December 29, 2014

How much of our success is down to “luck”?

“Well done. You’re so lucky!”

It’s actually a pretty odd thing to say to someone who’s just achieved something important, like getting your ideal job, getting engaged or moving house. In general, it’s a pretty common for people to react to pieces of your life or future life as being mostly down to this idea of “luck”. You’ve been lucky. Lucky you.

But how much should we thank this concept of “good luck” when reviewing our own success?

Truthfully, I feel lucky a lot of the time. Especially at Christmas time, surrounded by brilliant friends, family, good food. That makes me feel incredibly lucky, and more importantly, grateful.

But sometimes I can’t help feel slightly offended when a personal or professional success is so often brushed aside as having had a stroke of “good luck” instead of progressing slowly through sheer determination.

“It’s better to be lucky than smart,” someone once said to me. But this got me thinking: is there an element of truth in that? I instantly thought of a few people that I know that are just lucky and things just happen for them and life just always goes their way. Yes, some people do always find £50 left in the cash machine, get the best bargains, win things at fairgrounds or are “the right place at the right time”. But in general, I had to disagree – I think you make your own luck, by seizing your own opportunities. Many times I have counted myself as ‘lucky’ whereas actually, in hindsight, I did it all myself, I openly put myself out there, and tried really hard. I didn’t just get a lucky delivery on my doorstep with big pink bow.

I started to realise how often I’d use the word ‘luck’ when being too afraid to admit how hard I’d worked on something. When achieving something notable I’d normally say: “Oh, you know, I guess I was just lucky’. It wasn’t. It was the long hours of work. But why was that so hard to admit?

We can’t always explain why different things happen to different people. Sometimes you won’t be able to understand why someone else has “got lucky” when you haven’t. The science behind “why things happen” is not something we all want to talk about over a cup of coffee. Even from an early age we are fed canned responses from our parents in answer to the single word vocabulary of ‘why? why? but, why?”

Toddlers pretty much want to know how the world began the minute they can walk, but is there a right time to explain the Big Bang Theory to a 2 year old? Or why that heavy object misses us by a millimetre, or meeting your future life partner in the same train carriage on the same day? You can’t explain these things. Which is what makes me think that “luck” is just another strange human concept that shies away the fact that things just happen. Sending a good luck card, searching for a four-leaf clover, yelling ‘I’ve got my fingers crossed for you!’ or adding another overpriced lucky charm onto your charm bracelet are essentially all ridiculous things that beat around the metaphorical bush and do not stop the inevitable from happening.

The theory of luck can distort a rational brain. For example, I may be cynical but I too get sucked into the luck trap. Cue Friday nights in 2012 during my short-lived lottery-buying craze, where a few of us from work would religiously trot on down to the Tescos on Dean St and rub a lucky coin. Why do we feel more lucky on some days than others? It’s all psychological. And there’s nothing wrong with feeling lucky – because then you’re more likely to try and more likely to succeed. (Just try not to step on any of the drains on the walk home and avoid any black cats.)

Luck doesn’t keep you going. Luck is normally a one trick pony. I think you must continue to make your own luck.


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