There is only one thing standing between you and greatness apparently. That one thing is 10,000 hours of practice in whatever you want to be great in. This takes around 10 to 20 years for most people. But will that thing you put a decade or two of your life into be worth anything by that time?
Sure we could argue that world class pianists will always have a place under the sun, there will always be people who like piano playing at the highest caliber. People still judge people by their social class, after all. But what are the odds that anything you do will be profitable by the time you are good enough in it to be profitable?
I don’t mean mildly profitable either, I’m talking “Self Made Man” profitable. When you think back on Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Carnegie, and other truly wealthy people, what comes to mind? This idea that they were special and that this special feature allowed them to rise to greatness. But, if there is one thing I’ve taken away from Outliers, it is that behind nearly every truly exceptional person there is a bit of complete dumb luck.
Not lottery ticket luck either, I’m talking being born on the exact year necessary for something great to happen to you. To not only be born in that exact year but to pick up the exact hobby at the exact time that it will become relevant exactly when you become an expert in it.
In most of the cases mentioned in the book, which is to say most of the cases people cite when talking about greatness, these people are extremely lucky. That isn’t to say they didn’t work hard or weren’t smart people, they did and they were, but the sheer intensity of their victory over life was entirely outside of their control. They were struck by lightning a dozen times all in one place, had nearly any of of the wealthiest people in the world been born a few years in either direction of when they were born they’d not have become as wealthy as they are.
Even if they had the same interests, the same interests, and the same (if possible) hobbies. They would have either been too old, or entered into other careers that redirected them at the worst moment, missed a boom or landed in the middle of a bust.
True brilliance doesn’t lead you to become a rich and powerful person. It helps an awful lot, but it is not as important as who you are related to, when you are born, and what generation of people were born before you and will be born after you. These things play a far greater role in the return on your life investments.
You could be the hardest worker in your family and have a massive difference in outcome by no fault of your own, the fault lying merely in the crapshoot of when you were born.
When you were born determines what skills will be relevant, what racial prejudices will shape your life, what cultural precedents will influence your skills and interests, how many kids will be in your classes, how much money will be available for your schooling, how abundant foods and shelter will be, and dozens of other things.
All of these things are out of your control for the majority of the time when it really matters. I find this fascinating.
If you want to be a millionaire you simply need to predict with surgical precision what will be extremely relevant in twenty years, then start practicing religiously every night from this very moment until that day comes. Alternatively you can just get lucky and meet someone important, but that might be even less likely.