We’ve all heard the common narrative of success stories: from rags to riches. It’s a rather appealing notion to think about. But it is not that simple. Oprah Winfrey says that her biggest frustration with young people today is that “they think that success is supposed to happen” instantly. “They think that there isn’t a process to it. They think that they are supposed to come out of college and have their brand.” Instead, she says, brands, and careers, take time to develop. The amount of practice necessary for exceptional performance is so extensive that people who end up on top need help. They invariably have access to lucky breaks or privileges or conditions that make all those years of practice possible.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell gives the example of people born around the year 1954–1956. This was the generation that produced the Silicon Valley tech moguls; the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. These people were born at the right time to take advantage of the computer revolution that took place some years after their birth. But there is a catch; they had to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity when it arose. They had to have clocked in their 10,000 hours.
On their website, CNBC notes that Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard in 1975 to launch Microsoft but, in a speech he gave at his high school, he implies he could have skipped college altogether and still become a successful billionaire and philanthropist, thanks to the education he got there. “Lakeside was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Gates says in a 2005 speech at Lakeside School. “One reason I’m so grateful to Lakeside is that I can directly trace the founding of Microsoft back to my earliest days here.” Gates was first introduced to computers at his Seattle private school. There, he taught other students about computers, digitized the school schedule, and even hacked his school’s scheduling system to be placed in all-girls classes.
By the time he dropped out of Harvard, he was way over the 10,000-hour mark of practice.
Sheer hard work and innate talent may get you places, but you have to recognize your generational advantages and make use of them. What is the one thing that your generation has an advantage over other generations? How can you make use of it? As Malcolm Gladwell said, “Achievement is talent plus preparation.”
To read more and get a deeper perspective, you can access Malcolm Gladwell’s book here.