Wednesday, September 02, 2009


In an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, the author claims that his research has debunked American Individualism, "Americans like to believe in the myth of the `rugged individualist' that pulls himself or herself up by the bootstraps for this is a part of the American credo." Yes. It is.

And, after reading this book, I still believe in pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. Why? For those of you who've read the book, you know that Gladwell's theory is that everyone CAN succeed if given opportunity. He talks about how amazing it was that Bill Gates was given almost unlimited access to a computer at a time when the only other people with the same access were those attending the elite universities in the land. He talks about the significance of the early birthdays of hockey players and elementary students. He makes some great points about opportunity and how vital it is to success.

But the bootstraps exist in the 10,000 hours.. and in desire, creativity and effort. Everyone at Bill Gates highschool was given access to this amazing computer, not to mention those attending the elite universities and yet there is only one Bill Gates. I'm sure that among the kids who attended Bill Gates' high school, there are many high achievers. They had opportunity like Gladwell points out. They obviously had a great deal of community backing for their school, parents who were willing to donate time and money to improve things and to provide opportunity. The smart kids took advantage of those things and learned something, but for many it wasn't computers.

When I was a kid my dad purchased a Steinway piano and found a good teacher for me who also taught at a local university, an amazing opportunity. I learned to play the piano in a very basic way. Given time, I can read the notes and can play something very simple. I'm no Mozart.

Americans often refer to their country as "the land of opportunity". The idea being that we are free to pursue those options that interest us. No one tells us what to read, to watch or how to spend our time. Time is where the "rugged individualism" comes in... time and effort.

The Homestead Act provided a great opportunity for those who were "rugged American individualists". Here is a piece of land. It's all yours.. you just have to make something out of it... make it livable and profitable and do it in three years. For those who had a bright mind, a healthy body and were willing to work from morning until night without ceasing, this was a great opportunity.

Did I play the piano from morning until night? No. I love music, but it has never been my first love and there were days and days that I simply forgot to practice. I may have been a better pianist if I had been forced to practice for hours, but I don't think I ever would have been great because I wanted something else.

Gladwell is right that no one is self made. Even if they don't get a lot of help along the way, there are circumstances and influences. But, when you have a passion, people have a propensity for finding themselves in the way of opportunity.

There are so many lessons to be learned from this book. One, for me as I look at the current political climate, is a concern that the public's desire for greater government control of almost everything discourages opportunity and therefore success. Another lesson I learned is that time is the great equalizer. We all have the 10,000 hours. How will we spend it? How will we encourage our children to spend it? This book proves, if we didn't know it already, how precious every moment can be.


Jacquelyn Sherry said...

"When you have a passion, people have a propensity for finding themselves in the way of opportunity." I believe that 100%.

michelle said...

Okay, I'll put it in my hold que!

Mo said...

Not sure if I can count the time I spent practicing while asleep in my 10k hours. But on the bright side, I could nap and play Mozart at the same time.