Growing up, he would give them human names and refer to them as his “friends.” We were not to disturb them in any way. No folded pages. No food that might be spilt on them. No bending their spines.
When my dad abandoned us, the only thing he showed concern for were his books. He left them in my care, under strict orders to pay proper attention to them. In the months that followed, chaos and confusions ensued. I left the country, then came back, then moved around a lot. I didn’t always have a home, but I always carried his books with me. They were heavy and burdensome – like lugging around a library even though you have no other possessions.
I reached a point where I could no longer store them. I had no place to live, and therefore no place to put them. I also had no idea whether I was ever going to see my dad again. I didn’t know where he was, and he had been gone for a long time. So I gave them away.
I continued working and moving around until I was finally able to rent an apartment and support myself. I went back to school. That’s when my dad showed up. He wanted his books. When I told him I had given them away, he was absolutely furious.
He grew so upset that I felt compelled to contact the person I had given them away to, and ask them the enormous favour of giving the books back. Fortunately, this was not a person that loved books more than humans. So he understood my situation, and gave them back. My dad disappeared again.
They say there is something to be learned in every life experience. And my lesson in all this was the true value of a book. A harsh lesson perhaps, but a lesson I have gratefully accepted. I never looked at books the same way again.
Today when I pick up a book, I see a person. A writer who bore part of his soul in an effort to record his or her thoughts in a way that might benefit others. I see hours of their time, the agony of over-thinking each phrase, and the burden of attempting to create something with significance and meaning. A book is a part of them reaching out to me.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers has this spirit. This isn’t a book about running, but about success. However, I tend to relate many things in my life to running. And that’s what I did here.
In The Outliers, Gladwell tries to nail the formula for success. He describes in astonishing detail what it really takes to become successful, rich, or famous. And it’s not what most people think.
Gladwell defines “outliers” as “something that is situated away from or classed differently from the main or related body.” It is special people. People unlike the rest of us. The very smart. The very wealthy. The very successful.
Gladwell wants to tell us what it takes to get there.
Librarians hate me.
I try not to bother them with questions or requests, but it doesn’t matter because I have one habit that they can’t stand: I always make notes in the margins of the books I read.
I can’t help it. It goes back to my view of what a book is. If a writer is reaching out to me, I want to reach back. It’s like a dialog. So I tell them when I agree with them. When I have had an experience with something they said. When they’re full of shit. When I’m mad at them, I sometimes write obscenities in the margins. I tell it like it is.
I’ve been banned from libraries.
The first time I was banned from a library was at age 10. I went back there at 21 STILL completely terrified of the librarian – a tall black man with a very stern look. I couldn’t even go in.
It’s not a good idea to ban me from a library, because I have occasionally been known to steal books that I can’t borrow or afford. I don’t always understand why – if I love a book to death and can give it a good home – do I still have to give it back?
So I bought The Outliers from Chapters. I made notes in the margins. And I thought the most effective way of writing any sort of review would be to share my margin notes with you.
Note to self: Conceive in May.
Conceiving in May means my child will be born in the beginning of the year. January, February, or March babies who go through the school system have a one-year advantage over December babies. They are more physically and mentally developed. More likely to qualify for sports teams, gifted programs, etc.
The fact-based arguments and examples in the book supporting this theory are highly compelling and in some cases jaw-dropping. Enough to make one want to conceive in May.
FORMULA FOR SUCCESS #2: BECOME AN EXPERT
Gladwell’s argument is that everyone who was successful at anything became an expert at what they did. This means a significant investment of time, often when we are still young. The magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours. This translates into roughly ten years of hard practice.
Ten thousand hours is the number of greatness. As Gladwell puts it, “Practise isn’t something you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” But don’t work hard just for the sake of working hard. “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.” When there is a goal you are striving for, and you know there is a clear purpose behind it, that’s the path leading directly to success.
At the rate I am currently training, I will become a running expert in November of 2017. I will be 35. My purpose for running – my meaning for all of this – can be read here.
