You are an Outlier

You are an outlier

You are an Outlier! This week I had to watch students for 3 hours while they worked. Boring! So, while I sat and watched, I decided to pull Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success from the shelf and re-read it. The book looks at people who are incredibly good at something and asks the question, “How did they do it?”.

Gladwell comes to some startling conclusions. We assume that people at the top of their field got in their position through their force of will, their grit and their determination. But, what Gladwell found was that these people did work hard, but they were also the beneficiaries of privilege.

Privileged hockey players

Most great hockey players are born between January and March. Very few are born in October through December. The cut off dates for registering your child in youth hockey is January. This means that if you are born a day after the cut off date you have to wait till next year to play hockey.

So what? Well, if you are older than the other kids you will probably be bigger and more mature. That is an advantage. You are privileged to be be born at the right time to be a hockey player. (This doesn’t even consider your advantage of birthplace. If you are born and raised in Miami or Mexico City, you probably aren’t going to be a pro-hockey player!)

Privileged entrepreneurs

Bill Gates went to a private school and that school had a computer club. Virtually no one had a computer club at that time. He also lived within walking distance of a college with state-of-the-art computers which he found a way to use without having to pay a dime.

Steve Jobs grew up in Cupertino, California just as computers were being born. He had access to the leaders who were developing the modern computer. There were times when he could pick up the phone and call someone who would later be unreachable by most.

And, they were both born at a time when they would be growing up during the personal computer revolution. These were privileges that Jobs and Gates had. They obviously were/are smart guys who used their advantages well. But, they didn’t “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”. They had advantages.


I’m no Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. I didn’t have advantages in the computer field. But, I did have advantages in other areas.

I was raised in a stable home. I didn’t worry about Mom and Dad breaking up and I didn’t worry about whether we were going to be able to eat. Our area was free of crime and we had a quality school system (Norwin).

My parents bought me a trumpet when I was in elementary school and then paid for me to receive weekly lessons. My first trumpet/band teacher would become a band directing legend (LJ Hancock). Our high school band won the Marching Bands of America National championship in my senior year.

The band director at James Madison University took interest in me because I was from Norwin. James Madison had an excellent career placement department, which allowed me to get my first job.

I had to work to use these advantages, but I didn’t earn my parents, my band director, or my school system. These were privileges that gave me an opportunity to be an outlier.

What about you?

At this point it is easy to say, “Life sucks! I don’t have the advantages that other people have!”. Sure, life sucks at times. And, yes, you do not have the advantages that other people have. But, what advantages do you have? Everyone has a specific advantage. Take a few minutes, shed a few tears and then get busy digging into your life to find out what makes you an outlier.

There is something that gives you an edge. Don’t just look at money. Money is not the only privilege in this world. You might have advantages in social skills. Maybe you have connections to a group of people that gives an advantage. Or, maybe you have had a tough life and that has given you a level of resilience that most will never have.

You are an Outlier! There is no one like you! Focus on that! Live that!

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