“Who we are cannot be separated from where we’re from.” – Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers
In my personal and professional life, there are few days that go by that I don’t notice people who have done incredible things to make an impact. The world sees them as examples of success.
Sometimes, I wonder,
How did they achieve these things?
What made these people different?
After reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, it has become easier to answer these question. He asks the same question in his book and in his research discovered some amazing things about what makes these people unique (or not).
“People don’t rise from nothing….It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.”
“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.”
Gladwell shares many examples to support this including a personal story about his own mother and how she achieved success as an outlier. Let me explain my story.
When I was eleven years old and beginning my summer vacation before 6th grade, I was asked last-minute to join some friends in a golf tournament. At the time, I did not even remember what the tournament it was except that it was to be played in Kansas City, not far from where I grew up. I had been playing golf for a few years but golf was a distant fourth sport of choice behind baseball, soccer and basketball. I enjoyed the game and was intrigued by it but it wasn’t where I thought I would spend my time.
The night before the tournament it poured down rain in Kansas City. I think the tournament anticipated a hundred kids to play in it but the next morning only about fifteen showed up to play and I was one of them. I was a decent golfer for my age but as I mentioned, it wasn’t my priority sport.
I won the tournament that day. In fact, it made me the Missouri State Champion for the UCT Invitational and they gave me an all expenses paid trip to Victoria, Canada to play in the North American final. Crazy, huh? It was one of many events that propelled me forward in confidence and ability to keep getting better. It took me through high school golf, college golf, and amateur state play throughout the years.
Three years before the tournament that changed my life, my family moved across town in suburban Kansas City and our new house happened to be on the first hole of a small golf course. That particular golf course happened to be one of the best junior golf programs in all of the city, which provided me the best opportunity out of many kids to excel in the sport. My parents were not serious golfers but my grandparents bought me my first set of clubs that year and I took up the game. After given the opportunity to win that tournament, I never looked back and eventually quit my other sports to play more golf.
Like Gladwell suggests about Outliers, there was nothing about me that was particularly special except I was put in the right places and encouraged by the right people at the right times to play the game of golf, work hard at it, and excel in it. I was given the right chance to succeed. Gladwell expands the thought,
“Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them.”