“success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.”
“Good Luck” is such a common thing to say, a habit even. I think most people don’t even realise what they are saying or why. Words have meaning. We should choose them with intention. When you say “Good Luck!”, what you are really saying is that you hope chance will work in their favour. You are (probably unintentionally) suggesting they have no agency in the outcome. What about their skills and ability?
I am very lucky. I am a healthy, white, 30-something woman. I am married, and have three wonderful children, a home, and enough money to not only survive, but to thrive. I have had the opportunity to attend school from 5 years of age, to, well, my current age. I have had so many opportunities; education, travel, employment… I feel very lucky. I am very lucky. I am in a position of privilege in the world that I absolutely cannot deny. But this is not about privilege. This is about choosing words of encouragement.
When I am doing a Hard Thing™, I don’t want luck. I want to do that Hard Thing™ with my own skills and ability. With my own knowledge. With my own passion, enthusiasm, awkwardness and my own unique perspective on the world. And what I need most of all, is belief in myself. I need to believe that I already have what it takes to do the Hard Thing™.
Yet, when I am faced with what feels like an insurmountable task and someone says:
I feel like what they are really saying is:
Jane, you don’t have the skills, so you’re gonna need luck.
If you wish to offer encouragement, we first need to have a small lesson in Psychology. You may or may not have heard the term “Locus of Control”. It essentially refers to the extent to which individuals perceive their ability to control or influence the outcomes of their life. When individuals have a strong internal locus of control, they believe that they are able to influence outcomes, and use their strengths and skills to achieve a desired outcome — “I won that scholarship because I worked really hard on the application”. When individuals have a strong external locus of control, they believe they have little to no influence or control over outcomes in their life, and that external sources/forces are accountable for life outcomes — “I only got that scholarship because nobody else applied that year”.
You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? Individuals with a strong internal locus of control are more motivated to apply effort and build skills, because they believe that they can influence outcomes. And the research tells us that they can. When you believe you can do the Hard Thing™, you are more likely to do that Hard Thing™! I think the best thing about all of this is that we can shape our locus of control to be more internal. We can shape and increase the positive beliefs in ourselves and our abilities. We can change the way we think.
Furthermore, we humans are social creatures. Our perceptions of ourselves and the world are guided, in part, by our environment and the people in it. We are constantly on the lookout for cues of how others perceive us. We then use these cues as evidence to inform our self-worth, our self-efficacy, and yep, you guessed it, the extent to which we perceive we are in control of our lives — our locus of control. So when you wish someone luck, there is every chance that their brain (might be) interpreting this as a reinforcement of an external locus of control — “you’re not in control”. Is that really what you want to say to your fellow human?
Here’s the schtick: Words are powerful. Phrases carry weight. You may not be aware of the subtle meanings you impart when you say these things. Just take a moment to think about how you use language and how it might make others feel. Next time someone is telling you about the Hard Thing™ that they are doing, take a moment to choose your words. Do you believe in them? Tell them. Do you think they can do it? Tell them. Do you think they already have all the skills they need? Tell them.
Let’s help each other do the Hard Things™. Let’s build each other up with belief in each other, and belief in ourselves. If you really want to encourage someone, rather than wish them the intangible quantity of luck, perhaps instead you might consider telling them “You’ve Got This”.