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August 19, 2010

Another Gladwell Success (and Donald Disappointment)

One of the cardinal rules you teach children is that everybody is blessed differently.

Each of us has unique gifts and talents, and just because some other kid does something better than you, it doesn’t mean that kid is a better person. Everybody excels in different areas: the kids who make the honor roll aren’t always the most socially well-adjusted; the best athletes aren’t always the sharpest students; and the most popular kids aren’t always the ones who go on to achieve the greatest professional success.

It’s nice reassurance to carry into adulthood as well – the only problem is, I’m not convinced that it’s true.

One case in point was revealed to me in a recent post by the categorically brilliant, immensely talented writer Malcolm Gladwell, who I’ve swooned over more than once in this space. Most recently, I described how reading his work has the unfortunate effect of emphasizing my own limitations as a writer. Although it was a discouraging feeling, I can honestly say I didn’t dwell on it too long … after all, there’s probably something I can do better than Gladwell, right?

Then I found out that he could probably kick my butt in a race, too - at least, he could have at one time.

In this short post, Gladwell tells the story of how he once defeated a future "greatest Canadian miler of his generation" in a 1500m race, in a time that most of us would die to run. He also unleashed this awesome picture upon the Internet:

Malcolm Gladwell at age 14, running a 4:05 1500m

In case you didn’t recognize the coif, that’s him on the right. His 1500m time was roughly 4:05, which is even more impressive when you consider the enormous drag coefficient coming from the top of his head. Given that Gladwell’s such an "outside the box" intellect, I’m somewhat surprised he didn’t think to wear a swim cap when he ran; you could make a pretty compelling argument that with a more streamlined profile, he might have dipped under four minutes.

But that’s mainly just me being petty, and even more discouraged that Gladwell has accomplishments in both writing AND running that I can’t even hope to emulate. And he’s intelligent and financially secure and is probably the life of every party he attends. He’s like a prom king who also turns out to be a straight A student and a completely nice person to boot – an outlier, if you will. Knowing all of this doesn’t cause me to admire him any less - but occasionally it makes me look even harder for something to stake my pride on.

I suppose I’ve got more manageable hair – and for now, I guess that will have to do.


John 8/19/10, 10:28 PM  

thanks donald. . .i love gladwell as well - didn't know he had talent on the track as well - his ideas have been a big inspiration for me

Anonymous,  8/20/10, 9:14 AM  

For my own sense of wellbeing, I've long held the same 'rule': the attributes balance out. But the enforcement was a little less devine, i.e. the physically attractive or talented don't have to purse inner development; and the corollary. The insecure are driven to excell, and the secure . . . well, that's where the phrases 'fat, dumb and happy' and 'ignorance is bliss' come from.
So maybe you're just too happy. Or maybe you haven't found you niche. One day when you're not giving a campaign speech, you'll want to kick yourself for figuring out how to have a good life.

The BIG E 8/20/10, 10:00 AM  

Nice post. I did not know Gladwelll was such a gifted runner. His writing and way he looks at the world is wonderful. Having read all his work it is hard to pick a favorite, but Outliers is very thought provoking. Don, don't sell yourself short, your writing is very good, but Malcolm does have the hair...

Anonymous,  8/29/10, 8:14 PM  

I'm grateful there are people in the world who can inspire us. Some do it on the pages of the New Yorker and some do it by being humble in the rambling portion of their running blog.

Anonymous,  7/29/12, 12:41 PM  

M. Gladwell writes too? Damn it.

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