The Problem with Luck

Or, why luck poisons personal growth

“Good Luck!”

It’s a phrase we say to each other because it’s what we’re taught. We wish someone luck because it's a sincere statement that makes someone feel good as they begin something courageous, and we feel better about ourselves because we’re being supportive. Plus, in our own lives, we’ve witnessed how essential a little bit of luck can be.

Luck is this thing that we can’t see, feel, or smell, but it’s something we wish our friends-- and sometimes, selfishly pray for--because, if we fail, we can blame bad luck for striking. It’s not your friends fault for not succeeding. It's not your fault that you weren't able to get what you wanted. It was just a bit of bad luck.

Unfortunately, this logic is a fundamental problem in modern-day thought. By perpetuating the idea that luck plays a large part in success, we unwittingly poison our personal growth as well as the success of those around us. If we do not succeed, we can blame our failures on an abstract that society accepts as the culprit of our defeat. However, if we continue to accept this toxic idea, we will be unable to make decisions or take responsibility for anything because we can fault luck whenever we don't succeed.

You may say, “Good luck!” I say, “F@#$ luck!”

“The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Although I admit that a little bit of positive luck does help to succeed, the vast majority of times we should point to hard work and preparation as the true reasons behind success. Unfortunately, when someone makes a perceived risky decision and doesn't fail, many people attribute this to luck because they place more emphasis on the chance aspect of risk rather the preparation and hard work necessary to consciously put yourself in a situation that, although risky, has a potentially positive return on investment.

Here's an example: a law student uses his student loans to play the stock market--initially, a very dangerous endeavor--rather than using the loans to pay for his education. He quickly makes about $12 million putting his money in one investment after the other. He then proceeds to lose the money just as quickly through other investments in the stock market that don't play out in his favor along with the collapse of the stock market in the early 21st century. He ends this part of his life with $4 million in debt.

It's easy to look at this snapshot of his story and say, "Obviously, he lost all of his student loan money by playing that so-very-risky stock market. He must've just gotten lucky in the beginning, and it was only a matter of time before his luck ran out. Next time, he should do the smart thing and not put his money in options where luck is so important." This is a very wrong way of thinking, but one that many people make because they see luck as a significant factor in determining success or failure instead of looking at the situation as one of variance--where there will be positive and negative swings, but in the long run, will lead to a winning game.

The story that I've summarized above is the first half of the story of angel investor, Chris Sacca, and in the second half, he ultimately works through his debt and becomes what he is now--one of the most successful angel investors with Kickstarter, Twitter, and Instagram in his portfolio. But, what if he stopped taking risks after getting himself into so much debt? What if he attributed his success to luck instead of hard work?

Sure, we can say his first use of his loan money was a gamble, but the ability to continue to grow his assets quickly meant he was researching and not blindly playing the market. Then, when Sacca was in tremendous debt, he worked hard to pay it off then used his knowledge to invest his money smarter a second time around. He calculated, worked, and prepared for his second round of investments rather than removing himself from the game and falsely attributing his success to luck. For Sacca to turn $4 million in debt to having the equity and respect to be part of the potential investors for these now-monsterous tech companies shows that it wasn't luck that got him his first and second chances at success, it was hard work.

"Luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity"

There will always be lottery winners, and there will always be magical stories told about one crazy time at a slot machine in Vegas. In those few instances, luck does play a much larger part in success.

However, in the majority of situations in our lives--whether it be finding the right job, making a good investment, or even finding the right person to love--luck is a much smaller part that we were originally led to believe. Ultimately, it is preparation, hard work, and finding the right opportunity that will prepare us for a three-way battle with luck and our goal. But, if we've prepared those three things before the battle, we’ll crush our opponents and find success in the long run.