10,000 Hours of Neurosis

Ever since Malcolm Gladwell popularized Anders Ericsson’s research about achieving mastery through 10,000 hours of targeted practice, I check in periodically to wrack my brain for what 10K badges I might be earning.  After recently turning 30, surely I must have done something for 10,000 hours by now. Reading non-fiction? Quite possibly. Writing? A close second, as it’s been in my life for as long as I could hold a pen and clack away on our first Apple IIC keyboard.

Ah ha! I know what I’ve done for 10,000 hours: driven myself crazy.

A sensitive soul, my mind has churned, worried, analyzed, problem-solved, chewed, mulled over, replayed, pined and fantasized for hours upon hours, day after day.

10,000 hours of neurosis! This thought gave me a chuckle.

President of the Mental Gymnastics Club

It started when I was a moody 12-year-old in the throes of hormonal misery. Though it has let up at times, this automatic (often unwelcome) fervor for analysis tends to be the underpinning of my imperative to create, learn, solve and share.

In hindsight, I can see why I have dedicated my life to trying to understand the human condition and its more cheerful cousin, human potential. For me, creative edge and being of service comes from dancing with demons then finding my way back to the light.

The High Seas of Change


This, then, is the human problem: there is a price to be paid for every increase in consciousness. We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain. By remembering the past we can plan for the future. But the ability to plan for pleasure is offset by the ‘ability’ to dread pain and to fear the unknown.” —The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts (h/t Ben Casnocha)

If the emotional world were an ocean, I sometimes feel that while others sail along in a cruise-liner, I am paddling furiously in a little raft, getting rocked by every wave.

A perpetual people-pleaser and giver by nature, I’m also an emotional sponge. Intuitive, perceptive and empathetic on my best days, completely consumed by worry and malaise on my worst. You should see how many times I edit a text message! A TEXT MESSAGE! 

When I quit my full-time job almost three years ago, suddenly my career jumped into the raft with me, not unlike the tiger from Life of Pi. “HI! FEED ME! DON'T MAKE ME EAT YOU!”

Funny that in 2009 when I was writing my book (from the comfort of said job), I came up with “ride the wild tiger” as one of my core values. For the definition I wrote:

RIDE THE WILD TIGER—Live big! Take risks! Leap! Go big or go home. Do things that make me uncomfortable—that challenge what I think is possible. Ride the wild tiger—there is no saddle; there are no reins to hold on to. Just enjoy and adjust to the crazy ups, downs, and surprises that life throws my way.

This is funny to me in hindsight, knowing what a bucking bronco (tiger) of a year 2013 was. Be careful what you say you stand for!

Hard But Not Bad

My wise friend Tara shared a great sentiment with me last year. She said, “I know this is hard, but it’s not bad.”

Sometimes being ourselves, making tough choices, setting boundaries, and navigating relationships is hard. Exceptionally hard. But it’s not bad. Not nearly as bad as it sometimes feels in the moment. Everything is progress.

For so long I tried to “solve” or “fix” my raft feeling through every form of self-help book, buddhist aphorism and coaching technique you can imagine. Meditation! Presence! Gratitude lists! Be here now! Self-acceptance! Self-love! Non-attachment! DO YOU! 

I even went and became trained as a life coach in 2008 to arm myself with the tools I was most wanting to give and receive. Then, I finally came to accept something this past year (by being hit over the head by numerous “cosmic 2x4s” as my friend Melani would say) . . .

You know what helps the raft-in-the-ocean feeling?

Realizing that even if I didn’t necessarily sign-up for The Raft Travel Package, there are many accompanying gifts. I feel very deeply and intensely. When I fall in love, I fall hard and fast. When I break-up, I fall harder. Pain begets compassion.

The waves teach me things every day. I see it all, sense it all, sponge it all up, and this allows me to be of service in some small way when I spot those same turbulent seas showing up in someone else’s life.

What are you optimizing for?

 “I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it. No matter what. How did he know that?” —Chrisopher Gardner (character) as portrayed by Will Smith in Pursuit of Happyness

Aristotle would say that all of our actions stem from seeking happiness, the ultimate aim. But there is a nuance to this we often overlook.

Many times during my transition year I would get more sad and frustrated by the feeling that I should be happy, grateful for all the gifts I did have. But ultimately, optimizing for feeling HAPPY every day just drove me mother f***ing crazy! It seemed so far away.

As Aristotle reminds us in Nicomachean Ethics:

“It is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.”

Sometimes, the raft in the ocean hits a storm. An emotional storm. A career storm. A relationship storm. And we get rocked like hell.

On those days, happiness is as distant as the horizon itself. On those days, optimize for what that storm may be in service of: growth, creativity, survival, compassion . . . or chalking up another few hours in the existential 10,000 (and beyond) of mastering being human.

After all, as Ericsson (the author of the mastery study) says:

“You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal. You have to tweak the system by pushing, allowing for more errors at first as you increase your limits.

I have learned to welcome the waves. I (try to) watch them and watch myself.

To increase our capacity for love, trust, joy, happiness, and understanding, we must first experience these “errors” of the human condition.

When it comes to walking through the fiery pits of change, growth and even mastery, the only way out is through.

I’m proud of my 10,000 hours, baby. How about you?