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From Where We Sit

Two careers and 10,000 hours

Anton Ng

Three hours. That’s how much time I spend on the road with my wife for our daily commute. Just the two of us. We are, therefore, each other’s captive audience for whatever we have to say.

Three hours each day. Other people see that as a complete waste of time, a precious resource. But other than not being able to spend time with our girls before they turn in for the night, I do not have any much concern with the three-hour commute.

Three hours each day. Unless my wife is asleep on the passenger seat, we have three hours each day to listen to each other’s hopes and concerns and everything in between. Lately, we have been talking about topics such as technological changes, new skills that we want to learn, and how we can further develop the skills that we already have. Unromantic topics, I know but, with 260 hours in a year to burn, I do hope that you will cut us some slack.

Technology is constantly changing and shaping how we do things. There is a new way of transporting people — it is called ride-sharing. There is a new way of watching movies and listening to music — it is called streaming. Maybe soon, Bitcoin and Blockchain would be as normal as credit cards and wire transfers. These are just some of the manifestations of the changing times.

How can we cope with these changing times? I don’t have an exact answer, but what I do know is that we have to adapt and we have to develop.

One way for us to be able to adapt and develop is to plan our careers. Plan for multiple careers. Some refer to it as being able to create a “career portfolio.” Apart from our main career, look for another “career” that you can pursue. A “career” in something you are passionate about. If you are an employee, look for another “job” that you can do after office hours. You do this not necessarily to earn more income, but to expand your horizons and skill sets. That “other career” should be anchored on the desire to acquire more skills and to make those two “jobs” complement each other. Kabir Sehgal, an investment banker and an award-winning music producer, is a good example. He is also a bestselling author and a US Navy Reserve officer.

According to a Harvard Business Review podcast that I listened to, building a career portfolio allows Sehgal to leverage his skills as an investment banker to be able to plan and strategize his next music production gig. His corporate experience allows him to pick the right people and to ensure that everybody is always conscious of deadlines. These competencies come in handy, as they may not be that common in the music industry. When he started his career as a music producer, Sehgal was able to use his steady stream of income from his corporate job to finance his music gig. There were also times when he was able to invite his corporate clients to meet music artists, which then contributed to Sehgal strengthening his relationship with his clients.

10,000 hours. Engaging in a new career, acquiring skills, and developing skills is not easy. People such as Malcolm Gladwell have been espousing the need to put in the work in order for somebody to be an expert in something. In his book Outliers, Gladwell pegged the work to be put in at 10,000 hours before somebody can be an expert. How did Gladwell derive “the magic number of greatness,” which is 10,000 hours? It is possibly from the research of Anders Ericsson, a research psychologist, who studied young musicians in a German academy?

In an episode of the Freakonomics podcast, Ericsson explained that he and his colleagues discovered that the average practice hours of elite musicians in the German academy was 10,000 hours before they reach the age of 20. Ericsson, however, clarified that 10,000 hours should not be merely about counting hours, but about “deliberate practice.” In deliberate practice, the key component is that the individual is consciously working to improve his or her performance. This involves being clear about what particular skill an individual wants to improve and being able to receive immediate feedback to correct mistakes.

Deliberate practice involves a systematic approach. It has a purpose, a clear objective. I once thought that repetitions are enough. That doing things over and over again would garner me enough experience to be better at doing certain things. These mindless repetitions, according to Ericsson, are not doing enough to see significant improvement. It will just give you a false promise of improvement without being able to really reap the full benefits of the countless hours you have already committed.

Two careers. 10,000 hours. I don’t think we should be particular with the numbers, but we should always strive to learn new things and be purposeful in our development. That’s what we want to drive at. Learn and develop.

Spending thee hours each day over the last 10 years with my wife – that’s not enough for me to reach 10,000 hours. I guess I still have some mileage to pursue before I can consider myself an “expert” in my “other career” as a husband.

Anton Ng is a partner, Audit & Assurance of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory, and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 partners and more than 850 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to or For more information, visit our Website:


As published in The Manila Times, dated 27 September 2017