Can Anyone Become Successful?

Based on 'Outliers'

Can Anyone Become Successful?

Many people are told that anything is possible, and they can be anything they want to be. Their minds are filled with hope and possibilities. Yet, as people age, most of their dreams fade away and is replaced with a realistic mind because of certain circumstances.

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcom Gladwell shows that those who achieve success is given to those that have opportunities others lack and the culture background people belong to such as their date of birth. I agree with Gladwell: “People don’t rise from nothing... The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine” (19). It is very difficult to control circumstances that dictate success.

In the first chapter, Gladwell discusses the birth dates of hockey players. A majority of them are born within January, February, and so on. Gladwell states, “Those born in the last half of the year, have all been discouraged, or overlooked, or pushed out of the sport” (31). This concludes that if someone did not have the lucky opportunity of being born in the first three months of the year, he was not cut out to make it in the hockey team. I had a similar experience to this as Gladwell compares the birth years of hockey players to the biased views that show up with education. Gladwell states that, “The small initial advantage that the child born at the end of the year persists. It locks children into patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragements and discouragement, that stretch on and on for years” (28). When I was a child, I lived in San Antonio and could not attend school in August because I was born on November the 21st. When my family and I moved down to the Valley, I was held back to repeat first grade due to my birth month. I got held back because of the biased views, a child born in a certain time of month means that a child is not at the same maturity level as other children. Scholars have argued with Gladwell’s conclusions; for example, Alia Wong in The Atlantic explains that researchers suggested “relatively young students are disproportionately diagnosed with learning disabilities or more likely to underperform on standardized tests.” Although the scholars' claim sounds logical to Gladwell’s conclusions, talent and working hard plays a part to becoming successful, as Gladwell mentions.

Talent and working hard may be a part of becoming successful, but acquiring fortunate opportunity plays a huge role, in addition to the amount of practice someone must do to become a famous violinist or athlete. Gladwell states, “you have to have parents who encourage and support you. You can’t be poor because if you have to hold down a part-time job on the side to help make ends meet, there won’t be time left in the day to practice enough” (42). In an extraordinary case such as the story of Michael Oher, he was also an outlier who was not mentioned in Gladwell’s book. Oher was a naturally gifted football prodigy who lived in the projects with no support system, and he was surrounded by dropouts and drug dealers. It was not until Oher was adopted into a wealthy family and placed into a private school that his abilities were nurtured. Soon he began to be recruited for college football programs, and is now in the National Football League. If Oher had not met this wealthy family, he probably would have not been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to be playing in the NFL. In the Q & A with Malcolm Gladwell by Jeff Merron, Gladwell explains that, in the book The Blind Side, Oher stated at the end, “Success is a partnership between the individual and society. It is true in sports, and it's true in the rest of life as well.” Therefore, Gladwell is reasonable in the sense of being able to have opportunity to succeed and the type of cultural background can matter.

In the book Outliers, Gladwell mentions how Bill Gates had an opportunity to succeed almost as if it were just by pure luck because of the day he was born. Gates' father was a wealthy lawyer and his mother was the daughter of a well-to-do banker. Gates had unlimited access to a time-share terminal at age thirteen, and Gladwell states that, “It’s as if you were interested in fashion and your neighbor when you were growing up happened to be Giorgio Armani” (66). Gladwell is reasonable with this because Gates had a great opportunity to become successful, as if everything was just meant to fall into place. Therefore, I can agree with Gladwell when he mentions “golden opportunities” (124). I can relate to what Gladwell suggested because as a child, I have always wanted to become a fashion designer, but my dreams were shattered. I do not come from a wealthy family, I cannot afford to go to an art school, and having to work side jobs would be difficult. I had to think realistically, unless I were lucky enough to live close to someone like Gorgio Armani just as Gladwell mentioned, that would have been a golden opportunity.

Moreover Gladwell states that, “In the end, only one thing mattered: Family background” (111). I can agree with Gladwell, because I believe it is true depending on the family background such as being poor, wealthy, or not having fortunate opportunities such as Gates did. In fact, Gladwell mentions Chris Lagan's unfortunate event: “His mother forgets to sign his financial aid form and—just like that no scholarship” (96). Lagan's brother Jeff stated that, “If Christopher had been born into a wealthy family, if he was the son of a doctor who was well connected in some major market, I guarantee you he would have been one of those guys you read about knocking back PhDs at seventeen” (110). Therefore, the events between Lagan and Gates demonstrates that family background matters. My opponents say that anybody can be anything they want to be if they work hard enough, but I believe this is untrue. People have no control over their circumstances.

Gladwell has many logical ways in seeing the world differently, and a great understanding of how it is not anyone’s fault for certain circumstances in order for them to become successful. The book Outliers makes people wonder why we tell others that we can be anything we want to be, when most of the times people have to be realistic. Gladwell states, “It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It’s the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. And it’s the biggest nine and ten year olds who get the most coaching and practice” (30). As humans we rely on hopes and dreams to keep us going. Therefore, achieving success is given to those that have opportunities others lack.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Print.

Marron, Jeff. "ESPNPAGE2." Q&A with Malcolm Gladwell .n.p, 8 Dec. 2008. Web.

Wong, Alia. "Beyond the Pros and Cons of Redshirting." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 13 Aug. 2015. Web.

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Tirzah Sephora

Just a small girl with a BIG heart and a BIG personality

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