We live in a world where you can google and get an answer to almost every question you have. Life has become a lot easier at some levels and we have become a global community with an exchange of ideas and thoughts from all reaches of the world. There is an answer waiting for every question. One question that many people have is what is standing between them and their success in life. By success, people are often referring to tangible economic success, the kind of success Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, J. K. Rowling and others in that league have attained. There is a book that made it all look simpler; The Secret provided answers that appealed to the masses. There were a lot of inspiring quotes from people who have reached a level of success in their respective worlds. The law of attraction, made popular by this book, fed the same belief proposed by many self-help books; positive thinking propels us to positive outcomes in our lives. That it all resides in our thoughts and patterns of thinking leaves the rest of us believing that the ordinary successes are a result of ordinary thoughts.
Shedding light on the real secrets to success are two books, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Better by Atul Gawande. These authors acknowledge the role of intelligence and ambition (nature) and opportunities (nurture) on the road to success. The 10,000 hour rule outlined by Gladwell helps us understand the many traits that successful people have in common. He provides several examples of all the work that goes into the ultimate success of most outstanding athletes, entertainers and entrepreneurs. It brings to mind the humorous line “the harder I work, the luckier I get”.
Gawande, a physician observing our health care climate, brings home more simple truths about success and failure. He attributes success to diligence, doing the right thing and ingenuity in the way we approach work. In his attempt to improve the world of medicine, he found that examining the failures is just as helpful as seeking out answers to what contributes to success. He brings home the point that we generally look for easy fixes: the one simple change that will improve every thing. It is not uncommon for people to use antidepressant as the easy fix when sad or depressed, which is a lot easier than looking into circumstances that caused the sadness, or working hard to change their outlook or find tools to cope with the circumstances. People struggling with weight issues are seduced into using appetite suppressants rather than making healthier choices every step of the way. In fact, walking ten thousand steps a day, as recommended by conventional wisdom has more benefits to the mind and body than simple weight loss. Maybe more simply, success involves thousands of hours, hundreds of little steps, and retracing steps when lost to reach the ultimate goals.
The secret to success is not really a big secret. There are things we can control and things we have little control over. Realistic assessment of our abilities, work ethic, diligence, focus, desire are within our control for the most part. The factors that are not within our control are often determined by social, economic, cultural and political forces and have more to do with the opportunities presented to us and the choices we can make in our lives. In Outliers, Gladwell even attributes success in some sports to the time of the year the athletes were born. The naive assumption that we are entirely responsible for our successes or failures is based in the widely held individualistic value system and it leads us to seek simple answers to complex problems.
The truths that our grandparents knew or that our faiths drilled into us are often not as palatable or accessible to us as what is available on the world wide web. It is this confusingly ever present web that traps us while it provides a lot of access to the world.