Consider the random variable X which represents the likelihood of someone achieving success in his life, and the population S of all the people that you can see daily on your way to work, those who are waking up early, doing their best for at least 8 hours per day. They are ordinary people, dedicating their lives to their families and jobs. Assuming that these humans work equally hard, do they all have a level playing field?
What is success? Let me for the sake of simplicity in this article define it only using measurable dimensions ( such as your bank account, fame, impact on people, or your title in the job). In my view, success is more complicated than that and there are additional dimensions to it. I wouldn’t even use the word success as a life goal rather the feeling of content, which is different. We can see rich people who are not content with their life, while others who live by the most modest means are totally happy and satisfied, but this could be a discussion for another post.
The base case
In the following diagram, the blue curve depicts a romantic view of success, everyone has an equal chance of achieving in life as long as they exert adequate efforts and try as hard as they can. While the red distribution draws a more realistic view of life (at least in my opinion) where most people will achieve a moderate level of success, few of them will catastrophically fail and another small group of outliers will build the likes of Google, Tesla, and Microsoft or start a movement that impacts the lives of millions like Gandhi or Martin Luther King.
Chances of Success = C * Working Hard
Realistic vs Romantic Views
Chances of Success = (C * Working Hard) + (B * Upbringing and cultural context) + (A * Random factors) where B >>> C >>> A
In his book “the outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell, inspired by research, presents multiple theses, a prominent one that can be depicted by the red curve is that: Hard work is only a factor in achieving extraordinary success in life, other factors play a great role too, such as upbringing, timing, cultural heritage …etc. It’s not enough to work hard and play fair in life to receive equal chances. The odds are not in favor of most people, only a few outliers have high chances of success.
And for the average person, the second variable “Upbringing and cultural context” in the equation above plays a greater role, hence, B would be greater than C and A. An example would be the difference in the life of a Korean born on the south or the north of a border between both countries.
A few videos went viral in the last weeks for news reporters who were covering the invasion of Russian forces of the peaceful Ukrainian cities. One of the reporters was truly shocked to the extent that although he tried to choose his words very carefully, he couldn’t hide how his mind compared the destruction of a relatively civilized European city (an unlikely event to him) to Iraq or Afghanistan where this is the (accepted) norm to see bombings, destruction, and dead bodies of women and children
And here I am not trying to play the racism card, but I rather consider this as a piece of evidence to support the main thesis. Unfortunately, it’s indeed more likely to see destruction in Baghdad than in Kyiv for example (at least in the last 2 decades), this is simply and sadly how it is. Therefore, the probability of achieving success is much higher if you are born in one of these (civilized) cities (If I would use the reporter terms).
Changing your odds
The green bell curve depicts changing of odds as observed in shifting of the population mean.
Now, the question would be how someone can adjust the odds of achievement in life. Considering the equation above, if we omit possibilities like winning a lottery or inheriting a wealthy distant relative, then the only possible factor under control is hard work. Imagine there is another smaller population group Y who still follow the general logic of the success equation, but they push their odds further by investing more time and effort. Is it enough? No, not really. The other parts of the equation will still play a key role, however, this is the best shot that we got.
I will conclude this blog post by leaving here two contradicting research articles: Ericsson’s research about the role of deliberate practice in achieving expert performance who concluded a strong correspondence between practice and expertise (which is more known to the public as the 10,000 hours rule), and Macnamara’s revisiting the same study to conclude otherwise.
In my opinion: practice makes perfect, or strictly speaking, practice increases the chances of perfection.