Editor's Notes

Let “It” Be

My son is one of the smartest and most talented people I know. Sure, I’m biased, but I’m not the only one who thinks so. Ask his mother. Anyway, “the boy,” as we refer to him, is taking a year off college to try out his reality legs in the big city of New York. His plan is to work at a menial, but fulfilling, job, just to make ends meet. No, he hasn’t actually found one yet. Turns out, it’s hard to find a first job doing anything much more fulfilling than swinging a spatula.

I hear about his near misses at decent jobs, and I wonder how those employers could be so blind. I’m even tempted to call them up and explain to them their folly, but there’s no elegant way to do that, and the boy has to learn this important lesson. The lesson, in case you’ve forgotten, is the four words that sum up all the unfairness in the universe: Nothing Succeeds Like Success.

“To them that have, more will be given,” says the Bible. That verse never seemed very “holy” to me, in the nicey-nice Sunday School sense of the word. But I recognized its truth from my early years. The good looking guys got good looking girls. The smart kids got into the best classes. The outsider kids (such as I) got into trouble. People with money tend to make a lot of it. Talented people tend to attract creative types who can launch their careers. If you want a good job in New York City, it helps to have a good job in New York City.

I was visiting the boy in late September. We went to see Wired Magazine’s “Nextfest” at the Javits Center. It’s amazing to see how far success has taken technology. Robots can now control their facial expressions and dance the waltz. A computer kiosk actually allows citizens to select and move a single atom by remote-controlling a scanning-tunneling microscope in San Jose.

Before we left, the boy and I got in a line to play a game called “Brainball.” Two contestants sit at either end of a table, wearing a headband that reads alpha and theta brain waves. A ball in the center of the table rolls toward the side with the most brain activity and away from the least. The objective is to roll it to the other player. It was eerie watching the little sphere weave back and forth, like it had a mind of its own. The boy won our three matches. Whenever I started to win, I guess I got excited, and my brain waves spiked. I’m sure I could have beaten him in a couple more rounds.

This week, while working on our “It List,” that Brainball match came back to me. The people on our list are all so remarkable and they seem to accomplish their greatness so effortlessly. I wonder if what really makes people special is not when they strive to accomplish something, but when they just relax and let themselves be themselves. I’m not saying that it’s easy, just that perhaps there’s a technique for greatness, or for finding a job in New York, that anyone can learn.

If this is true, then the 34 people we feature in this issue are not really all that special. They are just stand-ins for the 1.3 million Granite Staters who are still learning the trick.

Speaking as a loser at Brainball, I like that thought.