I've recently begun reading Outliers - one of Malcolm Gladwell's well known books. Essentially the book talks about how most of us look at successful individuals in society and attribute their success to natural talent, hard work, determination, etc. Gladwell refutes this by looking at evidence that suggests other exogenous factors, mostly luck, are the primary drivers of success.
In the very first chapter, to use a basic example he talks about hockey players, and specifically how Canadian hockey players work their way through the juniors and into the NHL. Without going into too much detail, essentially, what he discovered was that a hugely disproportionate amount of players who are successful in making the Junior A teams and then the pros, are born between Jan-Mar. We're talking over 40% of all players, born in only 25% of the months - that is statistically significant. Even more damning is that only 10% of all players born in the last 3 months, Nov-Dec make the pros.
The reason? Kids are screened and filtered at a very young age for what coaches call "rep" squads, which are essentially all-star teams comprised of 9-10 year olds who travel much more than the "regular" kids who play in the house leagues. The "rep" teams play up to 3 times more games a season than the regular teams (since they can travel to more arenas), and on top of that, they get better, more personalized coaching, and train with better (or should I say, bigger) peers.
How are kids selected for these "rep" squads? Well, at 9-10 years old, it's pretty difficult to distinguish raw talent as kids are generally less coordinated since they haven't physically matured, so what do coaches do? You guessed it, they pick the kids with the best physical attributes - which generally means the biggest kids. Who are the biggest kids? At that prepubescent age, 9-12 months makes a huge difference, so of course, the kids born in Jan-Mar are the biggest. Thus, they make the rep squad, which is a fast-track development program, and the next year, they're already starting with a huge advantage over their peers, so naturally, they will likely make the rep squad again. This leads to a what Gladwell calls "Accumulative Advantage" which basically creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of success. This is the same reason many parents who give birth in Nov-Dec prefer to keep their kids back a year before starting kindergarten. Other parents think the age advantage (or maturity gap) will go away over time, but it doesn't! It has a profound impact right away, and it persists and accumulates over time, affecting children's confidence and motivation, and likely shaping the rest of their adult life.
So what is the biggest reason hockey players are successful? Because the age eligibility for leagues starts on Jan. 1st, and some players are fortunate to be born closer to this date. Just to test his thesis, Gladwell compared hockey's Jan 1st date to other sports that screen kids the same way - baseball (July 31st eligibility) and soccer (Jan. 1st). The results were very similar to hockey, with a statistically significant number of pros born between Aug-Sept for baseball, and Jan-Mar for soccer.
Why does this matter in our everyday lives? Personally, I'm pretty competitive... and often I'm pretty hard on myself for "not being good enough" when I fail at something. I think what this book will teach me once I'm done is it will bring some perspective on life which will help me accept things more freely and be less self-critical, perhaps even less competitive (for better or worse) knowing many things are outside of my control. We all know rich kids have natural advantages growing up which helps foster their success, this is not something new, but the way Gladwell presents his argument is extremely compelling and innovative.