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Luck is under credited by the successful and over credited by the unsuccessful

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Luck is under credited by the successful and over credited by the unsuccessful

Scott Miker

Luck is a very interesting topic.  When I talk to people about the idea of luck being responsible for success I tend to get one of two perspectives.

When we are talking about a success in their life, then they almost always point to hard work and their own effort.  They minimize the impact luck had and assume their success was due to their work not some outside force.

But when we are talking about a success of someone else or a failure, then they almost always point to luck as the major factor responsible for the outcome.  It seems like they ignore the hard work and effort of others and assume luck was the major driving force pushing them towards success.  Or they minimize the lack of work they put forth and assume luck was the reason they failed. 

This seems really strange.  Why is it that we can have such different perspectives on luck?  How can we just pick and choose when to acknowledge its impact?

I think that because luck is such a mysterious variable, it makes it really easy to use when it is convenient.  If we don’t know what someone did to gain success, we can easily fill in the blanks with luck.  If we fail and want to search for a reason, it can be too easy to ignore our own mistakes and find circumstances that didn’t work out, despite our efforts. 

So maybe we just need to look at luck a little differently.  Maybe luck is always present.  Maybe we all experience luck and overall it is pretty equal among all of our (and other’s) pursuits?  If this is the case, we can see that yes luck was there and was a factor, but it wasn’t the only factor.

Then we can slowly start building the right structures in our lives to slowly help us succeed.  We can assume there will be good luck and bad luck.  Instead of relying on luck as the key strategy, we rely on our own hard work.

But to remain humble and see things realistically, once we reach a level of success, we have to force ourselves to understand the element of luck that was involved. 

If you are a professional athlete you might think your hard work is solely to credit but many people are born with much more physical limitation than others.  It is likely that if you play basketball you were born with genes allowed you to be taller than many.  If you are running track you are likely born with the ability to run faster than many.

In other words, you have advantages that aren’t directly tied to your own efforts.  Therefore, there must be some element of luck.

If you are a successful investor you have been able to take risks to realize large gains.  But the fact that risk was present and it worked out for you points to some element of luck being there.  No matter how much you research an investment there is some chance that it won’t work out.  It isn’t a sure thing. 

Therefore I think we should flip flop those two perspectives.  Early on we need to limit how we rely on luck and do everything we can to succeed.  We should focus on what we can control, not on luck or happenstance. 

But as we start to gain the success that we worked hard for, we have to realize that we still had advantages and elements of chance that worked out for us, rather than working against us.  This will help us remain humble and see the role luck played in our journey. 

To me luck is too easy to point to when we are trying to prove a point but luck is always there to some extent.  We have to work on what we can control and keep improving over time.  This will make it more likely that luck helps us and presents new opportunities building on our solid work ethic and efforts to produce the maximum level of success possible.