10,000 hours


Artisan is a popular word. Many craftsmen and tradesmen are reinventing themselves and changing their job titles from Master Joiner or Builder to Artisan Carpenter or Stonemason. Many of these people who previously had what they considered a boring job or trade are finding a way to gain freedom from the rat race by setting up a small business to do for themselves, roughly what they did before for an employer. The difference is that they now have complete autonomy and can decide what kind of work they want to do. They can re-package what they do into a specialism instead of a comodity that has a fixed price in the market place. Where they were previously locked into the race to the bottom (lowest price wins) they are now in an exclusive club where they can pretty much dictate their price, due to the fact that they are offering something unique. They can go after interesting and satisfying work, rather than hope for the phone to ring with any scrap they can get.

Many tradespeople simply slipped or stumbled into their career after school with little thought about where they were going. Now, after a 20 or 30 year period that seems to have have just vanished in a fug of working, bringing up kids and generally chasing their tails to keep food on the table and the mortgage paid, a few brave souls say “that’s it, I’ve had enough”, and commence to reboot their lives. This has routinely been described as a mid life crisis, but it’s not a crisis if it releases you from the drudgery you’ve put up with for so long. And how can an event that releases you from the capitalist invention of career possibly be a crisis, or a bad thing?


When we have our mid life crisis or crises, we are led to believe by popular media and self help people that this is a somewhat temporary phase and that we will be back to normal before we know it, not to worry! If you’ve sniffed the fresh daytime air, you should be worried only if you feel like getting back to normal. This is the chance you’ve been waiting for so grasp it and don’t be tempted by normal anymore.

But, what to do? How will we pay the bills? I don’t know anything about working for myself. I don’t have any good ideas. What about the admin? How will I get paid?

This is where, regardless of how lacking in direction your life seems to have been to date, your 10,000 hours at the hamster wheel can be used to your advantage and not someone else’s for a change. The concept of Mastery is one which has been discussed and examined at length by many academics and writers. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, popularised the idea that becoming world class at something takes around 10,000 hours of practice. He gives many examples of this, but my favourite is the Beatles, a bunch of average British working class youths, some of whom didn’t have much of a clue about music (when George Harrison first met John Lennon, he had to explain that his guitar should have 6 strings and not 5! Lennon didn’t know any better), just grinding it out and becoming the biggest band ever. Much of their success is put down to the fact that they played night after night in grubby Hamburg bars, sometimes for 8 hours a night. The Beatles quickly logged their 10,000 hours, which is roughly equivalent to 10 years of a full time job, and they got extremely good at playing live and playing together. Of course they also developed brilliant song writing skills and had good management behind them, but it’s their musicianship that got them there.

“…and then one day you find, 10 years have got behind you. No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun…” Pink Floyd

The funny thing is, despite all of the drudgery that you’ve put up with, all the shitty jobs, the Sunday night blues, the Monday morning black holes, the depression, the alcohol, the bad eating habits, the anger, the sheer bloody hell of just living day to day with no reprieve from the hamster wheel over the last 10, 20 or 30 years, has, left you in a very good position to gain freedom. How? Simply by mining what it is you’ve already spent 10,000 hours on for the best nuggets of gold. Something about what you’ve done so far, even if it’s just a tiny part of what your job or career has been to date. Something in there holds some level of inspiration for you and could, with a bit of work, be re-invented as a high value service or product that you can sell to the world in a way that actually makes your heart sing, rather than sink.

The Beginning

This need only be the beginning. You probably thought your freedom quest would see you starting with a clean sheet on day one, getting away from all of that stuff you envisage as drudgery and becoming a famous artist. Remember though, that it wasn’t the work that was the drudgery, not the actual tasks that you carried out, but the nature and environment within which you had to do them, for someone else’s financial benefit…but if this still grinds a bit:

Your first go at this needn’t even involve anything you’ve done for work in the past. You’ve probably spent at least another 10,000 hours at a hobby or interest over the years. You might not even recognise it as such at first, but people are waiting to buy something you are interested in and can already put a unique spin on. Don’t be dragged down by Imposter Syndrome, you are already an expert at something.


Use your knowledge and experience to build valuable assets. Don’t fall into the trap of going back to taking orders, make something out of this for you. Making an asset out of your unique take on things is the way to make sure you get paid repeatedly for doing something once. Got that nailed? Make another asset now.


Remember the theme for January is driven by Simone Weil’s quote:

“When someone exposes himself as a slave in the market place, what wonder if he finds a master?” Simone Weil

Don’t go looking for new masters, just concentrate on what you are already good at to start with and sell that in a way that leaves you in control. Give the marketplace something unique, that tells it the way you see it. If you can do that, you won’t ever need to take orders from anyone again and you will be building assets that will earn income for you for a long time into the future, leaving you free to indulge some of the passions you’ve been deferring just to get on the train every morning.

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