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Dispatches From Down East: Outliers in the Classroom

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I'm procrastinating. It has taken me all night to sit down and start writing, proving how far I have to go to become a blogging superstar. It is amazing how one can find so many reasons to delay that which is inevitable. That is, to delay writing when one realizes it is the discipline to which one has committed.

I write tonight about this. A friend and I had a conversation this evening about a high school student with a noteworthy caliber of dedication to his passion in life: sports. The student spends three hours per day shooting hoops and running drills, as well as sprinting laps around his house. Furthermore, he spends countless hours on the court with personal coaches, and has years of team practices under his belt. He's done all of this to achieve his dream of one day playing for the NBA. Impressive for a 15 year old.

This kind of dedication and phenomenal commitment is exceptional in our current cultural milieu where most of us want immediate results that require minimal effort. But there are certain common qualities shared by true superstars. Most are not just born to be stars; they are made to be stars through years of conditioning. Why then are not more of us becoming superstars? What does it take to really make it big in a chosen field of expertise? What are the essential qualities one must have checked off the list so as to become true outliers?

In his book, Outliers:The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell wrote that many of the geniuses of our time in history have the advantage of putting in long hours of practice -- 10,000 hours to be exact. Not to say this is a guarantee, but it sure does make someone an expert in his chosen field of interest. And experts tend to get noticed more often. However, for every Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, there are the fast-trackers who win big on shows like American Idol and America's Got Talent. So obviously there are outliers within the outliers.

Since I am neither an athlete nor a computer wizard, I was interested to find that there is a blog for those of us who are interested in becoming blogging superstars.

The keys to success are vaguely familiar. Along with being risk-takers, superstar bloggers write one thousand words, seven days a week. Minimum. And we are not talking about just your average diary entries here -- this stuff needs to be content and quantity driven. Readers are looking for someone who writes in such a manner that they are drawn to read more, sucked into the story through the creative mechanisms of the writer's craftsmanship. Steep criteria, when you also consider that superstars in the blogosphere also are driven, passionate, interactive, focused, organized, discerning, technologically savvy, curious, relentless, self-starters, and on and on we go.

For me, the true factor in what really grabs an audience's attention, whether that be an audience of one or one million, is the ability to emotionally connect with key game players. And by that, I mean connecting in a personal way with all those people involved who have a vested interest in what you are doing to become an expert. If you can make these important connections, I believe this is one of the truest measures of a person's ability to find success. One can be an expert, but devoid of connections, success can be denied for that given individual.

The student I mentioned was a bit misunderstood by some of his teachers in school. In particular, one teacher could not understand this boy's growing disinterest with school at the expense of throwing himself full-tilt into the sports world. However, in a personal mock job interview, this student was able to explain his perspective in conversation in such a way that allowed for vulnerability and honesty. And by doing so, he gave one teacher a new appreciation for why he was so driven to succeed in sports at the expense of his academics. The emotional connection was secured via the story, which was woven in conversation during the interview. Success in this particular high school course was a direct outcome of that connection having been made. It was the personal connections that made all the difference, and the turning point for the boy as it pertains to his success inside the classroom.

A key measure of success is this ability to emotionally connect with an audience, and one must do so in such a way so as to secure their position on the ladder of success. As it pertains to this student, I have little doubt that he will become successful (at least by certain standards) in whatever he chooses to do with his life, but it is not due to sheer talent alone, nor is it all the hours of hard work he has invested. In my view, it is his ability to leave an indelible impression on his audience. An emotional connection that makes the audience want his success as much as he wants it for himself.

And sometimes these success stories begin with an audience of one.