3-09 Sense of Possibility 12/10/11 8:20:10 AM
A Youthful Voice...from MARCH
Sense of Possibility
by Sierra Angell
Last month, I discussed the fascinating things I read in Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book Outliers. This month I am not attempting to give a second book review, but share with readers a very important concept. Its kind of complex, but I think it will provide very crucial hope for our generation. I enjoy Gladwell because he is original thinker, which translates into thought-provoking writing. One phrase in particular has been stuck in my head all month: Demographic Luck. It is catchy right? Its one of those phrases you commit to memory because it simply sounds intelligent. Imagine the feeling, as you nonchalantly pepper a casual conversation with the phrase; instantly making you sound oh-so-intelligent and up-to-date…even if you have no clue what it means. If you decide to use the phrase, however, it is probably a good idea to know what the phrase means. Breaking down the word demography is a good place to start. The first part demo- is a Greek word meaning people. A perfect Greek example of the word is one we all know: democracy…or the peoples’ government.
The second part of the word, -graphy means the process of recording and representing. Now the word is not so daunting anymore, it simply means numbers and data about people. In Gladwell’s explanation, demographic luck is an important and overlooked factor in the story of success, not just another statistic. The main example Gladwell gives on demographic luck is between a father and son; both were lawyers in New York. The son was successful and the father was not. He writes, “Every dream that eluded the father was fulfilled by the son.” To explain the difference Malcolm tells their stories. Maurice Janklow was born in 1902. At the beginning of the Depression, Maurice was young and newly married. He took a risk on a writing-paper business and set out to conquer the world. The paper business struggled and as Jewish lawyer, Maurice discovered his profession had become a “dignified road to starvation”.
His timing could not have been worse. Success eluded him and he spent most of his life on the edge of poverty. In the 1930’s Mort Janklow was born, his experience was completely different from his father. He missed hardest times of the Depression years. When he talks, he gives the impression that the world is his for the taking. He describes himself as a ‘big risk taker’; his first big gamble was on a cable business. Unlike his father’s paper company, he eventually sold it for tens of millions of dollars. He describes his father’s situation, “He was going to make a fortune, but the Depression killed him economically. He didn’t have any reserves, and he had no family to fall back on. And from then on, he became very much a scrivener-type lawyer. He didn’t have to courage to take risks after that. It was too much for him.” The last part of that story is the most important, the luminous pearl in the sand.
The wildly successful, Mort Janklow is a big risk taker. Bad timing at the beginning burned his father, Maurice Janklow, who never had the courage to take risks again. Demographic luck tells us that each generation has it limitations, but it also gives each person a choice. Gladwell says, “The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with.” The depression whipped Maurice Janklow; it filled him with fear and it took away his sense of possibility. Why should the story of the Janklow’s bring us crucial hope? If you never heard the story of Maurice Janklow, you could not understand how a particular place in history gives birth to a particular frame of mind. If you can control your frame of mind, you can overcome your demographic luck. This concept will be the redeeming quality for my generation and our financial success. If we allow ourselves to become jaded and burned, our unlucky demographic will be left behind with our fears. Instead, we must remember the words spoken by Franklin Roosevelt in his 1932 inaugural speech. To our nation’s unluckiest demographic generation, he said, “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Roosevelt encourages us to give up our fears so that the nation can move from retreat to advance.
I believe those of my generation have the ability to overcome our apparent bad demographic luck. By clinging to Roosevelt’s timeless words, we are empowered to shake off our fears and recover our sense of possibly.