Outliers (or, My Momentary Not-Midlife Crisis)

by Megan M. on February 19, 2009 · View Comments (Blog) |

I started Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers recently. I read it out of the book sometimes, and listen to the audiobook sometimes, like I did with Made to Stick. It’s pretty leisurely as absorption goes, but it’s enjoyable. Plenty of spaces between lines to think a little.

So I’ve been thinking.

Since I’m still early on in the book, I’ve been musing a lot about school. I was crap in school. I didn’t fail things (much) but I generally managed grades just good enough to scrape by. “Good grades” was not a worthy adversary.

Before college, I wrote stories and drew pictures. A new friend in middle school had introduced me to the idea of making comic books, and I was down with that. I could create whatever I wanted. They never saw the light of day, but they were my primary pursuit. The only really interesting thing around!

In college, I started to become aware that my family had money problems, and they started to affect me more dramatically than they’d used to—anyway, that’s what the memory feels like. I knew more about them in college, and I was more aware of a particularly cogent, familial financial climate. I can’t remember what I was driven by when I started learning about the internet and thinking about “running a business”. I could tell you that it was about bringing in more money for the family unit (that is what it turned into), but I don’t know how it started. I just don’t remember.

I think it was that I noticed something that felt worthy of doing. So I did it.

I don’t know where Gladwell is going with this book, but I know it’s making me wonder about myself. I can feel those tiny impulses—you have them, too—every moment I scan a sentence or parse a spoken phrase. These are impulses to find in the outside world proof that I am relevant.

Something that tells me for sure that I’m good enough.

My IQ is high. At least, it was when I was little—in the last fifteen years I’ve a) had a strange sensation that suggests it’s oozing downward along my spine and b) discovered that IQ truly doesn’t matter as much as I was originally taught. I know that I’m creative, and I clearly can do really nifty things. (Otherwise, I’m not sure how I’ve gone this long without a “job”. It’s been at least five years, technically… How have I been paying the rent, again?)

But I’m still looking for validation. I know we all are. I’m looking for a sign from the universe that I’m doing the Right Thing. That the path I want can really be reached from the path I’m on. And so the strange uneasy feeling engendered by the first few chapters of Gladwell’s book, I think, is a result of me wanting him to say what I want to hear.

You know. As if he might know!

I have a lot of things that are supposed to mean something. The IQ thing. Test scores, percentiles. Taught myself to read, ostensibly. Whatever else. But none of this really means anything. The sheer non-issue of my mediocre grades in school should prove that. I feel good about hearing that none of it really means anything past a certain point. I am down with that. But if he’s going to say that those things don’t count, what does?

And is it going to be something I can get my hands on?

Have you ever had this feeling?

  • Nick
    Similar feelings all the time. Constantly seeking validation. Constantly trying to figure out what counts. And constantly being confused. Most of this is internal. =P I'm not sure if there is a right answer. I'm not sure it matters. Still, since I'm not sure i can come up with anything, might as well just pick something. :>

    I'll also give a cheap answer because, hell, it's the 'right' answer: God. It is what has been used since the beginning and it is what will be used until the end. When in doubt, find God/Goddess and ask him/her. That answer is good enough because God/Goddess says so. Oh, and doubly good if you come up with a good story to make this answer fit in with everything else you have experienced. (it usually does anyways)
  • Megan M.
    Incidentally, that's exactly the conclusion I came to (but in a different way). The answers aren't outside myself; they're inside. I go deep inside and listen to the tiny voices, and I know exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. Hard to stay in touch a lot of the time, need to get better at it. It's only a version of what you said, but they match pretty nicely. Kinda neat, huh? ^_^
  • Nick
    Indeed. =)
  • Megan M.
    Agreed - I have unschooling notes throughout the KIPP program pages, though that doesn't keep me from being quite interested in the details of the KIPP program. Alternative schooling definitely interests me as a general rule.

    I haven't quite managed to condense what I've gotten out of Outliers now that I'm finished with it, but I have two post drafts developing... so we'll know soon!
  • Tiara the Merch Girl
    There's books about the phenomenon (quarter-life crisis). I personally have a crisis every few years :P

    What I took from the ending of Outliers was that a large part of success depends on our definition of success, and the structures we put up to reinforce that version of success. The students at the cram school particularly touched me because that's pretty much Asian schooling for you. Success is defined by straight As and being really really smart. Problem is, a lot of these kids don't end up learning how to think for themselves - then they get to the real world and get all stuck. Is that really "success".
  • Megan M.
    @Tiara - quarter-life crisis! Now that sounds about right! Ha!

    @Allan - I've been really enjoying your posts over there (and the others too). I notice more and more how little "traditional" barometers of success really mean. (Fun to connect with other folks who were disasters in school, heehee!)

    Having finished Outliers today (too short!! too short!!) I have my mind on the specific ways I can adjust my environment and life path to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can manage to come across & create for myself -- will probably be posting more on that, actually.

    Brain full this week!
  • Allan
    Megan - thanks for stopping by the SAMBA blog and commenting!

    I was a disaster in school! But I've known a lot of dropouts who have gone on to do some amazing things!
  • Tiara the Merch Girl
    Honey, I have this feeling all the time. I often wish to be featured in a 50 Young People You Must Know list, or on the cover of Time or something - if I can reach that, it means I must have done something so worthwhile to deserve the attention.

    I think we all need and desire validation. We just seek it in different ways.

    also, welcome to the Quarter-life crisis!
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