January 27, 2015

Luck is Hard Work

Luck is Hard Work

I once asked a successful entrepreneur what was the turning point of her company’s success. After thinking about it for a few seconds, she said that she was lucky to run into a future investor/mentor at a networking event. That relationship jump started her company into what it is today. I then asked, how many potential investors did you actually meet with before you bumped into this one. And she laughed a little and said, “oh, over a hundred probably.”

Getting one successful meeting after over a hundred failed meetings is not luck. It is [****ing] hard work.

I find that (in America at least), there is an idealization of luck. I suppose it fits with our “quick and easy” mentality. For example, I remember in college, everybody wanted to be the person who could not attend class, get drunk, and whip out a mind-blow works of academic brilliance. Even though behind the scenes, everybody (well many of us) were working pretty hard.

Another case in point, one of my professors told the story of this researcher who noticed a strange pattern of a cat brain scan. Whenever somebody moved their fingers horizontally, specific neurons fired up. This observation later led to groundbreaking research in how vision processes horizontal and vertical imagery. My professor said, “he was lucky to have noticed that.” But here’s the thing—the ability to make these types of observations is not luck. It’s years of hard work to understand how neurons work in the brain, loads of funding to finance these brain scans (and—surprise, surprise—getting research funding is hard work too), and a honed observational skills which highlights the important random neural firings from the random random neural firings. But sure, I suppose you can wrap all that into “he was lucky to notice this thing that happened that one time.”

I think people attribute things to luck for three reasons:

  1. It makes their achievements seem difficult to attain and copy.
  2. Attributing things to luck gives them some modesty.
  3. They just don’t want to go into it all. Writing their achievements off as luck is a quick and easy explanation.

Most of the time though, luck is not quick and easy. Luck is hard work.