The Importance of Luck in Success and Failure

You don’t find people attributing their success to luck too often. In fact, in the world of competitive career advancement, saying that your success was a result of good fortune is big no-no. Calling yourself lucky implies that you did not do the hard work, but more importantly it makes the listener question their own accomplishments. Think about it for a second – when was the last time, at an office or any career oriented environment, you heard someone say that they got lucky with their successful project or a remarkable action that reaped accolades from their bosses and colleagues ? Sure, they did a lot of hard work, putting in the necessary hours to complete whatever they did, but to acknowledge the role of luck in that pursuit of success and recognition amounts to admitting to cheating. In reality, having good fortune has a very significant role in the outcomes of everything we do.

Imagine any scenario of your daily life and I can assure you that more often than not you enjoy a tremendous amount of luck. Close to 33,000 people die everyday (EVERYDAY!) in fatal car accidents in the US and the fact that you lived through your daily commute today to read this blog makes you luckier than those poor souls. Beyond the mundane things, you can track everything in your life to a bit of blind fortune. The financial and social status of your parents determine to a great degree where you will end up in your own life, and no one ever got to choose their own parents (Except the Hindu God Krishna, who magically implanted himself in sperm form into his mother’s you-know-where. (No, Jesus does not count, because it was his father ‘God’ who caused Mary’s pregnancy)).

What you were dealt with during birth carries its weight throughout your life – for big majority of us at least – and everything from your education, job, living area, life partner and even the place of your last rites are influenced by that very first card. Of course, luck, or lack of it, intertwines during many events of your life like the exam you had poorly prepared for got postponed because the professor had a stroke 15 minutes before the exam, or your car runs of battery on the way to your dream job interview resulting in you not beginning a life changing career.

It is a little worrying to accept the importance of luck, because it bruises our ego. We like to think that all our accomplishments are because of our own back-breaking toil and to even consider luck as a contributing factor seems to lessen the impact of our efforts. But the fact is that not only luck is important, it is also essential. There are simply too many factors outside our control that it is humanly impossible to do anything by our own conscious actions. Even if you just drink a glass a water, consider yourself lucky, if for instance, the water was not contaminated by flesh-eating bacteria.

But hey, why sudden interest in luck, you ask ? Well, I came upon Michael Lewis’ commencement speech in Princeton and was surprised to hear him almost literally bestowing all his achievements on the number of good fortunes in his life. How often do you hear an accomplished artist honestly talk about being lucky, other than to portray false humility ? If you don’t know who Michael Lewis is, here are some details. He wrote ‘Liar’s Poker‘, ‘Money Ball’, ‘The Big Short‘ and ‘The Blind Side‘, just to name a few of his best-selling books, some of which have been adapted to big movies. By most definitions, he is rich, famous and successful.

In this speech he reasons that it was luck that got him a highly paid job at one of Wall Street’s biggest brokerage firms after he graduated with an arts degree. By his own admission, he was getting paid large amounts of money to do something he had little to no idea about. He may have done things to keep his job and he might have been even good at his job, but his point is that to get a job so alien to him which actually lead to him learning the inner workings of financial derivatives which allowed him to write his break out best seller ‘Liar’s Poker’ clearly proves that luck has a lot to make or break things for you.

The best part about his speech, was the inference he draws from his luck-infused experience. If we are lucky, then it also means a whole lot of other people are not lucky and they don’t have what we have. He makes the point that sometimes luck might be the only difference between a successful person and an unsuccessful person with equal skill and drive. This should make us thankful for what we have and it should also make us obligated to strive to be the best version of ourselves. We are obligated to those who did not enjoy our levels of luck and to our own self to fully utilize the opportunities this mysterious gift of luck has created for us.

In the end it comes down to how useful can we be to the world and for such an ambition, even an answer like ‘just a little’ is good enough. Continue to work hard and strive to create great things, but always, we should be aware and be grateful for the good fortunes that come our way. Use that good fortune as a motivating fuel to create even better things for the world. Then we would have transferred a little bit of our luck to others and that is definitely a remarkable contribution to humanity.


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