Sunday, November 29, 2009

Curl Up With a Book Sunday

Outliers Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hate raving over books, but this one is really good. Seriously, you need to go out and read this book. It doesn't answer every question in the universe or explain every success, but it does make some excellent connections and help to understand some parts of the world in which we live and in which it isn't always clear why some well-qualified people don't quite make it when other equally-qualified people do extremely well. It helps a lot that I can personally identify with the premise as I am, most assuredly, an Outlier. You see, I am the first in my immediate family to attend college and break away from the patterns of the past, so to speak. I do have some cousins on one side who attended college and some further out relatives on the other, but I am definitely the only one in my immediate circle to have made the change.

While it would be easy to say that I was the smartest or the one who worked the hardest, that wouldn't have been true. My sister doesn't believe me, but she is every bit as smart as me. It pains me to admit that my brother is also just as smart, but it is true. When it came to figuring out careers, my brother always knew that he wanted to be a farmer just like our parents, so he never considered college or a career off the farm. My sister and I, however, both knew that our futures would not include farming. To answer my aunts' incredulous response to this, my sister gave out the best advice I heard: don't date a farmer and you won't fall in love with one. Words to live by. No offense meant to farmers, mind you. I have great respect for the profession and many fond memories of growing up on the farm. I also have many less fond memories of the long hours, back-breaking labor, and constant shortages of funds. It just wasn't the life for me or my sister.

Both of us attended the same schools and we both graduated in the top 10 of our respective classes with similar GPAs and we both had the same kindly, but clueless guidance counselor. So, why did my sister head to a dissatisfying stint with vocational school while I went to college? It wasn't grades or guidance and it wasn't smarts. The big difference was timing. My sister graduated in 1970 and there were no Pell Grants or Guaranteed Student Loan programs. There was the expectation that a girl would get married and have children and maybe have some small job for pin money (ewwwww, how I hate that phrase). No one ever told my sister that she was good enough to get into a college and there wouldn't have been any money for it even if she had.

I graduated in 1981. Our sweet guidance counselor still wasn't much help, but I was already convinced that I would go to college thanks to a course I took in seventh grade. I took a short course on careers and played with several quizzes designed to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. I didn't decide, but I did quickly see the pattern that every single career in which I had interest required at least a four year degree. The next happy change came my junior year when most of the class took the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. I didn't get a scholarship out of it, but I did do well enough that suddently I had colleges looking for me. Letters and flyers and big, glossy brochures started filling our lonely mailbox and I learned about that most glorious of things, Financial Aid. I still got far less help that my male classmates when it came to looking for scholarships (the assumption was that farm kids would get big grants - unfortunately, that wasn't correct in our case). Still, I was able to qualify for some grants and lots of loans, and I found a public university that wasn't ridiculously expensive.

No, it wasn't easy. Yes, I made missteps along the way and still had to work hard. However, the timing of my birth and subsequent graduation had a lot to do with me being in the right place so that hard work could pay off in a way that it didn't for my sister.

There is more, much more, but now it is time for you to go out and read this book and discover your own Outliers.

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