The Art of Down Time

An illustration from art duo Kozy n Dan. They’ve drawn together for over 10,000 hours.

It’s illegal to work more than forty-eight hours in most parts of Europe. Even then, I’d imagine that few businesses expect their employees to work to the legal limit. Think about that for a minute, think about Europe, lay back and think of England. It’s not exactly a third world country. I mean, they gave us The Beatles.

In  Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliershe explains that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. That’s his theory, anyways, and he uses it to explain how The Beatles mastered rock n’ roll. That is to say: They played it for 10,000 hours. Now, during hours 1 – 5,000, we have to accept that they were real real bad at it. The Beatles weren’t always The Beatles. They started as a bunch of lame kids from Birmingham who didn’t know how to play music and who didn’t work forty-eight hours a week.

And because of that we have The Beatles.

There’s this trend in American business, one that I’m sure you’ve noticed (especially if you’ve got a job), where everybody works all the time. I don’t want to be over dramatic, but have you noticed how America has only produced a half dozen Miley Cyrus’ and “One Directions” sine the early 2000s? There are no “The Beatles,” not anymore, because we make them work instead of letting them play terrible music for 10,000 hours.

I’m not a socialist. I think everyone should earn their living, but I also believe that their living should earn them. Your job should respect you enough to give you your down time, even demand that you take it. It’s in our down time, those hours between clocking out and clocking in, that we do what we want, when we do the work we’re passionate about but  we can’t get paid for. It’s in our down time that art happens, that culture advances, that history occurs.

Andrew Bird. He’s whistled for over 10,000 hours.

But there’s a reality in that. We don’t always get paid for the art we’re not good at. Remember, The Beatles were poor as hell. For 10,000 hours, they made absolutely no money. That’s not a luxury most of us can afford.

So you’ve got to make the most of your down time. You’ve got to be productive, you’ve got to do the work you want to do for free until the work you want to do is the only work that you have to do, and you’re not just doing it for yourself. Art is important, doing what you’re passionate about is important, it’s how culture advances.

Take a look at this piece from Good. It’s a plea to save the arts, and it’s telling. Maybe you’ve only got an hour a week, maybe you’ve only got an hour every other week, but you have got to work towards that 10,000 hour mark. You’ve got to continue to fight for the things you’re passionate about, because thats how we win, that’s how we all win, that’s how we beat working over 48 hours a week.

Time is going to pass either way, it’s just a matter of what you do with it.


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