Posts Tagged ‘Outliers’

Me, me, me …and Malcolm Gladwell

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Book club book this time around is Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. If one can sum up the theme of it, it’s basically this: when you see a “self-made” success, it’s really the result of many hours of practice (10k to be precise) and a network of people who provide the right opportunities at the right time, and also being in the right time at the right time (it kinda makes sense).

We had some great discussion with this book, so in terms of recommendations, I think it’s a good one for a book club.

It’s hard not to factor some of the observations in the book through one’s own experience, so I thought I’d do a little navel-gazing. I consider myself a relative success (granted, not the self-made millionaires or software geniuses or moms that Gladwell focused on) – I’m well educated, I have a decent job, my own house, I can travel when I want to, and buy lots of books because they give me great feelings of squeee! So was this me, or my “network” of people and opportunities?

I have the required level of intelligence. Gladwell makes the point that after a certain level of intelligence (like a genius IQ as a measurement), any increase above that doesn’t matter that much. So, I’ll concede that I had enough, and that there’s probably a strong genetic component in that.

I had ambition enough. If you asked me when I was 5 what I was going to do when I grew up, I knew for sure that I was going to university, even if my parents hadn’t and their parents hadn’t and no one else in my family had. It was just a given. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to pay for it when I got there, but that didn’t seem to phase me.

I walked the walk. Gladwell makes what I think is a salient point: the difference between middle class and lower class kids mostly doesn’t seem to be native intelligence or even what they can know by rote, but it has to do with the fact that the middle class kids are taught by their parents how to talk to adults, how to formulate questions and opinions that will be listened to. I probably got a little of this from my parents, but I think, overwhelmingly, it was from reading and teachers. I just matched the speech pattern to the situation and took it from there.

I had teachers who helped me. Definitely part of my network of opportunity. Some gave me challenging work. Some spent extra time exposing me to culture and arts and academic pursuits. Some winked and turned away while I committed acts of petty vandalism or, you know, showed up to English class a little tipsy. And most importantly, these same teachers helped me to find scholarships when it came time to worry about the money I needed to actually pay for university. I guess it’s no wonder I thought and still think teaching is a vocation, not a job.

I was born at the right time. I came through on a wave of feminism which opened up attitudes and opportunities for being a bright independent girl. I came through the system when they were trying all kinds of gifted programs where I got to hang out with some freaky smart (and usually well-off) kids – culture shock in a very good way. I came through when they still offered *gasp* grants (that’s right FREE money) to qualified students going to university. I also, by pushing myself, qualified for some pretty major academic scholarships once I got there, so that in the end, I came out with 4 or 5 degrees and relatively little debt for my troubles. Meaning that when I did start working, even though I was a late bloomer in the workforce, I was able to get on my feet quickly.

I wonder if the teachers in particular have any idea what they were able to do for me, and probably for many others like me. And I also wonder where I’d be if any one of those factors had been different.

Oh, and what do I have 10,000 hours experience at? The trifecta: reading, sleeping and dancing in my living room… .