When I was young, we’d occasionally go to the beach and dig holes. There was a notion that if you dug a hole long and deep enough, you’d get all the way to China. I never reached another country in my efforts, but I surely tripped some unsuspecting beachgoers walking to the car with my battleground of sand tunnels.
Now, let’s use the metaphor of digging holes in our daily lives. Imagine that each action we take, each relationship we develop, each thought we have is its own hole in a large desert. For imagery purposes, it may help to imagine the popular book and movie, Holes. Each hour you spend in any of these areas equates to a foot deeper in that hole.
Over time, we will have thousands of holes with varying depth and width. Some holes, a temporary interest in fishing, may be shallow enough to barely soak your feet after a rainfall. Others, a past long-term relationship, may be deep enough to get lost in but untouched for years. Some people have thousands of shallow friendship holes, while others have five holes that run miles deep.
And then there’s the jackpot: the deep holes funneling consistently deeper and deeper. The vocation that has called you to be a writer and empowers you to continue putting words on paper. The relationship that you’ve opened up to true vulnerability and can truly be yourself. The positive thought that plays in your head on repeat like a catchy bubblegum jingle, compelling you to keep moving forward.
The way to achieve mastery is to dig fewer, deeper holes, not more, shallower ones.
Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote about the 10,000-hour rule for mastery in his book, Outliers. I’m not sure if there’s a true number of hours that label you as a master, but looking at time spent digging your hole is a good start. Let’s break it down.
We all have 24 hours – or 24 “feet of digging” – per day. Whether you’re a businessperson, schoolteacher or the Dalai Lama, this limit exists. And with sleep taken out, let’s call it an even 16 feet per day that we can spend digging.
I know what you’re thinking. This is great news – I am just going to dig deep with my job as a salesperson and my boyfriend and I’ll be a master in both arenas. It’ll be great!
The flip side of this theory is that you can only dig one hole at a time. If you spend an hour digging your hole at work, you cannot simultaneously dig your relationship or health holes.
This leads me to two thoughts.
The first is to spend your time digging in the right holes. Once you find your passion, your vocation, your family, your best friend, invest heavily in those areas. It’s not the “big events” – going on a vacation, getting promoted, releasing your first article – that truly change your life, it’s the small digging we do on a daily basis. The 300 words we wrote today. The good morning text you sent your girlfriend. The fruit you ate this morning in lieu of a breakfast burrito.
If you say you want to be a leader, be the best leader you can be. If you’re a writer, then sit down and get to writing. If you love your parents, pick up the phone and make the damn phone call. You know the right holes, now it’s time to dig.
Equally important, we must not overinvest in areas with no true upside. We all have 24 hours of digging to do, goddammit, don’t waste them. The two hours spent on Instagram, time spent with shallow friends and maintain real estate for the thoughts that do not serve you are all wastes of time. Those holes simply don’t move the needle for you.
When you identify a hole that is no longer creating value for you, ditch it. Nobody cares how athletic the Rolling Stones were or how well Warren Buffet could cook, and luckily neither did they. They’ve spent their time digging their few holes extremely deep.
You don’t need to be great at everything or everyone’s best friend. Let us choose wisely and dig deeper.