

Photograph by Jim Richardson

What 10 Years of Practice Will Get You

Contributing editor Jim Richardson is a photojournalist recognized for his explorations of small-town life. His photos appear frequently in National Geographic magazine.

On this lazy Sunday morning I'm reflecting on something amazing I saw yesterday. Christmas season in Lindsborg brings Saturday entertainment to downtown, and yesterday that was Brent Dellinger, yo-yo master extraordinaire! This guy is good. Man has he got talent.

But having recently read (well, listened to, actually) Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers I was reminded of the research he cited and championed about the 10,000-hour rule. To paraphrase, the 10,000-hour rule says that no matter which discipline you enter, it virtually always takes 10,000 hours of intense practice to become excellent. Talent might help, but it is no shortcut. And what we call talent is often simply the outward, visible demonstration of inner doggedness.

Brent Dellinger is 22 years old and he makes doing this look easy. But he got started when he was 12. When asked what it took to win the National Championship he was quite frank about the hours of practice: "You have to practice every hour of every day. Because the other guys, your competition, are practicing that much." You can see where his 10,000 hours came from.

But then he said something else that was very, very interesting. Someone asked what got him started. He said he saw a great yo-yo demonstration and "I saw what was possible. I saw how far you could take it." Wow!

So this Sunday morning I'm looking around at the faces of the people in the background, their jaws dropping and amazement in their faces. Rightly so! Brent has taken it very far indeed!