Outliers, patterns of success and identity

Posted on July 27, 2009
Filed Under Experiments, identity, Magic, Taylor Ellwood | Leave a Comment

I’m reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a very interesting book, as all of his books are, and in this particular case has prompted some thoughts on identity, based off of what he’s writing about. Outliers are people who are significantly different, in terms of how they succeeded, from the usual cases of success. However, these are not self-made people (if there is such a thing). Rather Gladwell argues that examining their cultural and family background can provide clues as to how these people achieved success. He makes a very convincing case, from what I’ve read so far, and most importantly shown what I think is another facet of identity in the process.

That facet of identity is the cultural and familial models of behavior and practice that inform how a person handles situations that occur in life. These models or patterns of behavior are displayed to a person from early childhood on and they influence how a person makes choices from careers and finances to love and friendship. These patterns can be changed, but changing them involves challenging not just the immediate familial and cultural beliefs and practices, but also a history of them that has influenced previous generations in their choices and actions.

I was reminded of that today, when I was talking with dad about another family member and made the remark that her problems with finances were a direct result of a pattern of belief that a person had to struggle in order to be happy and that she should just focus on her business and not worry about what could happen. My wife, listening to this conversation, accurately pointed out that I participated in this same pattenr of behavior fairly recently myelf…and she’s right. And I’ve been working on changing this pattern, but I realized that this pattern isn’t just part of my identity,  but also part of one side of my family’s pattern of identity. And that pattern of identity reaches down through the generations to influence the current generation, in this case me. Which isn’t to say it can’t be changed, because in yet another synchronous conversation with a distant relative I just met today, there was discussion about how a couple of generations ago there was a shift toward getting a college degree by the different members of the family. At some point the gene-erational patterns for the family identity shifted into a different identity for the majority of the family and that pattern is now accepted as something essential to the family identity (if they wouldn’t look at it in quite that way).

In Outliers, it’s suggested that the identity of success is best realized through patterns of behavior that encourage that identity in the overall family. I would posit that this also applies to other patterns of behavior exhibited in a family and that the sense of identity a person cultivates is partially informed by the family identities that s/he is a part of. When a person wants to change his/her identity, change a pattern of identity/behavior s/he probably does need to account for the weight of the family identity and how it will either provide momentum or resistance to the change. For example, my desire to change my financial patterns and identity is an ongoing process of not only changing that part of my identity in myself, but also starting to change that identity within my family’s identity of it (or at least one side of my family). Indeed, I would suspect that for my change in identity to be fully successful, it could be useful to interact with the spirits of my family and show them the benefit of that change, so that they could retroactively start the change in previous generations, providing more momentum behind the changes of identity I’m currently engaged in. Hmmm…now there’s an idea for an experiment. I need to give it a try and see what happens.

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