November 14, 2008

What is Success?

A friend recently read an interview with Malcolm Gladwell (Readers Digest 2008) about his new book Outliers: The Story of Success. She said, "In his new book, he looks at the personalities and circumstances of successful people. He said something that made me think of interest-led learning and your blog."

Here's the Question: "How does a kid become the next Bill Gates or Tiger Woods?"

Gladwell: "Both of these men had parents who allowed their children to focus almost exclusively on what brought them joy and what they were good at. And both of them were able, as children, to invest an extraordinary amount of time in pursuing that particular passion. Again, not just a little time. The magic number for them, for Mozart, and for so many outliers, as I call them, appears to be 10,000 hours."

She thought the 10,000 hours was a little hokey, and I do too. As humans we are always looking for the magic formula. But that number does communicate A LOT of time, and that's the point, I think.

She went on to tell me that she's had time in her adult life to pursue "a number of interests, but nothing passionately. Why do some people have passions and others don't? Genetics, environment, energy level? I still have an entrepreneurial bug, but the cost of having a successful business is too high." Being a mom of two active preschoolers, she chooses to give attention to her kids instead of building a business.

Sometimes following your passion doesn't mean success in a Bill Gates kind of way. Instead of "success" maybe we should think of it as "happiness or fulfillment." A person who is plugged into what they are good at (or gifted at) is generally happy and well adjusted and has a positive influence on people around them. I think that's what's important. So some gifting leads to big bucks and some gifting doesn't. Right now my friend is passionate about being a stay-at-home mom and she should follow that dream! Who knows, she may be raising the next billionaire or the next great artist.


My Journey so Far... said...

This is so interesting. It seems that most successful people in our history have the common thread of being allowed time to pursue what came naturally to them. There was time given to them to dream, read, explore and do whatever it was they were gifted at. This is encouraging as I let my almost 17 year old son do nothing by play guitar and dream about being a superstar one day! It's still scary though when I can't get him to do much else and wonder if he has learned anything through his high school years. But I try to hold on to the fact that he is a bright, mature, wonderful music artist and trust that he is following the path laid out for him.

Traci said...

This really is interesting. We work so hard to have well rounded children when really they need to focus. I have a friend who has her just turned four year old in all kinds of extras (swimming, karate, music) and all he really wants to do is build roads and play with tractors!

Unknown said...

Interesting post. I often wonder how children who spend seven hours a day in a structured public or private school environment and then spend another two hours in the evening on homework, ever get the opportunity to really pursue their passions and reach their full potential.
If only every child received the gift of time to do what they love to do.

Mindy said...

I found this post really thought-provoking. I was just sayong to my husband today how much happier my 16yo is when she is doing something creative and how our toddler nearly always chooses something physically active over a sedentary activity. I think it's so important to follow our children's lead when it coms to these things.

Anonymous said...

I think there is something really skewed about seeing success in terms of those "outliers". Culturally, it tends to get defined as earning a lot of money, which is problematic. But it is interesting that even for those people, pursuing their interests/gifts is the key. I am becoming more convinced that this is the great advantage of homeschooling and the key to figuring out what we are doing on a more day to day basis.c

Lori said...

I like your way of looking at it. Too often we measure success by how much money we make in a year, and, of course, we want our kids to be as financially secure as they can be when they're grown. But they can be able to take care of themselves and their family doing something they love as well as not. I hope that by homeschooling my daughter she is getting the time she needs to pursue her interests, look around, take time to think and not just be force-fed "learning", try new things, and truly mature at a rate that is natural for her.

Letitia said...

Great post. Success is definitely not measured in money, although I'm having a hard time convincing 3 grandparents of that when it comes to what my girls are pursuing. It is definitely true that when you follow your interests joy and contentment, and sometimes monetary success follow. My husband put aside his accounting degree to do what he had always wanted~build houses.

23 degrees said...

This resonates with me, Jena. I think I went through a process in high school where I eliminated areas that blocked my time to create, to the questioning of my chemistry teacher and also a friend of the family that wanted to pay for my med school (sitting me down in his office telling me artists make no money.)


Although my passion for art gave me a full ride through college, it wasn't an easy path afterwards. But I wouldn't trade it, have no regrets, and love what I do.

Great thoughts, thanks for posting.

At A Hen's Pace said...


My husband is reading this book right now, and I'll probably read it too, sooner or later--his other books were so interesting.

I wonder how he defines success? And how I define it? Making money isn't what it's all about, but neither is doing what you love if you can't buy food. Ideally, the two goals of providing and enjoying have to both be met--like the fellow who is building houses for a living.

Maybe we need to both provide time for our kids to follow their interests, and push them toward toward knowledge that they may eventually find practical.

Like so many things in's a balancing act!


Copyright Information

All of the written content and photographs on are protected under copyright. But feel free to link to my content anytime. And if you have any questions, just contact me at yarnsoftheheart [at] gmail [dot] com. Thank you!
Clip art courtesy of and Pure Clip Art