On Success

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, which gives some interesting thoughts on success.  As I was reading it, I thought about how the church is called to be successful in its own way of making disciples and I wondered what we may learn from Gladwell.

One of the first things he makes clear is the importance of hard work and opportunity when it comes to success.  Many of us believe it is simply the amount of talent or intelligence we have but there is more to success than innate abilities and giftedness.  Both are important.  “Achievement is talent plus preparation,” Gladwell writes.  Through a variety of interesting examples, from Canadian hockey players to Korean airline pilots, Gladwell lays out how timing and culture play a large role in our success or failures.  He does not insinuate that success is arbitrary, or “lucky”.  Rather, he argues hard work is integral to success.  He writes, “…the more psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role of innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role of preparation seems to play.”  He goes on to say that people who are the most successful don’t just work harder…they work much, much harder.  Interesting.

Gladwell is the originator of the concept of “10,000 hours is the magic number for greatness – the number of hours required to be an expert.”  If you dedicate to a craft for 20 hours per week, that means you need 10 years to be considered an expert.  You can cut that in half if you double it to 40 hours per week.  That’s still 5 years of doing nothing but honing your craft and skill.  How many of us really do that?

Finally, Gladwell says, “it is not the brightest who succeed.  If so, ordinary geniuses would be up there with Einstein.  Nor is success simply the sum of decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf…it is rather, a gift.”  His seminal quote is this: “Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”

Now that last part is the part I like!  It is a gift.  Success at anything we do is a gift given to us by God (my words, not Gladwell’s).

What does this look like for us at Wesley?  Simply put, we have been given some amazing gifts and some wonderful opportunities.  Just look around at what we have…our intellects…our resources…our influence…we are blessed with innate gifts.  But that isn’t always enough to do all that we could do.  If we are to be all God calls us to be, we must put in the time and energy into making disciples, living righteously, and doing justice.  I truly believe Wesley is poised to break out and move to another level, but it won’t come just because we want it to come.  We must put in the time.  We must put in the energy.  We must put in the hours to help re-create the world around us.

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