The “self-made man” is a myth

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I recently finished listening to the audiobook “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. This was my second Gladwell book and I really enjoy his style. If you enjoy statistics or learning about extraordinary people this is a great read.

The book explains why in some sports a majority of players are born in certain months, that at universities younger students are underrepresented, and that cultural differences are a massive factor in rational decision making and communication.

How did The Beatles get so huge? How did Bill Gates become… well Bill Gates? Many people we consider extraordinary individuals were presented with opportunities that enabled them to become who we know them to be. Bill Gates would not be Bill Gates if he was not born roughly when he was and if his school didn’t have amazing access to advanced technology.

Gladwell also talks about how even given the greatest opportunity we must work diligently. That there are no world class violinists who can get by with practicing just an hour a day. That Bill Gates worked late into the night so many nights learning to code. That he wasn’t just born at the right time and presented with an opportunity, he worked relentlessly hard.

The American Dream is a lovely tale — that if you work hard enough you can achieve anything you want. But the truth may be that you need some opportunities thrown your way. Then apply the concept of the American Dream, sure. But along the way you had help from various sources, and so there really is no self-made man.

While Gladwell’s book I’m sure entirely oversimplifies extremely complex social phenomena, I love thinking about statistics and science in this manner. In real world examples. I found the book easy and fun to read as well as informing. I would definitely recommend this if you’re a bit of a nerd.

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