Is Success Ever Earned?

The emptiness of commonsense congratulations

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Image by Andrea Piacquadio, from Pexels
  1. hard work, meaning practice, effort, and the choice to develop or to apply our skills
  2. luck, including environmental circumstances.


The capacities and aptitudes we’re born with can give us decisive advantages. We might be an artistic prodigy or we might excel at working with language or numbers or perhaps we’re just predisposed to being more interested in this or that subject, which drives us to work hard in that area (leading to the second factor).

Hard Work

The second factor, hard work, seems much more promising since here we have the element of choice. We can choose to work hard, to practice, and to overcome our laziness, and we surely deserve the fruit of our labor, no?


Finally, there’s luck, which is the opposite of what’s earned. In fact, the first factor, talent, is subsumed by this third one, since luck accounts for the bodies and genes with which we’re born.

Science and the Threat of Nihilism

Of course, these three considerations typically don’t spoil our self-esteem or the celebrations of our triumphs in life. Those factors come into play, rather, to soothe our wounded pride when we suffer losses since we’d rather blame others or the world in general than be held accountable for our actions when we fail.

Commonsense Pride and Enlightened Humility

For example, there are two attitudes that seem relevant here, one of which is much more prevalent than the other. The received wisdom of commonsense is meant to boost our pride and self-confidence. We feel we ought to be proud of our accomplishments or at least to celebrate them when they happen, knowing that the tide may turn.

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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