• Ilan Cooley

10,000 hours

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

"In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell asserts it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to become expert at something. Theoretically, if you put in the effort, your perspiration will turn into inspiration. If this concept is true, I am a now a master of solitude. As much as I have proven I can survive on my own, my overwhelming conclusion is I don’t want to."


We live in a world that rewards excellence. If you are truly good as something, it often results in accolades, admiration, and sometimes even a trophy. In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell asserts it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to become expert at something. Theoretically, if you put in the effort, your perspiration will turn into inspiration.


If this concept is true, I am a now a master of solitude.


In the past 15 months, even if I generously calculate the amount of time I have spent in the company of others, I have been alone at least 10,000 hours. I do not want a trophy, or pity, I simply want to shine a light on the realities of this unusual situation, because I know I am not alone in being alone.

My 10,000 hours of solitude were not willingly logged. It started with some heavy things being laid upon me; layers of grief and loss I had to peel away, followed by the unexpected weight of the global pandemic. My life had a sturdy foundation. I had all the things I was supposed to have: a vibrant life, fulfilling work, a bustling social schedule, family ties, and supportive friendships. I could not have imagined all these things could, or would be interrupted simultaneously. I now understand every aspect of life is vulnerable to disruption.


In solitude I experienced what I presume are the standard trials and tribulations of mastering something. It was a lot of hard work. At its best, it provided time for reflection that resulted in clarity, peace, and enlightenment. At its worst, it brought feelings of detachment, loneliness, uncertainty, hopelessness, and distress.


In solitude the only person I had to appease, or recon with was myself. My routine, and remedies simplified. I took a deep dive into my priorities. I eliminated negativity and unsupportive influences, both internal and external. I mindfully developed my intuition. I doubt I would have taken the time to ponder life so thoroughly without this forceful pause.


Becoming a master of solitude will undoubtedly shape my future. I have faced things I might not have, at least until a much older age, if ever. As much as I have proven I can survive on my own, my overwhelming conclusion is I don’t want to. I am not meant to be alone. I may be independent and self-sufficient, but this solitary version of my life is not desirable, forced or otherwise. I realize just how much I need the people who have provided me deep, loving, and exemplary care, even from a distance.


I think we all know we need people, but after 10,000 hours of being predominantly away from them, I feel this on a cellular level. It is like having my life-force slowly drained. I worry about those among us who are vulnerable; the confined and infirmed, those in harm’s way, or peril, and those who may not be physically alone, but who are facing undetectable struggles. If isolation is the absence of normalcy, we are all facing it, with no clear end in sight.


10,000 hours is 600,000 minutes, or 36,000,000 seconds. I hope we do not face 10,000 more before the world starts to feel normal again. Regardless of how long our current situation lasts, it will take mindfulness, empathy, and effort to get through it, together. Solitude is a difficult topic to illuminate, because it is hard to quantify. I truly feel we need to be hyper-aware and excessively concerned for one another. We need to be there for one another in unprecedented ways.


Talk to the people around you, or away from you. They may not be okay. Assume they are not okay. If you are going to become truly excellent at one thing, let it be showing others how much you care.



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