I have always believed there are definite constructs that dictate what we are ultimately capable of doing with our lives. It always seemed logical to me that we can’t all be NBA stars or Nobel prize winners. We are predisposed in certain ways, we have differing interests and we are moved to action by differing influences. It makes sense to me that some people are naturally better at some things and worse at others. At the first try, some people are better painters than others, some have better rhythm and some have natural business sense. These are talents, they can give you a head start at reaching success in whatever it is you may be predisposed for, but it is just the start. Fact is; We all start in different places, but it turns out, there is a lot between where you start and reaching your potential.
Astounding, really, is how strongly our success is determined by having the right amount of talent in the right place at the right time. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers describes this far more eloquently than I ever could. By the end of the book the realization is quite profound, how far the situation and circumstances in life influence success. I came away with a confusing feeling of desperation. It became clear to me that I am in many ways a captive of my circumstances. We all are. Many of them we cannot change; the way we were raised, the wealth of our family, the part of the world we find ourselves in or even our era in the history of humanity. Along with these things we can’t decide what we are talented at. So, long term, substantial success has an enormous correlation to the opportunities presented to us entirely beyond our control.
It sounds like a lost cause. How can we hope to manufacture our own success if circumstance plays such an enormous role? While Outliers enforced this feeling of helplessness, it simultaneously left me with renewed motivation. The source of this motivation? The ten-thousand hour rule.
The caveat to achieving greatness even when presented ample opportunity: You must work, really hard.
Nearly every case of an “outlier”, an incredible success story, tends to include a near lifetime of dedication to a craft. The opportunity may not have been earned, but taking full advantage of the opportunity most definitely is, and just as crucial.
At one point in my life I realized things had stagnated and I wanted more for myself, but I couldn’t figure out what to do. I felt helpless. To an extent, I was causing my own frustration. Opportunities were there and it wasn’t by misfortune that I was missing them, I simply wasn’t taking advantage. I’ve realized the real moral of Gladwell’s book. Recognizing that a number of people will be blessed with great opportunities, and justifying our own shortcomings with this as an excuse, is definitely not the moral. The real lesson is that we need to look at our own lives and really examine what it is that we have the opportunity to be great at.
How do we find that opportunity? Honestly, I don’t know. Just like I believe we can’t all be great at everything, I believe we all have something or numerous things that we can be great at. Many of the most successful people happened to find something they love to do, happened to work really hard to get really good at it and happened to stumble upon the opportunity to succeed at it. Some might call that luck, if you subscribe to the saying “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. My plan is simply to prepare. I want to absolutely bust my ass doing the things that I love to do, working my hardest to take full advantage of any opportunities that I have been afforded. As long as I continue to push myself to succeed at the things that I aspire to, maybe one of them will take off and work out for me and reveal that opportunity. Perhaps I’ll get lucky.