Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, makes the argument that people we often laud as “self-made” successes actually had a lot more assistance than it appears. These advantages are myriad, and beyond all the obvious elements (race, class, and gender), also include war, racism, and even birth date. It is, without a doubt, a super fascinating take on success. In essence, Gladwell believes meritocracies – systems in which headway is dependent on one’s talents – are an outright sham.

At first look, I found this concept antithetical to the base principle that Art Of Hustle proposes: That each of us can excel if we put in the work. But how can that be true if there are entire frameworks considerably helping some and hindering others? Can both realities happen simultaneously?

I would suggest so. The existence of these complex forces doesn’t take away our abilities each to make a choice, and not just the choice to work harder or to never give up. Discipline and perseverance definitely have value – and these are, in a sense, givens (In fact, Gladwell talks about this in detail in his “10,000 hour” rule). Rather, I would say, if cultures and societies have this powerful effect on our outcomes, then it would behoove us to seriously consider what lifestyles and communities we participate in. These are not, as it may seem, predetermined fixed variables that are totally outside of our control.

Go where people get you. And that doesn’t mean surround yourself with ‘yes’ men and women who never challenge you to refine your skills and methodologies. It means you will want to spend less time with people who habitually complain, who talk but never do, who don’t share resources, who don’t share your core values, who regularly break engagements, who distract with promises of immediate gratification, who don’t recognize your potential, who themselves don’t practice excellence, who belittle you, who tell you you’re dreaming too big, or who have a knack for attracting conflict, poverty, and plain bad luck.

You are who you spend time with. You ought to think of your company as your company. That is, your friends and colleagues as members of your figurative organization. As a good boss, you wouldn’t give someone a duty they weren’t capable of handling, would you? Nor would you fire them straight away (that would be so emo and unnecessarily dramatic) because you assigned them a task they couldn’t manage. The buck stops at you. You must promote and demote people according to their abilities to carry out certain responsibilities. Again, this is a metaphor – It doesn’t mean you should start delegating actual jobs to your buddies. What I encourage is for you to populate your symbolic advisory committee, the people closest to you, only with top-ranking dreamers and doers. Of this, you are in charge.

In maintaining a similarly aspirational and high quality inner circle, you can spark momentum. You can begin to cultivate an environment that is more conducive to producing best practices and results. And likewise, everyone you affect within this sphere and beyond will also benefit, enabling them to focus better, breathe easier, and accomplish more.

Find those bright spots. Live there.

Post Script:
Why are the characters from the cult film Trainspotting pictured in this post? One big theme running through the movie has to do with proactively choosing beyond your given circumstances, friends and surroundings. Which is ultimately what I am advocating for in this entry.

And, for those of you who are a little more curious about Malcolm Gladwell and Outliers: The Story of Success, here’s a short interview with him on CNN: