There are so many people in this world who we could call successful; athletes, musicians, wealthy tycoons, brilliant minds and the like. Some of these people even call themselves ‘self-made’ and publish books on how they came from nothing but with lots of hard work they are now something; big rich famous somethings that we should try and emulate so that we can also become something. The self-made comment suggests that these particular people owe their success only to themselves and their hard work – look, they did have to take action and I’m sure there were certainly challenges but there’s always more to the story and more than one perspective, ok?

I’m currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and just in case you were wondering – this is what has inspired my blog today. Malcom has written the book on success but this is book isn’t written from your usual viewpoint. He talks about the circumstances in which success truly begins, one fabulous example being the tallest oak tree in the forest. He says ‘the tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured’. What he’s saying is that there is more than just growth involved, there are several outside influences that determine the success or failure of a person.

So far in the book I’ve had a real wake up call. People absolutely have to work hard at whatever it is they want to excel in. We all know that. They also need to be made of certain ‘stuff’ and have a certain amount of drive and of course when there’s skill involved then you need to be taught initially and the practice until you’re better than everyone else, right? Mmmm… maybe not. Which is what I learnt in the next chapter.

Canadian’s are crazy about hockey, well I knew that part was mostly true already. What I didn’t know is that the coaches start to choose players for the ‘rep’ teams at around the age of 9 or 10; these kids are basically the ones who go on to be big shots. Now, for each age class there is a cutoff date and for hockey in Canada that date is January 1. What that means is that if a boy has his birthday at the very beginning of the year will be playing against another boy who doesn’t have his birthday until the end of the year and it all seems ok and fair. The problem is that when the coaches start looking for the players they want for rep squad, they’re going to be looking for the biggest, fastest and most coordinated kids – the issue being that the boy born at the start of the year has months of extra maturity over the boy born at the end of the year. So, the older boy is picked for the rep team for seeming to be the better player when in fact the difference between the two is the massive gap in physical maturity. Still following? Good.

The boy who has been chosen for the rep team now has a greater opportunity, and this is where the next advantage comes in; the coaches are better, he goes to better clinics, plays against better players and gets to play two to three times more games than the boy who didn’t get chosen for the team. Three or four years down the track and this kid really is a better player because of all the extra attention and practice he’s been getting, now he’s looking at a chance at the Major Junior A league and so on and so forth until he’s a big famous hockey player and we (society) call him successful. In fact the study Gladwell talks about on the hockey players birth months  showed that the majority of elite players in  hockey were born in the first three months following the cut off date, with birthday numbers dwindling rapidly from 40% in January to March to 10% in October to December.

All this extra attention and resulted success stemming from the fact that this boy was born a few months earlier than someone else.

Now consider some other sports like baseball or soccer and what about schooling? In Outliers Gladwell tells us about two economists, Kelly Bedard and Elizabeth Dhuey, who looked into the effect ability grouping in early childhood has on schooling. Unsurprisingly the results were much the same as the hockey example; they say that teachers are mistaking maturity for ability. The older kids get put into advanced learning programs where they are learning better skills and are ahead of the pack, and repeat the cycle for the next year and the next… you get the point.

With all of this considered, can you for a moment, just think about how much talent has gone to waste? How many young children have been told they aren’t good enough and continue to live as mediocre? How many brilliant, naturally gifted kids don’t get the nurturing that would see them invent incredible things or solve some of the worlds biggest problems? How many of us are still living in a shadow because of the way weren’t lifted as a young and very impressionable child? All because of a few months’ difference in age and maturity.

I’m calling bullshit on the self-made success shit and on the ideals that we as a society hold regarding success. We all play a part in whether someone is a success; every choice you make, every person who has ever taught you anything, encouraged you, competed against you, spent a little extra time with you, patted you on the back for something you’ve done, helped you dust yourself off when you fell flat on your face or even did the wrong thing by you or stabbed you in the back – they’ve all contributed to your success. And just like the oak tree, if your bark wasn’t eaten as a sapling and the lumberjack didn’t cut you down before you matured, then thank them too.

So, next time you hear someone call themselves ‘self-made’ you can tell them to shove it up their self-made ass.

Success is something you choose, you just need to do the best you can with what you’ve got and there you have it – you are fucking succeeding.

Published by Lauren Bryant