10,000 Hours of Perseverance

10,000 Hours of Perseverance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

10,000 Hours of Perseverance

The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places.

~Will Rogers

My dad always used to tell me that when I was two years old, I told everyone I met that I was going to be the next Michael Jordan. I told the clerk at the store, I told my aunt, and I told a stranger I met on the street. I’d never actually played basketball, but I’d seen Michael Jordan on the TV, and that was enough.

At first it was cute. My mom made me a bright orange basketball birthday cake and my uncle bought me my own small pair of Air Jordans. It was my dad alone, however, that took me seriously.

One day he sat my three-year-old body down at the table and looked me straight in the eye.

“You want to be the next Michael Jordan, huh?” he asked.

I nodded eagerly, squirming in my seat.

“And you’re willing to do any amount of work in order to do this?”

I hesitated a moment, feeling the weight of his words, but then smiled brightly and nodded.

“All right,” he sighed. Then he turned and produced a sleek, lined, business sheet of paper. He rubbed his brow and straightened his tie before handing the paper to me, warning, “This will be one serious, serious commitment.”

He gave me a pen and gestured for me to sign my messy signature at the bottom of the page. Even without the ability to read what he’d written on the paper, I sensed the seriousness of the moment.

The next morning I had completely forgotten about the paper until, at the crack of dawn, my father shook me awake. I was shocked to see that for the first time in my three years of life, my father wasn’t wearing a suit and tie. Instead he was dressed in a distasteful baggy T-shirt, shorts, and an old, ratty pair of gym shoes. I wrinkled my nose.

“What?” I asked.

“Get up,” he ordered. “Basketball practice commences today.”

I groaned, squirmed out from my warm alcove of stuffed animals, and followed my dad, still wearing my pink pajamas.

We headed out to the driveway and he revealed an old, beaten, orange basketball. He tossed it to me and I clumsily grabbed it with both hands, its bumps feeling foreign to me.

“First,” he instructed in his firm, lawyer-practiced voice, “we will start with the art of dribbling.”

I looked at him, unsure if he was serious, and threw the basketball with both hands back to him as he began to instruct me. I stood out in that driveway for three hours that morning, and never had I felt more exhausted in my three years of life. Every time my attention began to wander, my father would harshly drag me back to the present.

Although still unsteady on my own two feet, my father worked me until my pajamas were drenched in sweat and my wrists were aching from hitting the ball up and down. The neighbors out mowing their lawns had begun to stare at our strange scene — my father, a strict lawyer, standing in the driveway, domineering in ancient gym clothes, and me, a toddler perspiring in her pink pajamas.

Tired and voraciously hungry afterward, I went inside and devoured breakfast. My mother had brought out a feast of pancakes, sausages, muffins, and fruit, and simply pursed her lips and shook her head disbelievingly as I dragged myself in. Already, I was beginning to regret my decision to be the female version of Michael Jordan.

The next morning my dad dragged me out in the driveway at the crack of dawn, once again. This time I had come prepared. I was dressed in fresh shorts and a jersey, although, normally, I refused to wear anything but flouncy, flowery dresses.

Before I knew it, my dad was dragging me out for hours every morning. It was the same the next day, and the next day, and the next day. I began dreading the continuous lay ups, shooting, dribbling, and one-on-one. My only hope in my three-year-old brain was that soon, when winter came, I could take a break.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Once the first flakes of snow started falling my dad started dragging me to the local gym to practice for four hours a day. I began complaining, sighing, and dreading each practice. My dad never gave up, though. Every time I screamed that I would never touch a basketball again he would take my signed piece of paper from his safe and wave it in my face, telling me that I couldn’t take back my words now.

I wanted, in my dreams, to tear and burn that dreaded contract that bound me to four hours of practice seven days a week. I wanted to find his locked safe and burn it to the ground. Years passed and I began to accept basketball practice as just a fact of life. Even on days when I slept in, refusing to get up, guilt would soon overwhelm me, and I would head out to the driveway and find him waiting for me, knowing all along that I would come.

By the age of ten, after seven years of practicing (and approximately 7,350 hours) my dad predicted my skill was higher than any varsity player’s in the state. He continued to coach me, day after day, from the sidelines of our driveway, pounding the knowledge into my brain about fakes, crossovers, and tactics. Our only days off in the year were work holidays and my birthday, which seemed way too far apart for my liking. But my dad kept a chart on the wall, measuring how much I practiced, and every 500 hours of practice time we would celebrate by heading to Dairy Queen.

My dad began telling me about his days as a star basketball player in college. He said that he had always dreamed of being the best basketball player in the world, but he had not had the perseverance to practice enough to become so. His theory was that in order to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert, 10,000 hours of practice were required. Whether you were a writer, an ice skater, a guitarist, or a chess player. He said that one day, in basketball, I would become a true expert.

One fateful day, at the age of fourteen, I finally reached my goal. My 10,000 hours. The day was a Saturday, and from the morning I got up, I could feel something different as I met my dad out in the driveway before heading to school. A strange feeling of sorrow seemed to hang over me.

We practiced our usual four hours, and for once, I felt like I had learned everything there was to know about basketball. At the end of our practice session, my dad hugged me and said “Congratulations” before handing me that same old ratty basketball from eleven years back and saying, “It’s yours now.”

That evening we had more than forty of our friends and relatives over to a party, with a gigantic, basketball-shaped cake, and local newspaper journalists hugging the edge of the living room. On top of the cake sat five candles, with the numbers 1-0-0-0-0. I had never been so proud in my life. My dad made a speech about perseverance, and even his old coach from college came over to congratulate me. It was only when the cake’s candles were lit that my dad finally handed me the forbidden contract I had signed on that fateful day at the age of three.

I felt tears well in my eyes as I traced the letters on that piece of paper, each word engraved in my heart. In my messy three-year-old handwriting I could still read my name signed in overly large backwards letters. “I hereby agree to practice basketball for as long as my father requires, until I have reached my goal of 10,000 hours.” I read, for the last time.

“This is it,” my father whispered, reaching for my hand. “10,000 hours of perseverance.”

Those powerful words that had bound me for eleven years seemed so pointless now as together, we held the paper to the candle’s flame and watched the paper slowly fold and crinkle into a brown paper mass. The crowd of family and friends cheered.

“So, are you going to quit now?” one of the journalists asked, speaking for the first time since the party had begun.

I looked around, staring at the many pictures of Michael Jordan, and of me playing basketball over the years. Then, without hesitation, I smiled and shook my head.

“Never,” I whispered. “WNBA, here I come.”

~Christine Catlin

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