The Role of Luck

Over the years of working my way up through volunteer gigs, to internships, to actually being paid to do the work I love, I have had many conversations with people about the role of “luck”.

It’s a divisive word.

“Luck has nothing to do with it,” many protest.

I can definitively say that the more likely someone is to attribute their success to luck, the more likely I am to like them. The role of luck in my journey is tremendous. I’m astounded by people who think luck plays no role.

When President Trump was attributed with saying “Everything in life is luck” he responded by saying, “I never made this ridiculous statement.”

The First Time I got Lucky

I can’t precisely remember the first time I got lucky — but I weighed about 8.9 pounds. Lucky to be born in a country where I had the opportunity to gain an education, with environmental regulations to keep me alive, with access to clean water and enough food. Lucky to be born to a woman who loved me, who didn’t partake in substance abuse while I was gestating, and who birthed me in a hospital with adequate health measure to ensure me of a healthy entry into the world.

This doesn’t just happen — luck played a role in me being born, and it has only progressed since then.

Childhood Luck

After being lucky to be born — my luck only continued. I remember once tripping and falling while walking over a waterfall on a lake in Wisconsin. I didn’t die — and it had nothing to do with my hard work and determination. I also remember assembling a ramp twice as tall as myself, and attempting to launch off it with my bike. Well, turns out my $40 Huffy was rear-weighted and caused me to go into an immediate backflip.

Luckily for me, I had put on a motorcycle helmet, a life preserver, waterwings, shin guards, and knee & elbow pads.

I didn’t die. Again, Luck. (I did complete 50% of the backflip and landed on my head — probably the first of my dozen or so concussions.)

Luck in Adult Employment

As an adult, getting gainful employment is all about who you know. Unless, who you know is also seeking gainful employment. (This happens sometimes, for example, when you’re working for a Democratic President of the United States in Washington D.C., and then a Republican is surprisingly elected and immediately installs a hiring freeze, causing everyone you know to look for new employment, mostly in a new sector. Just a random example…)

Also, at this stage in my life, “who I know” consists of other young people working their way up, childhood acquaintances who maybe have a high school degree and are working factory or part-time retail jobs, and my tiny family who came from nothing. (I asked my 4-year-old nephew and 6-year-old niece if they knew of any open gigs — they said I could be Spiderman or Elsa’s friend — not sure I’m qualified or if that pays enough to afford rent.)

When left to fend for yourself, you become one application amongst thousands.

According to internet-sleuthing, a common piece of paper is about 0.004 inches thick. That means my livelihood, financial independence, interests, quality of life, and sanity comes down to 0.004 inches — potentially never being seen by those empowered to grant me a new life, allowing me to pursue my dreams and interests.

Yes, it is true that the more piles you place your 0.004 livelihood in, the thicker your chances become. But a human being can only fill out so many customized cover letters, résumés, and applications. Only once your 0.004 finds it’s way to the top of the pile, and sums up your decades of personality quirks and life experiences, are you lucky enough to move on to interviews, background/reference checks, questionnaires, etc.

And even that stage is full of luck — perhaps they already have an internal candidate in mind and you’re just the HR’s open-competition candidate dictated by policy & procedure, maybe the hiring manager’s relative is looking for a job, the hiring group may have a bias against some feature of yours due entirely to a negative anecdotal past experience (your name is Brad, there was a giant creep in their high school named Brad), or perhaps something even equally arbitrary.

The Role of Luck

Luck is a part of life. So — how do we increase our inevitable luck? My strategy: put myself in enough situations that luck can’t help but find me. Volunteer for as many things as possible to meet new and interesting people, say “YES!” way more than saying “no”, apply to transformative experiences that make for good stories, put yourself out of your comfort zone on a regular basis, and safely push yourself to your limits whenever you get a chance. (I am also a fan of Civil Disobedience & challenging Conventional Wisdom — but that is for another blog).

In my experience, all of these things increase your luck. Growing up, my mom always told me, “you always win things like this”. And I always hear people say the exact opposite: “I might as well not apply/enter, I never win anything”. That is the saddest, most self-defeatist attitude I’ve ever heard — especially when it comes to things like raffle drawings. Everyone has an equal opportunity to win that raffle, but if you enter enough raffles, you will win a bunch. And people will view you as, “that person that always wins,” not “that person that always enters, and subsequently loses”. Nobody keeps tracks of your losses besides you (unless you have some sadistic friends who partake in the lovely hobby of Schadenfreude).

So, in conclusion, there are just far too many variables in the game of life to ever consider your success to be due solely to your hard work and determination. If you think, “luck had nothing to do with it,” please write a book about your superpowers — and apply to that open Spiderman position my nephew heard about.

Craig Wiroll has been on reality television, an Asian elephant rehabilitator, a waterfall repairman, a two-time garlic eating champion, and also worked at Pizza Hut and The White House.

He was allowed to attend college where they eventually gave him a Master of Public Administration degree from Oregon and a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from UW-Milwaukee. He lives alone with nobody — oftentimes out of the back of his Subaru.