Friday, December 11, 2009

There's More

I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you there's more on the topic of "Outliers" that stirs deep passion inside me than what I wrote in my last blog. The book by Malcolm Gladwell bears the subtitle "The Story of Success." Lest I leave you believing the book is about self-improvement, let me share the premise with you... and how it's prompted a project.

I am interested in people's stories. Where are you from? What was it like growing up in your world?

As a society, we view success in a vacuum. But there's more than meets the eye. Gladwell delves into people's paths, tracing back to the opportunities and legacies strewn along the way. (Yes, I'm endeavoring not to insert any spoilers here...!) How is it that the Beatles ended up in Hamburg in the first place? What about the Mothers' Club, the rummage sale, and subsequent computer terminal they bought for the school when Bill Gates was in the eighth grade? Story after story, Gladwell shows us the evidence as to how opportunities and legacies impact a person's story.

It matters. What you and I do today matters. Can I just say it again? Our moments matter!

Like one friend who brilliantly stated in her note about the last post, "...just keeping on, and suddenly one day you wake up with the unmistakable impact of your hours." One day we find we've mastered that which we've "made consistent installments." And it all adds up, an accumulation of investment + opportunities + legacy = the outcome of the story.

But what if the opportunities and legacies of someone's story hasn't exactly afforded an "outlier" kind of plotline? What if during the growing up years, it was all about "surviving the day?" What if a person is taught that it's bad to assert oneself? What if safety is found in silencing the voice or at best, using "mitigated speech?"1

I'm convinced -- passionately so -- that there are heroes along the way who offer hope in the form of a chance, offer it so tangibly, so convincingly, that an entire culture can grasp a new vision. In his book, Gladwell says, "We are so caught in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth."2

But that myth is shattered when I think about my own story. A less than stellar first 18 years, the first 14 surviving by being quiet and withdrawn and the next four angry and rebellious. But then friends, coaches, mentors offered me a different world-view. These people offered me a chance. A chance to see the world as a place to experience, life as something to live, relationships as treasures that can be trusted -- where growth occurs. From the time I turned 18, I've lived in communities that consistently raise the bar.

I'm inspired. All over again. Grateful. For the encouragement, coaching, mentoring I've received from people in my life. For the chances that people afford me to experience the world as far more than something to survive. For the way others come alongside me and tangibly show me the truth in "...I know the plans I have for you..." (Jer. 29:11)

All this inspires what I'll simply call the Gratitude Project. One dear friend of mine commented that perhaps my 10,000 hours are invested in motherhood. Beautiful notion! If that's true, (which I certainly believe it is), then I'm walking in the footsteps of women I'd like to personally thank... (Laura B., Penny K., Ronna S., Diane W., Cathy R., Carol B., Chris R., Catherine O-with- an-e., and many more...) Women who have walked this journey with me, invested in me, given me chances and whose beautiful faces come to mind as I experience success along the way. Women who have demonstrated that motherhood is meaningful work.

Yet motherhood is only one aspect of my life in which coaches, mentors, teachers, friends have encouraged me. There's others. (Like an entire church family.) People who have taught me to take responsibility for my own life. That "failure isn't fatal." (Thank you, Larry T.) To "cling to Grace." (Thank you, Kurt B.) That I have something of value to give to others everyday. (Thank you, Ronna S.) "Do something! Even if it's the wrong thing, you can always adjust as you go along... Just don't sit there!" (Whatever would I do without you in my life, Aaron O.? My sister married a winner!) For teaching me the value of holding hands during the journey. (LeRoy, there are no words to say what you mean to me. I'll simply endeavor to show you my gratitude every single day of our lives together!) And like the acknowledgements at the beginning of a book, my list of gratitudes for the people God puts on my path all along the way...

Thank you.

It's your turn. Who are the individuals or entire communities who've given you a chance, opportunities, a legacy that put you in a position to experience success? How might you be someone who extends grace, encouragement, an opportunity, a chance to someone along your way today?

"If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants."
~Isaac Newton

1. "Outliers," Chapter 7.7, pg. 226
2. "Outliers," Chapter 9.6, pg. 314


  1. What an awesome post! What could be more powerfully important than to have that kind of impact in someone's life, and, because one life affects countless others exponentially, the result of that chance offered, that kindness shown, is immeasurable.

  2. I think every time we look at someone and see the person, not their circumstances, we give a great gift. Humanity comes disguised in great costume, both rich and poor. Oh, to see the person and respond to that. I'd like to be that way.

  3. I'll work on this as soon as I stop bawling!

    Just received email...Outliers is waiting for me at the library. :-)

  4. Whoa - what a post. I'm finding that with each new year some people fall off my radar screen and others' blips become a little stronger and brighter. God brings me closer to the people who will encourage and inspire me in each new season of life.

    Thanks for making this mama think a bit. I'm in a bit of a vacuum with sick kids and tons to do, and it's nice to wrap my brain around your posts for the night. You're a true gem, Sharon!