The Role of Luck in our Lives

I'm feeling lucky
In How to Get Lucky: 13 techniques for discovering and taking advantage of life's good breaks, Max Gunther says:

luck is one of the most important elements in men's and women's lives. Indeed, in many lives it is unequivocally the most important. Yet, strangely, people don't talk about it much. In fact, most people are reluctant to acknowledge luck's huge influence.

Why do we deny the role of luck?

We deny the role of luck because:

(1) we prefer to think we are in control of our plans and actions,

(2) discussing luck diminishes our role,

(3) our culture is dominated by the Work Ethic that says “we're supposed to make our way in life by hard work, perseverance, fortitude,” etc.

Culture is a fascinating and under-appreciated aspect of business and life. Yet it has tremendous influence in how we make decisions. It is our personal culture that dictates whether we are comfortable with points one and two, for example.

The third point is interesting because it is embedded in the infrastructure of how we do things in many western countries. About the Work Ethic also knows as the Puritan or Protestant Ethic Gunther says:

We are taught from kindergarten on that we're supposed to make our way in life by hard work, perseverance, fortitude and all those grindstony things. If, instead, we make it by blind luck, we're ashamed to say so in public — or even to admit it to ourselves.

Conversely, if we're walloped by bad luck, our Puritan heritage encourages us to think it's probably our own fault. We are supposedly responsible for our own outcomes, whether good or bad.

“Character is destiny,” Heraclitus wrote some twenty-five centuries ago. Great stacks of plays, novels, movies, and TV dramas have since tried to prove the point. They haven't succeeded because it's umprovable. The best you can say of it is that, in some lives, it is half true. If I'm unlucky enough to be killed by a drunk driver on the highway, my destiny has nothing to do with my character. I might have been a saint or a sinner, a great philosopher or a bumbling noncompoop. None of that matters. My destiny has arrived. I'd dead.

Despite its obvious weakness, Heraclitus's aphorism survives, deeply embedded in our cultural consciousness. If things go wrong in your life, you aren't supposed to blame bad luck. Instead, you're supposed to look for the reasons inside yourself.

A macro cultural aspect for not believing in the role of luck is that we yearn for meaning in life, and luck isn't “meaningful.”

Whether we like it or not, luck has a role in our lives. While we may not be able to do anything about it randomness, we can improve our outcomes by upgrading our chances. In other words, we can learn how to improve the quality of our luck. More on how to get lucky.


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