I am apparently already an expert in reading… and writing.
FORMULA FOR SUCCESS #3: BE THE RIGHT AGE AT THE RIGHT TIME
I am currently what Gladwell considers the “right age.” Young, with the freedom to take certain risks of time and/or money, not fully depending on one job for an income, no children to support. Now I just have to pick something that will, taking into consideration the time I’m living in, pay off in a major way. For me, running is that thing.
Running wasn’t always popular. Years ago you never used to see people running outside. Now you see it all the time. A lot of people are trying to do something (run) for which very minimal guidance or training is provided. And that’s the thing I also happen to love. I think it can also bring me success.
This blog, it seems, will ultimately be more of a benefit to me than for others. I’m not getting any income from it. I don’t even have an impressive readership. But it helps me get in some “practice hours” as I read, research, and write about running. It carves out a spot for me, however small, in this niche. It’s an investment. To be truly successful, you must understand your place in history and what is happening in the world around you.
I have the time to train for a marathon right now. I had a past that drove me to run in the first place, as a stress reliever. And I had someone in my life who suggested that I might like it. The right time, the right age, the right circumstances. All falling into place.
This point has everything to do with opportunity. “Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.” I also believe this includes people with the vision to create their OWN opportunities. People who see a need that is not being met, and then take it upon themselves to fill it. This is what I have attempted to do with this blog, and another website that I will be launching very shortly.
FORMULA FOR SUCCESS #4: BE SMART ENOUGH
You don’t have to be a genius, because intelligence has a threshold. After a certain level of IQ, you are just as likely as the next guy to win a Nobel Prize someday. Here’s the breakdown:
IQ below 70 = mentally disabled
IQ of 100 = considered average
IQ of just above 100 = you should be able to handle college
IQ of at least 115 = you should be able to get into and succeed in a reasonably competitive graduate program
However, once someone reaches an IQ of around 120, they are smart enough. It doesn’t matter if your IQ is 150 or 180 – you are just as likely to become successful.
Thankfully, in my case, I’m smart enough.
FORMULA FOR SUCCESS #5: POSSESS “PRACTICAL INTELLIGENCE”
In short, this is the ability to get what you want. It involves knowing how to talk to people, how to read people, how to assess situations, and how to persuade others. If you have this, you can cause people to put down their guard. You can open doors of opportunity. You can bend the rules in your favour.
Essentially, people like and trust you. I think this is something I’ve had for a long time, but only practice on occasion. Maybe it’s time to step it up.
FORMULA FOR SUCCESS #6: HAVE A SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT
According to Gladwell, you can see this in children – particularly when you compare children who are raised in affluence and those who are not. Generally, the children raised in higher classes will not be afraid to look adults in the eyes. They will ask questions. Demand answers. Challenge things that don’t make sense. The poorer children will look down. They are more submissive. Their eyes will turn away.
A lot of this has to do with balance of power. We should be raising children who are assertive, respectful but not afraid of authority, responsible for their own well-being, and capable of functioning and succeeding in the world.
FORMULA FOR SUCCESS #7: BUILD A LEGACY
At the end of the book, Gladwell speaks very openly about his personal history and the legacy from which he has come. He speaks of what his mother and grandmother did in order to give him the opportunities that made him successful, and he credits much of his rise as a writer to the legacy these women built for him.
I don’t have this. It isn’t something I can fake or change. My dad loved books more than he loved me. There’s nothing I can do about that.
But in response to Gladwell’s thoughts about legacy, I wrote the following in a margin:
This is what I want to do for my children. I think about it all the time. About what kind of legacy and opportunities I can give them.
I feel like I understand my link in the generational chain of greatness. I am the one with the rough past. The one that changed the direction of her family tree – from nobodies to somebodies. All my time and efforts have been focused on making this switch. I am the grandmother and the mother that will someday be highly praised, but I will not personally ever be famous or rise to great power.
I was not given the gift of opportunity from my parents. But my children will have it. As will their children. And among them – there will be Outliers.
– VR, July 2010