The Lucky Ones

“I know. Your time while studying in uni was one of the worst moments right? We didn’t understand what you were going through. But I knew you were suffering.”

-Mum

This will be a third Gladwell book that I’ve happily digested. As one can expect, it’s chock-full of information and data as he often uses to set the stage for the elucidation of his point. Most of it is not earth-shattering or mind-blowing stuff. But the genius of Malcolm Gladwell is how he brings across seemingly trivial occurrences, plucked from the depths of obscurity and deliver the ideas in style of a Chinese 10-course well for you to devour. It is tantalising and definitely works up your curiosity as each anecdote was told in way it seemed “normal”. But for those who have followed Gladwell’s writing, you know very well that stories he tells were never quite “normal.”

A few interesting points:

1. Depending on which year schools stream its students in your vicinity, the ones born in the first of the half of the year gain an added advantage over those born in the second half. Let’s assume your school term starts in January. When kids are streamed early in their childhood, that little advantage they get in terms of mental capability (by virtue of being older in terms of months) gets them into a better class and you know how better classes tend to favor students more than those in “average” classes. This added advantage persists as the students in the advanced class gets better while those in “normal” streams lag behind.

2. You need 10 000 hours of practice to be an expert in any field. Start calculating.

3. Bills Gates was largely successful because he is a genius. But people tend not to know that it is also because he was born in 1955. So does Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt. The timing of their birth gave them the immense rare opportunity of having EVERYTHING going for them in terms of preparing for the tech revolution. Several events that occurred during their time that enable them to spend a ridiculous amount of time practising and obsessing with their craft. Hence they were able to clock way beyond the 10 000 hours.

4. Asians are more proficient in maths and calculations than Westerners not because they have higher I.Q. But because the time taken to pronounce numbers in Mandarin or Cantonese is faster. And linguistically, it is more logical than how we use English to count. No wonder Sophia is trashing all of us in Brain Age (she was from a Chinese school)

5. Commercial airplane crashes occur because of certain cultural identities i.e. Koreans’ respect for their superiors.

6. You don’t have to be REALLY smart to be successful. Just smart enough. There is a threshold for success in terms of intelligence. The super Genius (ridiculous high IQ) often don’t do too well. This is because they lack one thing – practical intelligence. A layman would call it “street smarts”.

7. Outliers are usually involved in meaningful work, defined as having autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward.

Simply put, Outliers tries to depict that one has to be “lucky” to be successful. That luck is transposed in forms of rare opportunities, in which one must take full advantage of.

I don’t think I will ever reach the success of a Bill Gates, a Tiger Woods or a Chris Botti whether it’s using the rules that this book applies or any other ecological measure of achievement in a very Western individualistic sense. Perhaps I’m not lucky in the sense that I was born in circumstances that would nurture me to do what I love from childhood. I was told by my father that I would be an engineer ever since I was in primary school. It’s hard to get out of that mode even though there were snippets of dreaming of becoming a musician, a sportsman or a doctor. I still remembering in secondary three, standing in the bandroom thinking that one day I could be playing in an orchestra and perhaps conduct and teach music to aspiring young students.

This dilemma of not knowing what to do with my life, in conflict with what OTHER people wants me to be, reached its zenith of frustration during my time in uni. I know I have things inside me that were real and made up who I am but there were these expectations that I would try so hard in trying to fill that I tried to be someone else for the people around me. I was naive at that time cos I thought with enough effort, I could somehow pull through anything even if I didn’t like it at all. Like how Gladwell puts it, it wasn’t meaningful work because it didn’t have a connection between effort and reward.

Going through multiple failures that leaves you helpless really changes your perspective. It helps you re-frame your understanding of success as well. Cos when you think you’ve got the whole world in your hands, the reality is you don’t. Gladwell is measuring success according to how our culture defines it. Success to me, is measured in terms of my relationships. That’s why in the end, it’s okay that I’m no Bill Gates, Tiger Woods or Chris Botti. I’m Gregory Chang, child of God. The Sent One. (John 20:21)

I don’t resent my parents, my circumstance or my inheritance for who I am today. In fact, I’m lucky because of who they made me to be. I’ve received a first-class education, I’ve clean drinking water and food on my table everyday compared to billions of people who does not have it, I drive a car while 92% of the world can only watch me speed past them, I’m richer than 95% of the world and that fact that I can type this post right now on my computer shows I’m indeed lucky. Things have to be put into perspective.

The only injustice I can do to myself, my family, my community and to God is that I don’t take advantage of this “luck” that I have. This window of opportunity that enables me to serve the world and its people. We don’t need more Lewis Hamiltons, Warren Buffets and other Outliers. We just need more committed “normal” people who are willing to help those who don’t share our fortunes.

There is a paragraph written in a book by Matthew which defines “The Lucky” quite different from the way the world does. Eugene Peterson says you can use the word “blessed” and “lucky” here interchangeably.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“Outlier” – a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience.

For those described in the passage from Matthew, they seem to fit that definition. Their lives would be anything but normal.

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