In Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, what does "work hard enough and assert themselves and use their minds and imagination to shape the world of their desires" mean?

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chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote comes at the end of Section I of the fifth chapter in Outliers, titled “The Three Lessons of Joe Flom.” The whole paragraph reads:

The most important contribution of the miracle of the garment industry, though, was what happened to the children growing up in those homes where meaningful work was practiced. Imagine what it must have been like to watch the meteoric rise of Regina and Louis Borgenicht through the eyes of one of their offspring. They learned the same lesson that little Alex Williams would learn nearly a century later – a lesson crucial to those who wanted to tackle the upper reaches of a profession like law or medicine: if you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires.

Gladwell’s topic in this chapter is the garment industry of New York City, and its close ties with the Jewish immigrants who ran it. He maintains that the reason why so many children of garment workers later became lawyers, was because they had the Jewish experience; they came of age in the 1930s and 1940s; and they saw through the actions of their parents and ancestors the benefits of meaningful work. One of the key stories here centers on the Borgenichts, who started making and selling aprons in New York in the 1890s, and who branched out into other related clothing deals. Their diligence showed that the three qualities of “autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward” were vital not only to enjoying the work, but also to becoming successful. “Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful,” Gladwell says. This is important. And people like the Borgenichts passed – and continue to pass -- this work ethic on to their children. It translates into the kind of dedication needed to study law. This reality becomes a perpetual pattern of success.

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Outliers: The Story of Success

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