According to Malcolm Gladwell and Matthew Syed, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery of something. But over the course of a lifetime the average Joe will spend 90,000+ hours working and yet few of us will attain mastery of one thing, let alone 9. Whenever figures like these are quoted they’re generally designed to shock and horrify: so much time wasted at a desk, so much time invested in a faceless corporate entity. But your own response will probably depend on how you view that thing you do for 8+ hours, five or more days a week. Is your work simply a means to an end? Or a way to finance the lifestyle that you’ve always dreamed of whilst banking your kids’ school fees along the way. Perhaps for the next big trip to somewhere remote and exotic? There are myriads of motivators when it comes to work and it’s an issue that’s long been debated.
Aristotle took the means to an end view: “we work to have leisure, on which happiness depends”. Since then Adam Smith painted work as an unpleasant but necessary means to economic growth. It’s a depressing thought isn’t it? Hours, days, months, years, our greatest efforts and energies all spent on a necessary evil; a lifetime spent working to live. Or perhaps we demand more from our work, we expect intellectual challenge and some level of personal fulfillment. In this era of restlessness and ‘slash’ careers, does it all come down to fulfilling our own ever-changing desires and whims? Maybe it’s time to rise above our culture’s rampant individualism and look to a bigger picture.
How we view work will influence the career path we choose and each and every decision we make along the way. If we are always deciding for our own comfort and wealth, we may find ourselves ultimately unfulfilled and the society we’re building somewhat impoverished. Or could take a leaf out of the Reformers’ book, for it was Calvin and Luther who reimagined and rearticulated the concept of ‘vocation’. We don’t need to be religious to use this term to reframe our understanding of our own 90,000 hours. For ‘vocation’ carries far richer connotations than ‘career’ or ‘job’. To have a vocation is to be engaged in building something that is bigger than you, going beyond your own aspirations and ambitions and serving the world around you.
Let’s look up from our bonus projections, up from our hopes of promotion, up from our own CV and see how we can work for the good of the world around us, and along the way we might find we’ve redeemed those 90,000 hours. It’s why, in our world of investment banking recruitment, we often encourage candidates to look at the bigger picture. Don’t simply focus on one part of the role, or the salary – what’s the career narrative? Career success is more than what hits your bank account, and being proud of what you do and enjoying it along the way are all interlinked. Achieve that, and the 90,000 hours look less daunting.
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