I recently finished reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I highly recommend it as a great read – if you’re a nerd for random trivia and unusual statistics, you’ll have a blast!
What really struck me about this book is that Gladwell is making a strong attempt to redefine the story of success, particularly here in America. Success is something I know I’m struggling with – what kind of success am I searching for, when will I consider myself successfully, who is defining success in my world?
In Outliers, Gladwell explores how some of the most successful people in the world throughout history – from Bill Gates to Canadian hockey stars to robber barons to himself – get where they are. Some of the chapters are more humorous and light-hearted – for example, did you know that more major league baseball players are born in August than any other month? [To find out why, you can read the source article here.] Other chapters address issues of public policy and social responsibility, such as examining the success of the KIPP school model.
The concept that keeps running through my head, however, is Gladwell’s insight into the action (or inactions) of individuals. Gladwell successfully argues that the concept of the “self-made man” is a myth, that the Horatio Alger story of hoisting yourself up by the bootstraps and setting the world on fire is nice in fiction but impractical and illogical in application. Gladwell finds that almost every successful person is a product of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. If this is the case, what is an individual to do?
The successful people in Gladwell’s book do the following:
- Ask for help. Beg for help. Actively seek help. Successful people are not afraid of assistance.
- Pursue their passions. Bill Gates loved computers. He loved them so much, he had spent 10,000 hours working on one by the time he dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft.
- Seize opportunities. They don’t let fear or insecurity stop them from advantages that come their way
- Put in time. Whether it’s 10,000 hours programming computers or practicing hockey, they are willing to literally take time to become successful.
Truth: I do almost none of these things. I am terrible at asking for help! No one wants to feel needy or a burden, so I don’t ask. I pursue some interests but rarely have I equated things I’m passionate about with what will make me a success. Fear can paralyze me at times – it’s stopped me from applying for a job, talking to a cute guy, asking for help, negotiating in a situation, and more.
Finally, time. This seems to be the most elusive element of my post-collegiate existence. Three years: spent at my grown-up, real world job. One year: spent wishing I wasn’t there. Ten hours: spent actively job searching each week. Twenty hours: spent on Facebook each week. Thirty hours: spent on watching World Cup matches this week.
Obviously, I could make better use of my time. Perhaps start logging 10,000 hours at something I am passionate about – or even just mildly interested in. I could start taking time to convince myself to not be afraid of new opportunities. Better yet, I could take the time to create my own opportunities.
I’ve always known that no man is an island. Gladwell’s Outliers has helped me realize that a successful Vita Abundantior doesn’t have to be something I achieve on my own. I have community, history, and legacy on my side.