Presumption, A Common Source of Error

It’s something you hear quite often in rags-to-riches success stories. Person A has a dream to be a famous C. Person B, who is not quite a famous C but has some understanding of the field of C, tells person A point-blank that he or she does not have what it takes to become a famous C.

In those success stories we always hear about what happened to Person A.

  • The Nobel Laureate Sigrid Undset (who was the third woman to win a Nobel in literature) was told by an editor to not attempt any more historical novels because she didn’t “have talent for it.” The reason Sigrid won the Nobel a couple of decades later? Her trilogy of historical fiction about the character Kristin Lavransdatter set in Norway in the 14th century.
  • An LSU student turned in a business proposal to a professor as a project for a chicken finger restaurant. The professor gave him a bad grade saying his idea “would never work.” The student now owns and runs the Raising Canes chicken finger franchise, which has hundreds of restaurants in 18 states.

I always wonder about what happened to Person B – the editor, the professor? Did the experience humble them? Did it make them realize that making blanket presumptions about a person’s future is probably unwise?

I can understand where they are coming from. Working as an editor or a professor means you have to make snap judgments about a person’s work and potential. But can we please try our hardest to stop making these broad and sweeping presumptions about an individual’s future?

On the other hand, maybe the Persons A would never have achieved what they did if it wasn’t for that early criticism. Just like Barney Stinson, they said, “challenge accepted!” Either way, stories like these have always made me wary of being a Person B.

My husband is fond of saying, “assumption is a common source of error” but I think it’s appropriate to extend this to “presumption is a common source of error,” especially in cases such as these.


About Stephanie Y.

I'm a professional news writer in Frederick, Maryland. I blog at S.Y. Ciphers.

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