Bill Gates is a lot luckier than you might realize. He may be a very talented man who worked his way up from college dropout to the top spot on the list of the world's richest people. But his extreme success perhaps tells us more about the importance of circumstances beyond his control than it does about how skill and perseverance are rewarded.
We often fall for the idea that the exceptional performers are the most skilled or talented. But this is flawed. Exceptional performances tend to occur in exceptional circumstances. Top performers are often the luckiest people, who have benefited from being at the right place and right time. They are what we call outliers, whose performances may be examples set apart from the system that everyone else works within.
Many treat Gates and other highly successful people like him as deserving of huge attention and reward, as people from whom we could learn a lot about how to succeed. But assuming life's "winners" got there from performance alone is likely to lead to disappointment. Even if you could imitate everything Gates did, you would not be able to replicate his initial good fortune.
For example, Gates's upper-class background and private education enabled him to gain extra programming experience when less than 0.01 percent of his generation then had access to computers. His mother's social connection with IBM's chairman enabled him to gain a contract from the then-leading PC company that was crucial for establishing his software empire.