One of the decisions that has made me the happiest has been to start publishing Noise to Signal without worrying too much about whether I was good enough to go toe to toe with the greats. My technique was good enough that it didn’t get in the way of the jokes, and the jokes were good enough that they made people laugh, so *click!* Published.

In the three years since then, I think I’ve improved steadily. Certainly I’ve become more confident, and today I’ll tackle visual ideas that would have scared the bejeezus out of me back in 2007. I’m using colour from time to time, I’m experimenting with light, and I’m having fun.

So I’ve learned to answer the “am I good enough?” voice with a “Yes.” (It’s no accident that the voice asks “Am I good enough?” and not “Is this cartoon good enough?” But that’s a subject for another blog post. Or a therapy session.)

I am good enough.

But I want to be better. I want to be really good. I want to be great.

According to a study cited in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, true greatness requires an investment of at least 10,000 hours.

I’m always suspicious of rules like this, but provided they’re taken with a fist-sized grain of salt, they can be a pretty useful spur to action. So with the 10,000-hour rule, we’re looking at the equivalent of 250 40-hour weeks… or five solid years of full-time activity. (I picture the point where you complete your 10,000th hour as kind of like levelling up in a good video game. I hope the cinematic is worth it.)

It’s hard to think of many areas where I’ve put in those kind of hours. Fretting: definitely. Social web: I must be getting close.

Cartooning: …Well, let’s find out.

Here are some very rough estimates from different periods in my life:

  • Middle school: I started cartooning for the first time, spurred by a friend’s cartoons of a skateboarder who defeated evil teachers and vice-principals alike. But it was sporadic. Let’s say… 20 hours.
  • Grade 9: I started to cartoon in earnest. (Here, too, a friend played a role – my only real cartooning buddy, who lived up Bearbrook Road from me. We shared a common conviction that the 2B pencil was the only worthy instrument for any true artist.) Even then, though, I probably averaged two hours a week. Call it… 100 hours.
  • Grades 10-13: I cartooned every chance I had. Larry Kry, my physics teacher, gave me a Koh-i-Noor technical pen to encourage me (and used my cartoons in some of his lessons). I probably cartooned an hour or more a day, less during the summer holidays. Let’s say… five hours a week, over two hundred weeks. That’s… 1,000 hours.
  • University: Probably the same pace, especially for the year I was running cartoons in the Carleton U student newspaper, The Charlatan. That’s six years… 1,500 hours.
  • Journalism school: A lot less free time for that year. Say… 100 hours.
  • Operation Dismantle: My first job out of university involved very little cartooning, although I did some on the side. Let’s call it… 100 hours.
  • Parliament Hill: Three and a half years, some cartooning. Maybe an hour a week. To be conservative… 150 hours.
  • Queen’s Park: One and a half years, virtually no cartooning. Seriously. Ditto my years in Victoria, and my freelance and NOW Communications years. Let’s be conservative and call it zero.
  • Noise to Signal: Three years, starting slow and with some lulls along the way, probably averaging four hours a week. That’s… 600 hours.

The final total: just north of 3,500 hours.

Say I want to reach that 10,000-hour mark in the next three years. That’s about 2,150 hours per year… or more than a 40-hour work week, with no lunch breaks and no vacations. If I want to do that in the next decade, it’s 650 hours per year, or 13 hours a week. That sounds more likely. (So for everyone who’s planning on sticking with me and the cartoon through to 2020, good news: it’s going to be great.)

How about you? Have you hit the 10,000-hour mark on something you want to be great at?