Success: A Matter of Skill and Luck

“[N]ot rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses ever make it alone.” – Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

It’s striking to think of all the “successful” people in our history being anything but extraordinary. From the way they think, to the way they changed humanity, one can hardly imagine them being less accomplished. I’m a pretty average student  ̶  I definitely would not consider myself to be a genius or philanthropist by any stretch. I’m sure many students also feel this way, especially in an environment that is constantly pushing us to achieve more and become “successful.”

There’s no doubt that the international athletes, humanitarians, and leaders we hear about everyday have earned their status through hard work and merit. However, their success stories should never make us feel less capable of accomplishing our goals. Even hearing about a classmate’s accomplishments, while inspiring, can also be discouraging. We’ve all been there – eventually, you start to feel jealous.

Most people appreciate the work of others and look up to them for inspiration. It’s just not the same with your peers though; somewhere along the way, you convince yourself that if others your age are doing certain things, you should be doing them too. You feel a competitive drive to be the best, and it doesn’t help when society seems to have its own definition of success. I feel the pressure all the time  ̶  being in first year, I’m always told to grasp new opportunities and be proactive in order to meet my long-term goals. Unfortunately, we all know how difficult it can be to get that first breakthrough.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success, looks at cases where individuals became successful through skill, hard work, and luck. He talks about what it takes to become an expert in virtually any field; for example, people need at least 10 000 hours of practice in order to master any kind of skill. Mozart, a child prodigy that we’ve all studied in music history began composing music at the age of 6, but his early pieces were hardly memorable. In fact, Mozart’s first truly successful works were released closer to when he was 21. Considering that he had already been composing for over 15 years, it made sense that he had become very skillful.

But what does it take to dedicate 10 000 hours to one activity? Here’s the breakdown:

If an individual practiced for 8 hours per day, 7 days per week, they would need 179 weeks, or roughly 3.5 years, to master a skill. How many people would have that kind of time? It’s no wonder virtuosos and experts come around only so often. Successful people may possess the natural drive to achieve their goals, but they are also incredibly fortunate to have the ability to dedicate so much of their life to one skill.

At this point, I’m sure you aren’t fully convinced,  and you don’t have to be. I only wanted to share my thoughts on what I believe to be a growing issue for our generation. Unfortunately, students are pressured to participate in activities simply to boost their resumes. Instead of spending so much time on trivial activities that you don’t even enjoy, why not focus on developing the skills necessary for achieving your personal goals?

It’s good to be inspired and motivated by others and their accomplishments, but jealousy defeats the purpose of it all. Personally, I’ve stopped comparing myself to my peers because we all have different goals. Instead, I now focus on pursuing my own interests while maintaining a high level of productivity. We can reach that 10 000 hour benchmark someday if we start now.



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