In 2008, Malcom Gladwell, the New Yorker columnist and author, wrote that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to get great at it. He called it “the 10,000 hour rule.”

In the past week, I’ve seen several articles about it. Perhaps because he wrote a blog post about it on the New Yorker’s blog last week, or maybe in anticipation of Gladwell’s next book, David and Goliath:Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, due out next month, people – at least people I read – are talking about it more than usual.

Some say it’s a lie, that greatness comes from the luck of the draw from some kind of talent cards deck. Most seem to concur that “the greats” got where they are because they practice a lot. Apparently, there is a large body of research that backs Gladwell. I haven’t read it, but I tend to side with Gladwell. Sure, there are idiot savants who can do math really well and can count cards at a blackjack table. There are probably some people who have been at the same thing for way more than 10,000 hours and are still just average. But both of these things are rare exceptions that prove the rule.

As I kept coming across all these references this week, it began to sink in that 10,000 hours is a lot of hours. Of course, it’s a ballpark number. The time it takes you to become great at something may vary. But the idea is that getting to be great at something takes a long time.

How long is 10,000 hours?

There are 8,760 hours in a year. 10,000 hours is 416 and 2/3 days. Theoretically, if you did something constantly, without sleeping or eating or any other interruption, for a year and 51 days, you could be great at something within 14 months time. I’d wonder about the quality of all the hours after the first 10 or 12, though.

Slightly more realistically, 10,000 hours is 1,250 8-hour workdays, which divided into 5-day work weeks, is 250 weeks, or roughly 5 years.

If your workday is like mine, though, there are plenty of other things that happen any given day besides the main thing. So, say you get 6 hours a day in. That’s a 30 hour work week, or about 7 years.

If you’re doing something as a hobby, and can get a couple hours a day at it, say 10 hours a week (because you take your hobbies just that seriously), you’re talking just over 19 years.

Any way you look at it, 10,000 hours, or anything close to it, is a huge commitment of time.

It explains why real grandmasters are so rare, not just in chess, but in nearly any discipline you care to name.