The Secret to Success?


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After finishing work on Monday, having sat at my desk for eight hours straight, I climbed into a taxi, went home, jumped into bed and switched on the TV. Turn on, tune in, drop out.

The next night, I did it again. And the next night and the next. Every Sunday, I make grand plans for the upcoming week – Monday, study Indonesian; Tuesday, get a head start on writing a story; Wednesday, go to the gym – but after a day at the office, I can’t resist putting two things I love together: TV and bed. I have truly become a loser in the same vein as Homer Simpson.

My nightly viewing schedule usually involves some MTV and Channel V – which are bitter reminders of my unsuccessful attempts to make it as a singer in Sydney — and I always get my 11 p.m. hit of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on Star World, on which Kimmel interviews celebrities who did make it. They are pleasing to the eye and speak in a soothing simplicity, putting me contentedly to sleep like a sweet lullaby.

But on Monday night, as my eyelids were drooping, something on the show caught my attention. I sat up in bed, alert and fascinated. Our revered glamorous types were being somewhat knocked from their pedestals by a goofy-looking, very un-Beverly Hills-like author.

It was Malcolm Gladwell, promoting his new book, “Outliers: The Story of Success.He pointed out that when we talk about successful and famous people, we focus on their intelligence, determination and talent. What we tend to neglect are all the other factors that contribute to their success, like time and place. In a nutshell, Gladwell believes success is largely to do with environmental factors beyond our control.

He got the idea to write the book when a friend told him a story about her Jewish father, a successful lawyer. Gladwell was intrigued by the fact that there was a large number of successful Jewish lawyers around the same age in New York. After some research, he found that most of them were born around 1930, when New York had the country’s best public schools, and that many were the sons of garment factory workers, who perhaps instilled in them a strong work ethic.

A lot of the young Jewish lawyers were at first shunned by the city’s prestigious law firms, so they started up their own firms, taking whatever jobs were available. And by the 1970s, those jobs were no longer considered second-rate, meaning these Jewish lawyers in the prime of their lives had a wealth of relevant experience under their belts, putting them at the top of the ladder.

Gladwell notes that even poverty and discrimination can positively contribute to a person’s success.

He acknowledges that Bill Gates, perhaps the most successful person of our time, is incredibly intelligent – he scored 1,590 out of 1,600 on the SAT, equivalent to an IQ score of 170 – but Gladwell argues Gates had a huge number of advantages. One of those was access to a personal computer at his Seattle junior high school in the late ’60s, which was virtually unheard of at the time, let alone for decades to come.

Gates was able to spend hours every day programming the teletype terminal before most people had seen or even heard of personal computers. This gave Gates a decades-long head start in what was to become a lucrative and innovative industry.

Another Gladwell theory is that people who are truly great at what they do, whether it be performing brain surgery or performing rock songs, have had a good 10,000 hours of practice. He uses The Beatles as an example. Where it may seem like The Beatles popped up out of nowhere, the truth is they played about 270 full eight-hour sets in a strip club in Hamburg, Germany, before anyone really knew who they were, getting more than 2,000 hours of practice to kick off their careers.

Gladwell’s may not be the most sound of theories, and may even seem obvious, but when I think about the more than 6 million people who read the book “The Secret,” on a supposed “law of attraction” that says you’ll basically be successful just from really wanting something, I tend to think this 10,000-hour rule has more meat to it.

This gave me some inspiration. For years I had told myself that I was simply not talented nor determined enough to make it as a singer. I did some calculations. I have been secretly singing in the shower for as long as I can remember, probably since I was 5. I’m 26 now, and have had a least one shower a day for the last 21 years, in which I would have sung for an average of 5 minutes. Which would mean that so far, I’ve sung at the very least 640 hours in the shower alone. That means with 112,320 more showers, or roughly 307 years, my success will be inevitable. And with that thought, I fell peacefully asleep.

This article was originally published in the Jakarta Globe on Feb. 26


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