The notion of the “self made man” is defined as having achieved success or prominence by one’s own efforts. This is what many big entrepreneurs claim when they talk about their success: being a self made man. We as a society have come to believe that the self-made man attains their success through education, hard work, and sheer willpower. In addition, society believes that it’s not luck that makes you successful. Nor is it external help or special relationships that make the crucial difference in the self-made man’s rise. As a society, we have come to focus too much on intelligence, ambition, and personality traits when it comes to understanding successful people. However, Malcolm Galdwell, in his book, Outliers, attacks this American myth of the self made man. Instead, Gladwell argued that we should observe the world that surrounds the successful rather than the individual itself. We cling to the idea that success is a function of individual merit. However, that is not the case. Success is not solely based on an individual’s intelligence and ambition, but rather on the elements that surround them. Such elements include opportunity, timing, and effort that bring upon success onto the individual. It is the external help and special relationships that the individual encounters that truly makes them successful.
The time of year in which you are born can play a role in your success. In his book, Gladwell examines how your birth month can have an impact on your success. When observing a group of the best Canadian hockey players, Gladwell notices that the majority of them are born in January or February, while two or three are born between October through December (22). The reason for this is that the eligibility cut off date for youth hockey is the first of January. That means that the players born in January gain nearly a year advantage over the players that are born far later in the year, and gives the older players an extra year to grow physically and improve their skills. The older child that outperforms the rest, gains increased interest from coaches. It is then that this particular older child is met with greater opportunities to advance their career by moving up to a higher rank. These players receive better coaching, better teammates, and play fifty percent more games than a regular league. At the same time, the younger child who is seen as maybe “untalented” gets left behind and doesn’t get the opportunity to increase their skill. As Gladwell states, “ Yes the hockey players who make it to the professional level are more talented than or me. But they also got a big head start, an opportunity that they neither deserved nor earned. And that opportunity played a critical role in their success (30).” In sum, players born earlier hold higher advantages. Over the course of five years the attention and opportunities add up to drastic improvement that the younger player did not receive. The players’ birth month ultimately dictated whether they were met with the opportunity to become successful or not. One has no control in what month a player can be born. Thus pushing the limits on the idea of the self-made man. Timing and opportunity played a key role that accumulated to the player’s success, and determined whether a hockey player made it to the professional level.
A second aspect that plays an important one to one’s success is practice. Gladwell suggests that alongside hard work and passion, practice takes account into their success. Specifically, the ten thousand hour rule of deliberate practice. But more importantly, Gladwell emphasizes the hidden opportunities that allowed the individuals to put in those ten thousand hours of work. In his book, Gladwell examines the story of Bill Gates before he makes his breakthrough. In 1968, Gates was met with his first unusual opportunity. He attended a private school which had a computer club that offered students access to a time shared computer. Around this time most colleges did not have computer clubs. From that moment on Gate’s life was full of similar opportunities that kept him in front of a computer. As Gladwell states, “ And what did virtually all those opportunities have in common? They all gave Bill Gates extra time to practice. By the time Gates dropped out of Harvard… he had been programming practically nonstop for seven consecutive years. He was way past ten thousand hours(54-55).” This chance of luck and timing gave Gates the opportunity to become a master at computer programming. To refer back to Gladwell, he also states, “But what distinguishes their histories is not their extraordinary talent but their extraordinary opportunities (55).” Gates and the other individuals he examined in his book came about through the unusual and unexpected opportunities they encountered that gave them the ability to improve their practice. Their success was brought up with the special relationships they encountered and external help.The people who are given the opportunity to put in their ten thousand hours of practice have a greater chance of success. These opportunities were rare in life, and those who put in the practice were prepared for the next sign of another great opportunity. The timing and location again were essential to their success.
On the other hand, many believe that success is not just a matter of luck or due to factors outside of our control. Others assert that it is their intelligence and personality traits that drive them to be successful. They argue that it is a matter of taking the time to learn, applying your knowledge and sticking with it. Successful people set clear cut goals for themselves and have a strong drive to achieve them. But even in the examples illustrated above, they all carried a drive and aspiration to improve their practice. It was not just their talent alone that led to success, but the extraordinary opportunities that allowed them to put in the work. Gates and the Beatles happen to be where they were and happen to get the opportunities others didn’t. If it wasn’t for Hamburg, the Beatles would not have been the success they are now. Same goes for Gates, if he hadn’t been in that private school at the time he was he would’ve missed becoming one of the richest men in the world. It is all about the chances of opportunity one gets. They all seized the opportunities they were met with.
Gladwell’s book explores the way that often-overlooked factors can have an enormous impact on an individual’s success. He emphasizes that success comes from people who are given unique opportunities to work hard, but also happened to come of age at the time that hard work and effort was rewarded. They were at the right place at the right time. As he states, “ Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up.”Success is not solely based on the ambition and drive of the individual rather than the experiences and opportunities they encounter. Elements such as timing, effort, and opportunities are what contribute to one’s success.