A few days ago a friend from grade school found me on Facebook. The timing couldn’t have been better as that single message gave me the kick start to write this blog and to take action in my life. Whenever my mom comes back from my home town she brings back stories of former classmates and they’re normally good, but nothing ever stands out. It just so happens that I’m reading the book “Outliers” at the moment and this Facebook message brought me to a huge realisation: I’m an outlier.
For those who haven’t heard about it, “Outliers” follows the stories of various successful people to show that perhaps it’s not just innate talent or intelligence that gave them the advantage in the world. It’s the circumstances in their lives that contribute a great deal to their eventual fate. For example, for hockey players in Canada, their birth date seems to be a critical factor in the opportunities they have for training and development and thus eventual professional success. For someone like Bill Gates geography (living near a university and having access to a university computer) played a huge role in developing his skills. I’m not even halfway through the book, but I already feel like I’ve been dealt quite a good hand by fate so far.
If you’re a friend of mine, chances are you’ve heard me say “You are what you eat” once or twice. I’ve always lived by that mantra. I’m a firm believer that while you can’t always make lemons out of lemonade, you can still use the lemons in another way if there’s no juicer around. Life isn’t always good, but it’s always an experience and each day builds up your character and the person you’ll be in the future. You must embrace any challenges thrown your way, get over any failures, celebrate each happiness and seize opportunities that come your way. That’s what outliers do. They make lemonade and if there’s no juicer, they’ll still manage a lemon tart.
As with many outliers mentioned in the book, what seems to be a disadvantage often is actually an advantage. It my case, it may seem quite bad to have been born in a tiny village in Poland, during Communist rule, just as the country was going under martial law. Now that I think about it from the “Outliers” perspective, there are numerous layers as to how that has benefited me in the long run, but the most fundamental one is this – because things in Poland weren’t so good, my parents got my sister and I out of there. They opened up a world of opportunities to us by moving us to Chicago. Had things been a bit better in Poland, we probably would have never left. That’s important seeing as moving to the US is the single most impactful event in my life thus far.
The second major advantage I was dealt was my family’s occupations. Between my parents, grandparents and my mom’s sister (and her husband), there was always an adult around I could learn from. That’s how I was able to spend my summers working at the bakery with my uncle, arranging pastries and helping customers. It was my first foray into business and I was only 5. I was able to excel in academics because my grandpa read newspapers with me and spent hours looking at atlases with me. Between the six main adults in my life, here are some skills and topics I was exposed to: construction, fixing cars, flower arranging, baking, cooking, growing flowers and vegetables, making sausage, selling goods in a shop and at markets, psychology, geography, history, sewing, carpentry, budgeting, customer service, accounting, running a small business, partnership, wholesaling, and the list goes on and on. How amazing is that? The mentality my family instilled in me is that I should be independent and go after what I want because not only can I do it, but I can be great at ANYTHING if I work at it. What an amazing weapon – confidence – to be armed with!
Already by 10 I was off to a pretty good start. Then the move to Chicago happened, which was incredibly tough on my family and deserves a book of its own. What my parents went through to give me and my sister the advantages we had is nothing short of amazing. In addition to the actual move, everything else just sort of fell into place (from an outlier perspective)… We moved to where family was, in this case my dad’s sister. It just so happened that my aunt had settled in a suburb of Chicago which just happened to have one of the best high schools in the country. It just so happened that there was a Polish teacher who took me under her wing to make sure I didn’t sink as I learned English. It just so happened that when I got to Loyola University, it was just prior to the big boom in admissions so I had a tonne more opportunities than someone who went there a few years after me (like my little sister). That’s how I got enough scholarships to go to school for free. That’s how I got to be an Editor at the school paper. That’s how I got to try so many cool classes that I discovered writing, which eventually led me to Google, which really set me up for all my future employment. And let’s not forget about our next door neighbour who happened to be involved in Rotary and recommend me for a Rotary scholarship, which brought me to Australia, where I happened to get advantages like being chosen to write for the Financial Times, or exposing me to a network which led to my current employer, which let me develop my online marketing skills, and happens to support entrepreneurial people like me which will probably come in handy when I have a good business idea.
Seriously! Can I get any luckier than that?
So now what? What’s the point of writing this?
I guess this is my mission statement for the foreseeable future. It’s my public declaration that there’s nothing standing in my way so I better get my act together and do something amazing already! The pressure’s on. I’m lucky yet again that there’s a global economic crisis. It’s a perfect time to start something innovative and have first mover advantage when things get better.
Reading “Outliers” has really opened my eyes to how fortunate my life has been. I really don’t have any excuses left. I must do something great and I must do it soon. I want to look back at this blog entry and think to myself that I took the opportunities life dealt me and I seized every one.
So, dear reader, watch this space.
I leave you with one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite books, “2001: A Space Odyssey“, which may be a bit of a stretch but feels oddly appropriate at this moment…
“Then he waited, marshaling his thoughts and brooding over his still untested powers. For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next. But he would think of something.”