outside edge

Robert Kelsey’s The Outside Edge is a book for all of us who have felt estranged from the world while longing, at a deep level, to not just be part of it, but succeed in it. It’s an honest book about success that acknowledges the pain, shame and confusion of feeling like an outsider, while helping us make sense of our inner anguish and shape it into an edge that can help us thrive in a world dominated by insiders.

Kelsey gets me and he offers an articulate diagnosis of my condition. “We’re the misfits: rejecting or rejected by the colony. Over time, we develop an outlook that emphasises the disconnect we feel with our peers. And, soon enough, we’re on the edge, looking in—or just as often looking away.” He helpfully exposes Malcolm Gladwell’s argument of outsiderness as a distinct advantage as a myth, showing that “the attributes of genuine outsiders are usually highly disabling—with most successful outsiders no more than insiders with an attitude.” For outsiders, our past family dysfunction, our mediocre early education, and current problems of low self-esteem, identity crisis, and paralysis by fear have never helped us achieve. Kelsey gives us the tools to look introspectively to make the necessary adjustments to our thoughts, attitudes, and habits to get on in life.

I was the teenage rebel who, indulging in a cocktail of radical politics and angry music, dropped out of traditional education, threw rocks through the windows of multi-national corporations, and mocked my peers who went to university. By the age of twenty I found myself on the outside of everything from my family, the educational system, mainstream politics, and, feigning contentment with this outsider status, was on a self-made track to becoming a life-long disgruntled barista reading Noam Chompsky, exiled from, and secretly envious of, mainstream society. Somehow, though, despite clear evidence my life was in real crisis, I still believed I was special. I had internalised a myth that my uniqueness and rejection of convention set me apart for greatness. The sad reality, however, was that I was quickly falling behind and setting myself up for failure in life.

There will be many like me, who having completed the book, will wish they had read it when they were twenty, instead of thirty or forty or whatever age. Now living in London as an adult, I’m trying to salvage my chances at success. Kelsey’s book feels like a lifeline. Unlike other books about success that fail to scratch the surface of the inner turmoil that’s prevented my success in the past, The Outside Edge does not cower from addressing the mental impairments, and some of the sources of these impairments, that have inhibited my growth and limited my potential. He gives a philosophical, psychological and behavioural analysis of the outsider condition and offers some soft advice about how to use the outsider perspective in advantageous ways, without ever falling into the Gladwell myth of the outsider as disrupting maverick. The outsider mindset comes from a  lifetime of many negative and painful experiences that have left us feeling isolated from a world we so desperately want to be a part of and succeed in. This book is the key that opens the door to the inside.

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