Monday 19th June 2017
One of the things I always used to love to do was get into a discussion on social media. I am blessed with a load of intelligent friends and it used to be that you could have a really interesting discussion where no-one was right or wrong but you really probed an issue.
That was before the internet got all angry and became a flamefest. Of course, perhaps I was the only person enjoying this and everyone else was there wondering why we were making a debate about this? But I always came away, if not enlightened, with a strong sense of my own views.
It happened today, although purely by accident, and I was happy that it was a delightful discussion like those of old.
It was about success and the factors that go into it. I’ve been fortunate to be in the position where I’ve had success in a variety of fields. Nothing major, but enough for those around me to acknowledge it without me prompting for it. I’ve also read extensively about it. I find it fascinating what causes some people to succeed and what causes some people to not.
Now before I get into a discussion about it, let me preface all this by saying that bias absolutely exists. If you are a minority, there’s absolutely no argument from me that you’re going to have a tougher ride of it. I hate that, but to ignore its presence is a massive error in my opinion.
A lot of people say that success is down to luck, and that’s where my issue resides, because I really don’t like the term luck. However, I’m still not entirely sure why I don’t like it.
Now, after a day of discussion, I definitely think that part of the problem is that luck is an intangible thing and nebulous. Indeed, looking at Wikipedia shows that the interpretation of luck varies massively.
One of the reasons I don’t like luck is, because it’s so nebulous, it gets bandied around and either overlooks valid factors or, worse, dismisses negative ones.
Coming from a Maths background, I believe in cause and effect. Things happen for a reason, and that reason isn’t something mystical or predefined.
But as I said, the world isn’t equal. Is the fact that you’re female, or gay, or poor, or another minority unlucky? Calling it unlucky seems disingenuous to me. It ignores negative factors. It’s an easy way to brush them off.
But some people get more opportunities than others and whilst that doesn’t guarantee success, it increases the probability of it. Some would argue that probability and luck are one and the same. I don’t feel they are.
There are things we can control and things we can’t. As someone pointed out today, if you have serious health issues, you can have all the opportunities in the world but it’s not going to help you.
The example I give is of someone meeting an important networking contact at a party. Some would say that’s random, it’s pure luck that the two people met, but again I’d slightly disagree. The fact that the person went to the party rather than staying at home was something in their control. The fact that the person struck up conversation, wasn’t luck, If you dig deep enough, the meeting wasn’t entirely random. Some of this stuff is probably even subconscious.
When people say you create your own luck, I’m inclined to agree, although I’d rephrase it as something along the lines of recognising and maximising your opportunities.
I’ve had friends say that they own their failures but attribute their success to luck out of modesty. However, I think false modesty is just as bad as false bravado. I think it helps create a incorrect sense of the amount of hard work that goes into success. Because it always takes more hard work than you think, no matter how well informed you think you are. Yes, there are things you can’t control but I think you should acknowledge the stuff you can.
And therein lies some of my problem. I’ve come across a load of people who blame their lack of success on bad luck when the brutal truth was they were ill-prepared. Bad luck can be far too easily used as an excuse for people not playing to their strengths.
“They went with someone prettier” – you didn’t do enough to sell your skills
“They went with someone younger” – You didn’t do a good job of selling your years of experience.
Yes, maybe it isn’t that simple, but neither is it as simple as to say it was a case of bad luck.
You can sit around and moan about your disadvantages or you can play to your strengths and adapt your strategy and goals to match.
Like my friend, I’d heard the advice of owning your failures, and I think that’s a great bit of advice. It stops you coming up with excuses and forces you to look to your strengths.
The best description I’ve heard of success is that it’s the result of hard work meeting opportunity. Those who have less opportunity have to work harder, but from what I’ve read, it always seems that those who faced the greatest adversity are those who succeeded the most.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I’m still woolly on some points but I have a better idea of why I don’t like the term luck. Many disagreed with me on technicalities today, but what was great about today’s discussion that it wasn’t about being right or wrong. It was about discussing a seemingly simple point and really delving deep. I certainly benefitted from it and I hope it was interesting to those who got involved.
If you want to follow more of my journey, then be sure to check me on my social channels. Likewise, if you’d like me to expand on any point mentioned above, please say so in the comments.
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