TWO // On “merit”, luck & randomness

THE YOUNG & OVEREXPOSED is a mini-series of blog posts about the modern struggle, written from the perspective of a 24-year old. This second piece is focussed on the role of randomness in life.

Did you ever consider how your high school classmates are doing? You were all born in the same area, granted similar opportunities and basically started from the same foot. You’ll probably see a huge variety in this initial population with regards to happiness & “success”.

This has been fascinating me lately. Somehow, the degree to which these people are “doing well” does not seem closely related to their intelligence, capabilities and/or their work ethics. What’s going on here?

Well, it’s very tempting to retroactively attribute success, happiness, failure & misery to personal traits and behaviors. “He always was a smart guy.” “We could have known, she was always a hard worker.” But is life actually that fair? I think it’s just another example of our minds making sense of the world by connecting the dots.

My perspective on this has definitely changed over time. Life is not fair. Life is random. Recently I discovered the notion of a “meritocracy”. This term is built up around the word “merit”, which essentially means “ to earn through honest work”. In a meritocratic society, hard work always pays off. Those who are skillful and work hardest will find their way to success, regardless of his/her or origin or wealth. One iconic example of a meritocratic worldview is that of “The American Dream”. The point I’m trying to make here is that we are not living in a meritocracy. In a capitalist society, a meritocratic worldview is a utopian one.

Someone who understands that society is not meritocratic will think twice before judging someone who’s down on his luck, or mentally glorifying someone who just made a shitton of money.

If someone’s fate is not solely depending on someone’s skillset and mentality, then what’s missing? I personally think we highly underestimate the role of randomness in our lives. Yes, most would recognize the fact that where you’re born is a huge factor that will determine your degree of success and happiness in life. But from thereon I believe our educational system is failing us by teaching a very linear way of thinking. You go climb your way through institutional education, being promised a suitable job upon graduating. Of course, soft skills will contribute to your chance in the jobs market. But what about the role of randomness here?

I personally believe that a lot of the opportunities I was able to grab onto in the past few years can be for a big part attributed to luck, which essentially translates to randomness. There are smarter and harder working people in my circles that haven’t nearly been granted the number of opportunities I have. A popular counterargument is that it’s not just luck because opportunity needs to be acted upon. Well, let me hit you with this:

A bright friend of mine recently introduced me to this blog post of a venture capitalist that conceptualizes four types of luck. This theory resonated with me. Allow me to summarize the four types of luck in my own words:

Type 1 luck: Passive luck or “dumb luck”; the kind that just happens to you. Two examples: Being born in a first world country, finding a €50 bill on the street.

Type 2 luck: Similar to type 1 luck, but with motion added as a factor. The theory behind this one is quite simple; the more you expose yourself to randomness, the more opportunities you’ll find. It’s simple statistics. One example would be someone who is always meeting new people and shaking hands, finding his future employer or business partner at an event he attended on a Tuesday night.

Type 3 luck: This is the kind of luck that could only be recognized and monetized by someone with your skillset and paradigm. One example would be recognizing an investment opportunity through past experience.

Type 4 luck: This type of luck occurs in extremely specific scenario’s, triggered by a very precise action that could have only been performed by someone with your personality, skillset and knowledge base. Type 4 luck is the scientist that accidentally creates penicillin in his Petri dish.

To summarize my thesis here; life is not meritocratic and your destiny is not solely depending on your actions and capabilities, just like your peers. There are, however, ways to increase your odds of getting lucky. Someone who can often be found outside of one's comfort zone is essentially more exposed to randomness and therefore more likely to get lucky. Someone with a unique worldview and very distinct personal interests is more likely to run into type 3 & type 4 luck. Also, don’t judge people based on their fate.

pro-activity + distinct personality traits & interests = higher odds of finding the four types of luck.

Big love, Deniz

Hope you liked it! What I hope to achieve with this is offer a platform for contemplation & discussion for these topics within my own social circles. Feel free to comment on the piece by highlighting pieces of text! If you like the format, feel free to follow me on Medium or enter your email below to be informed on new uploads. You can expect one piece of bite-sized content every week until I’m done rambling :)



A mini-blog series on the common struggles of modern times, written from the perspective of a youngster.

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Crypto native, in deep since '17. Passionate about coordination mechanisms and Decentralized Finance. Product Manager @ MakerDAO. wagmi culture.