“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” ~ Bruce Lee
There once was a great and powerful emperor who adored cats more than anything in the world. One day, he hired a very famous artist, the most skilled master painter in all the land. He commissioned this artist to paint a picture of a cat, instructing him that it should be representative of everything that a cat is. “It should be playful, mysterious, comforting, protective, cunning, soft, flexible, wise, mischievous, and all the various traits a cat would have,” explained the emperor.
The master painter bowed before his emperor and said that he would be able to paint such a painting, but that it would take time. The emperor was so enthusiastic about his painting that he allowed the artist to take as much time as he needed to complete the task.
A week went by and the emperor grew anxious. He went to see the artist and asked if his painting was finished yet. The master artist said it was not ready yet, but that the emperor should come back in one month’s time. A month passed and the emperor returned again to check on the artist’s progress. “Still not ready,” said the artist, “Come back in another month.”
In this way, month after month had passed until months became years and years turned into ten whole years before the emperor finally returned one day, now becoming rather impatient.
“Yes,” said the artist, at last, “It is ready.”
The master artist then pulled out his brush and made several black strokes on a piece of rice paper, creating the perfect image of a cat. The emperor was so elated by the image that he forgot his anger and began to showed the master painter with praises and accolades as he described how wonderful the piece was. “It is everything that a cat is,” the emperor said, “From its whiskers to its ears to its eyes to its tail, it has all the qualities and traits a cat would have. But why, pray tell, did it take you ten years when all you did was paint a few short strokes here?”
The artist then bade the emperor to walk with him to a large wooden closet. The master painter opened the closet door and out poured thousands upon thousands of sheets of paper, each one a practice sheet of imperfect standard and quality.
This parable was first told to me by one of my mentors in college, who taught us that in order to be great at anything, it takes about 10,000 bad attempts before one good one finally emerges. Likewise, to the ancient Chinese, if one knew 10,000 things, that person was said to be all-knowing.
As you make your New Year’s resolutions, keep this parables in mind. For those who wish to get in better shape, consider what doing 10,000 sit-ups would do for you. Or for those who wish to learn something new, like playing the piano, imagine what 10,000 hours of practice would accomplish. Or what reading 10,000 pages would accomplish.
You don’t have to do them all at once, of course. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Spread them out across the days and months and years, if need be. But at least this gives you a visible and trackable goal. Regardless of whether you ultimately become the person you want to be, you can be sure that if you do one thing 10,000 times, you will certainly be a master at something, especially if that something is yourself.