What’s Luck Got to Do With It?

Let’s talk about luck. Many people prefer to pretend that luck (or if you prefer, random chance working in your favor) doesn’t exist, that everything in life is determined by the amount of time and effort you put into your work, and that your success in life is determined entirely by the amount of skill and effort you bring to the table.

This is far from the truth, though. Even putting aside the obvious cases where luck influences your success (the gambling and lottery winners of the world, for example), your progress in life is determined by plenty of factors outside your control. The skill and ability of your competitors, the success of the company, even the current economic climate; these are all factors that can determine whether or not you get a particular job, for just one example, all of which are outside your control.

We could argue for hours, if not days, about the type of good luck charms to choose, but let’s just go on beyond that.

Before we go any further, though: while this article is going to stress the impact that luck has on our lives (and point out just how much luck influences things, regardless of how much we may disagree), it’s easy to take things too far in the other direction. Yes, luck has a big influence on our level of success, but things like hard work, knowledge, and our personal effort have a major impact (arguably, even more of an impact) as well. Do not take what I’m about to say as an excuse to just sit in your home and expect that ‘luck’ will eventually bring you a good job, or worse, gamble away all your earnings from your job to give ‘luck’ a chance to make you a millionaire. Life (and luck) just doesn’t work like that.

How Luck Affects You

You might be thinking at this point that luck doesn’t influence you at all. But remember our earlier example; there’s lots of ways that luck can impact your life with major bouts of good (back to our lottery winners) or bad luck (natural disasters being a prime example). For less extreme levels of luck, think about everything from how easy your commute to work is everyday, to what mood your boss is in the next time you have a performance review, to yes, even whether you have a job in the first place; there are lots of factors in your life that are determined by sheer luck, whether you like it or not. (Including, if I may be a bit morbid for a moment, how and when your life will end.)

It goes beyond that, though. Your luck began even before you can remember, with how you were born. Whether you were born to a rich family, a middle-class family, or a poor family will have a major impact on how well you do throughout life. From the level of education you will get to the job opportunities you will have to social connections you will be able to call upon when you enter the job market, your birth will influence them all, and whether your father is a US Senator or an absentee fast-food worker will determine your situation at birth.

Now, there are probably some of you who argue that in America (or most other Western countries, for my Canadian, British, and Australian friends (among others)), it’s possible for anyone, ANYONE to achieve (financial) success in life, regardless of how poor they begin. While I’ll admit that’s technically true, I hope you’ll agree that expecting someone with no connections, no experience and a poor education (if they have much of an education at all) to wind up a millionaire is a bit like expecting someone with a horrible flu, no running experience, and a twisted ankle to win the Boston Marathon. It’s definitely possible, but not that likely.

More to the point, America (and the Western world in general) is just part of the world (and a shrinking part, if the demographic information is to be believed). There are many parts of the world where unless you are born into power (usually by being the child of one of the guys in charge, or his trusted advisers), you’ll find yourself facing a lifetime of struggle, ranging from working long hours for little more than subsistence pay, to finding yourself forced to fight battles at an age when most American children are still enjoying the lack of responsibility that comes with youth. I’ll be the first to admit that ‘bad luck’ doesn’t come close to describing the true nature of such a situation, but it’s worth remembering that for those who are in such a situation, they really didn’t do anything to cause it, other than, well, being born in the wrong place.

How to Increase Your Luck

Alright, hopefully I’ve been able to convince you now that luck (or again, the random chance of the universe working out in your favor) can influence your success in life, and it is something you should be concerned about. The question then becomes: How do you increase your luck? There’s no magic way to ensure that you will have nothing but good luck, unfortunately (as anyone who bought a hundred lottery tickets while wearing their lucky socks will tell you), but there are some things you can do to help nudge luck in your favor, and take advantage of the good luck you DO get, including:

1. Work Hard and Build Up Your Knowledge: Good luck is only as good as your ability to take advantage of it. Being able to see, for example, that a place online where people could share their personal information and talk to friends would be immensely popular a decade or so ago, and being able to build such a site, could have earned you millions, if not billions, in the following years (as things like MySpace and Facebook can attest). As I mentioned before, expecting millions of dollars and world-wide fame to just fall into your lap is very foolish, but seeing what you can learn to take advantage of the new opportunities each day is a great method to improve your success.  To share a quote I particularly like, ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity‘.

2. Build Solid Relationships: You’ll likely already guessed from my discussion of how the family to which you were born determines your level of luck in life, but the relationships you have and build during your life will have a major impact on your level of luck (and success) throughout your life. If you hope to be really lucky, you’ll need to plenty of good relationships with those around you, presenting you with lots of connections that can end up helping you in numerous ways in the future.

Don’t just limit yourself to trying to connect to those who are better off than you; besides looking to many other people like ‘brown-nosing’ and turning them off to you, you never know when someone who is not doing that well now can now end up being in a position of power and influence in the future. (Even our horribly handicapped Marathon runner can end up doing surprisingly well, after all.) Help someone when they need it most, and they’ll be all the more inclined to help you in the future. Speaking of which…

3. Give to Those Less Fortunate: Alright, this might be more in the category of karma (or perhaps the grace of God) than luck, per se, but it still bears mentioning. From giving money to those in dire need to giving your time to help in any way you can, there’s much you can do that will have a large impact on those in need. You might not be able to fix everything that’s wrong with the world (as noted above, there are still some pretty serious problems in our world today, many of which are a bit beyond our ability as individuals to do much about), but everything you can do to help will be appreciated, and if there is any sense of justice to the universe, rewarded in turn.

There you have it, some thoughts on luck, how it exists, and how to improve it. Any methods you have to improve your level of luck? Is your level of luck completely unable to be influenced? Do you think that the ‘luck’ being discussed is really that at all? Please let me know what you think!

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