Most of us think these insanely rich gentlemen were born under a lucky star. You may be surprised, the least to say, if you take a closer look at their lives. Let us dig a little deeper and see how their successes can be replicated.
J.D. Rockefeller was born in 1839 in Moravia, New York. He started working ever since he was in his teens. Rockefeller had not been born in a wealthy family.
Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 in Dunfermline in Scotland, 4 years earlier than Rockefeller. Carnegie has started working in laboring jobs by the time he was 13.
One hundred + years later, in 1955, Bill Gates was born in a wealthy (not filthy rich) family, as his father was a lawyer and his mother a reputable banker.
A trusted biography mentions that J.D. Rockefeller was a very studious young man, who was never willing to take unnecessary and uncalculated risks.
History also mentions that Andrew Carnegie had started with an advantage from a very early age. Recently emigrated in the United States with his family in 1848, Carnegie worked as a bobbin boy in a cotton factory. His family emigrated to Allegheny in Pennsylvania.
There was a library in the town of Allegheny and the library owner allowed free access for the working boys within the city. Carnegie’s education was mostly shaped by books (and the respect he had for these books) and by his passion for continuous learning, since his formal education ended right after finishing elementary school. He was always surrounded by smart people, who would help him in business decision making.
Bill Gates, in turn, had literally spent almost 10,000 hours studying computers and programming before his 20s. There were times when he was sneaking from home late at night to walk to the University of Washington, where there was a computer in the physics laboratory that was left unsupervised between 3 and 6 A.M. Computers were a scarcity back then.
Each of these three individuals had a deep thirst of knowledge. Each of them had shown unimaginable passion for what they did.
Do you see it?
Here comes the magic, inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.
A short look on Wikipedia says that the U.S. Oil Industry had started blooming in the late 1850s. Who do you think was in his early 20s by that time?
That’s right, it was J.D. Rockefeller.
Researching the U.S. Steel Industry, the good old Wikipedia (supported by dozens of resources at the end of the article) says that modern steel industry in the United States started to expand in the early 1860s.
That’s when the young Andrew Carnegie was in his 20s.
Now, let’s travel 100+ years into the future. To remain within the same lines, Wikipedia certifies that the mass development of personal computers started in 1977, once the microprocessors have entered the market.
You probably know the geek with thousands of hours of computer experience in 1977. It was Bill Gates. If he was born in 1955, I’ll let you do the math regarding his age.
The same patterns can be found over and over again.
How old was Steve Jobs in 1977 if he was born the same year as Bill Gates?
How old was Paul Allen (Microsoft Co-Founder) in 1977 if he was born in 1953? That’s right, he was 20something.
So, besides that all these youngsters had literally spent thousands of hours polishing their crafts and passions, they were just at the right moment in time when the industries exploded. If Bill Gates were a few years younger in 1977, he would have missed the chance. If he would have been a few years older, he may have been married (for example) and unwilling to take risks. The same can apply to Rockefeller and Carnegie.
You can always start a business and achieve success. It does not matter the age. However, the most appropriate would be in your 20s. You have the right mind set, the perseverance, as well as the freedom to succeed.
I would focus on passion, hard work, perseverance, and experience, rather than saying it was only good luck.
What’s in it for me?
Sorry Malcolm Gladwell, your book is amazing but I’m not motivated if you tell me that I need to spend 10,000 hours to be called an expert in something. I’d rather listen to Tim Ferriss and his deconstructing technique DEAL to master any skill. I’d like to save some years of my youth and have fun as well. See more about the technique at the end of this writing.
If you ask me, I would say that you have to go a 3-step pathway:
1. What do you enjoy doing most? Define your passion.
2. Dedicate as much as you can in studying your passion and in practicing it. Build experience. Focus on it! However, don’t be an outcast. Try to have a social life as well. You can find the balance, if you may.
3. Ask yourself how can you make money out of it?
This simple three step technique is based on Jim Collins’ (heavy voice in economic literature) analysis on the 11 most successful companies in the world (based on growth over time). It’s a very good reading. Find it in the references
Here’s a graphical expression of the success concept:
So, financial success is where your passion, your skill and monetization meet.
Wise voices say that you should mostly focus on your passion and skill because money will come afterwards.
I know this may be difficult to grasp in the blazingly fast world of today, which is interconnected by technology, and where information is at the fingertips of everyone.
We tend to be distracted by all the buzz around and we cannot focus on building and mastering one skill at a time. It is even more difficult when you have to make it for a living, pay bills, and take care of your family.
Nevertheless, it is not impossible. Many successful people nowadays prove it. You can do it too. What’s your excuse for not improving yourself? Tell me, and I’ll do my best to help you.
Do you find it difficult to focus? Is the social media part of the plot against you? Think about it, and let me know in either of the comment sections below.
1. Tim Ferriss – The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
2. Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers: The Story of Success
3. Jim Collins – Good to Great – Why some companies make the leap and others don’t
Tim Ferriss – Mastering Any Skill (video)