Does Being an Outlier Rely on Chance?

“The truly creative people tend to be outliers” (Nolan Bushnell).

I recently started reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, a book about success and how a lot of opportunity stems from relative chance.

I purchased the book after seeing it in the Psychology section of a Barnes n Noble and thought it looked interesting. Later, after taking it home, I stumbled upon a forum post of what books were surprisingly good and underrated.

This was one of the first ones mentioned.

You can say I experienced the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. The phenomenon of hearing about something for the first time and subsequently seeing it appear in multiple places afterward.

Maybe this was just chance that I saw that, but maybe that is the point of the book. The world can open up to you just by falling down a certain path without even noticing.


My experience with being an outlier

Although I wouldn’t call myself too much of an outlier, one of the first points made in this book as an example of how chance is more prevalent than we think is birthdays.

Gladwell showed how some of the best hockey players on their respective teams were all born at the beginning of the year making them the older ones of their teams cutoff age.

It’s something interesting to think about and realize that while they may all be the same age, the month differences at a young age can be the difference between a lot of experience and little to no experience.

The first week I started Kindergarten, I was 4.

I was and still am, an August birthday.

To all of the other students in the class, I could have been 1-10 months younger than them. At this age, they essentially had a fifth of their life on me.

Now obviously in something like Kindergarten, your intellect and smarts don’t really apply until later on.

However, this carried on to be the same instance for me where I was always the age below the grade I was in for the first week of school.

My first year of highschool I was 13 for a week. My first year of college, on the very first day of class, I finally became an adult and turned 18.

What is interesting about this is although this would be discouraging, it is also empowering.

I would be an outlier. The type of outlier I would become depended on me.

I could have looked at this as all of these kids are smarter than me because they have more experience. But instead I viewed it as I’m smart enough to be in this grade and compete with older classmates.

The interesting thing here, even though the one grade difference of where I might have been wouldn’t have been that drastic of a difference, I still managed to push myself ahead even more.

In elementary school, I entered the gifted program and was now with the smarter end of my class, the class that I was originally not made for the cutoff of.

Continuing on, in highschool I started to take math a year earlier, started to enroll in honors classes and then had half of my schedule consist of AP classes.

I’m not mentioning all of this as a humble brag, but more as a instance of an outlier within an outlier.

The hocket comparison showed I should be on the disadvantaged side but took that (even unknowingly) as a way to view it as I am good enough to be where I am which is the way a lot of us tend to not believe about ourselves. This needs to change for the better.


The choice in chance

Another idea that I like to look at is something I always ask myself and don’t necessarily have the answer to quite yet.

I’ve also asked people I know this question because it can give a really interesting perspective on the way you might see other people.

The question being, “Would you rather be the top of the bottom or the bottom of the top?”

Taking real instances of divisions whether it be grades, social groups or management positions, it’s interesting to ask yourself this question.

Being the top of the bottom can make you feel powerful but also like there is little to no effort in doing so.

Being the bottom of the top would mean you have made it to the upper division but into a place where you will be challenged a lot more.

Although I’ve asked this question a lot, I haven’t gotten too many solid answers because it’s not something we normally think about having this positioning exist in many places that we are unaware of.

Sometimes we are the ones being placed and not given a choice.

The hockey example is what made me realize this is a concept that exists quite vigoriously in our lives.

The best hockey players on their team were the top of their respective bottom. Going a division up would mean they are good enough to play with a more competitive and experienced team, but would maybe become the weakest link of that team.

Although we do not always have the choice, the outlier in us revolves around taking a position on where we want to be in these cases and examining what we have experienced in our lives to better place ourselves in our true position. Whether it be for strength with who we involve ourselves with or being purposefully uncomfortable in a much more challenging position.

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