On Luck

Does it even exist?

“You’re so lucky that you can work at home.”

“You’re so lucky that you can fly for a living.”

“You’re so lucky you can live in such a beautiful place.”

These are things I’ve heard multiple times from people I’ve met in my day-to-day life. They all seem to think that luck plays a major role in my life and lifestyle.

I can’t tell you how much it bothers me when people tell me this. Luck has nothing to do with it.

In my mind, luck is something that comes into play when you win a lottery. That’s pure luck. After all, no skill is required; nothing you can do — other than buy a lottery ticket — can change the odds of winning.

I’ve tried, in the past, to explain this to people without sounding rude. My problem, I guess, is that because I’m a writer I take words very literally. And I really can’t help feeling offended when someone attributes various benefits of my hard work to “luck.”

This past summer, my good friend Cheryl shared something her father used to say:

There’s no such thing as magical “luck.” It’s when preparation meets opportunity.

I’ll take that a step farther. The benefits often attributed to luck happen when opportunity is recognized and acted upon.

So preparation leads to opportunity which leads to benefits.

An Example: My Writing Career

Let’s look at my “luck” in becoming a freelance writer.

Dreams don’t work unless you do.

I prepared by learning to write, which I did by being an avid reader and practicing writing for many years. I saw opportunities: the first being to write an article for a professional organization. Despite the lack of monetary compensation, I took advantage of the opportunity and got my first published clip. That, in turn, was part of my preparation to move forward as a writer.

As opportunities presented themselves, I seized them, kind of like a relay racer seizes the baton and runs with it to hand it off to the next person in the race — or take it over the finish line. Step-by-step, opportunity-by-opportunity, I climbed the ladder of success in a writing career. The benefits — advances, royalties, a smattering of fame, and the flexible lifestyle I’ve enjoyed for the past 23 years — were the rewards of this preparation-opportunity chain.

The preparation was my effort to move forward. Preparing book proposals, contacting editors and publishers, learning new software, spending money on computers and other equipment I needed to get the job done. Seizing the opportunities meant getting the work done as needed by the people who hired me within the time limits they specified.

I don’t see much “luck” here, do you?

Another Example: My Flying Career

Although I never intended to fly for a living, I did prepare for such a career by simply learning to fly. It was a lot of work and even more expense. There’s no luck involved in becoming a pilot.

When I realized that I liked to fly and needed to do it for money to keep doing it at all, I began preparing for a career as a pilot. More training, another certificate, more expense. Practice, practice, practice. Time-building. Applying for a job to get more varied experience. Working that job to meet my employer’s needs.

Buying a larger helicopter. Working with the FAA to get Part 135 certification. Advertising, marketing. Answering the phone and learning which jobs would move me forward. Being open to weird suggestions — like spending the summer in Washington state to hover over cherry trees after it rains. Expanding on that seized opportunity to grow my client base.

Do you see any “luck” here?

You Make Your Own Luck

Your life is a result of the choices you make.
If you don’t like your life, it’s time to start making better choices.

I’ve often heard wise people say, “You make your own luck.” This is what these people are talking about: preparation and seizing the resulting opportunities.

There’s no reward without risk. That’s something I’ve learned.

My writing career never would have gotten off the ground if I didn’t take the risk of leaving my full-time job in corporate America to write a 4-1/2 day course about using computers for auditing. And I never would have gone beyond that first big project if I hadn’t worked hard to prepare for other opportunities.

My flying career never would have taken off (pun intended) if I didn’t take the risk of spending all that money on flight training or spending even more money on a helicopter that would help me prepare for opportunities. Or take the risk of leaving my home for a few months each summer to seize an opportunity that made my business thrive.

The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.

Too many people don’t understand this. Too many people seem to think that they can achieve success through luck or wishful thinking. It doesn’t happen. And then, when they don’t move forward in the direction they want to go, they make excuses for why they don’t. Bad luck.


You are in charge of your destiny.

A smart man once told me that if you want something in life you need to make it happen. That man’s gone now, dead and buried. But even today, his words are the ones that drive me to move forward in my life.

What’s driving you?

12 thoughts on “On Luck

  1. Terrific article. I know I’m one to say that phrase, “you’re so lucky…” and I really don’t mean it as luck. I’ll have to figure out a different way to express what I actually mean. :-)

    But yes, you’ve worked very hard toward your dreams, where you’re living and that gorgeous property, and everything else. That’s what it takes to have the great life you’ve created for yourself. I so agree.

    • Unfortunately, no. Not lately. My relationship with Peachpit is dead after nearly 20 years and I admit I haven’t been looking for a new publisher. Tech writing — for money, anyway — is tough these days. I’m competing with Google. I’ve been working part-time on some small private projects which I hope to get back on track by the New Year.

  2. Partly agreed, partly disagreed.

    You’re right that hard work and wise choices are not luck.

    But the environment where one is born is not the result of one’s hard work or good choices. I didn’t choose to be born in the USA, into a family that had money to send me to good schools. That was luck on my part. Of course it’s possible to overcome hardships, but it’s much easier to get into a good college when you start in a household where there is ample food on the table and an environment that rewards good education.

    Furthermore, luck plays a big role in health. I work hard to exercise and eat healthy, but cancer does not discriminate. I’m lucky to have good health for now.

    • While I do agree that environment has something to do with it, you can take a silver spoon baby and give him everything he needs to succeed and he might still screw it all up. Likewise, someone living at the bottom of the social scale with all kinds of things going against him — health, skin color, physical or educational handicaps — and he can still achieve all kinds of great things.

      I don’t believe good health is all luck, either. Good genes might be. But my health is much, much better now that I’ve gotten my weight back down and exercise. It wasn’t luck that made me wake up and do what I had to do to get healthy again.

  3. I loved your article I also get a kick out of it when people say that “things just fell into place, didn’t they?” My usual response is “Well, actually they were shoved into place with a great deal of effort and sheer willpower.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if people would just stop watching TV altogether they could accomplish all sorts of things for themselves. Such a time waster and ambition killer.

    • Wow, is THAT ever true! Television is not only the great pacifier but it’s also the great time waster. Your comment hits really close to home for me because of the continuous string of non-starters that came out of my ex-husband. He was too absorbed in the TV every evening to work on solid plans to move forward on one of his many ideas. Dreams are great, but you need to work hard to make it happen. Can’t do that with the television on.

  4. Happiness is hard to define but most people are aware of whether they are happy or not. Many people believe that happiness is a form of luck and that some people are destined to be happy while others are destined to be unhappy. I try to incorporate the tips above into my life and have had great success in achieving happiness. The tips in this article are small but meaningful steps that you can take each day to lead you to true happiness.

What do you think?