The Harder You Work, the Better Your Luck

The Harder You Work, the Better Your Luck

The intrinsic value of hard work is deeply rooted in human society.  If one works hard enough, success is not only possible but probable. It’s the rags to riches story, or the American Dream, which according to 40% of people in a recent PBS poll, is dead.  Compare that to the mere 36% that still believe hard work brings success and the 24% that claim they “aren’t sure”.  The new pervasive attitude replacing it appears to be that one’s station in life is just that: stationary.  Improvement in unlikely and success is less about effort and more about luck.

It is not uncommon to hear, “I’m so lucky I got the job!” but what does it really have to do with luck?   That rings just as true for the other, less favorable outcome: “What’s the use in applying for that job?  I won’t get it because I have terrible luck with interviews.”

Bad things happen. One doesn’t always get what they want, but the second failure is attributed to bad luck is the second someone becomes subject to a helpless mindset that leads to less hard worn the next time: “It didn’t work this time, so why should I break my back the next only for the same outcome?”  Expectations become psychological limits, and superstitions become self-fulfilling prophecies.  Samuel Beckett famously penned the words, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”  Imagine if he had believed in the power of luck over work, the quote would have read something more along the lines of, “Ever tried. Ever failed. Why try again?” Believe you won’t be successful because you are unlucky and, well, you probably won’t.

“Is the American Dream Dead or Alive?” WGBH Educational Foundation. 2016.  Web. 26 July 2018.


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Undervaluing hard work in the role of personal and professional success is the single most self-sabotaging act. Believing in the value of hard work is motivation, if nothing else. Those who believe they have some control over their success are more likely to work toward it, to listen to advise from successful people, to seek mentorship, and to not blind themselves to opportunities right in front on them.

Alas, explaining things through luck is pervasive in modern society. It is easier to explain failure by avoiding personal fault and instead attributing it to some arbitrary, omnipotent roulette wheel. Somehow it stings less to know one didn’t get that dream job, not because they were an incompetent candidate, but because they did not display their middle initials or were born in the wrong month. Born in June or July? Don’t count on becoming a C.E.O. Both farcical sounding examples are real correlations expounded upon by recent research and subsequent articles on the relationship between luck and success. How I put the odds in my favor and went from losing to win, you should not play games without knowing this.

People attribute stunning athletic upsets to “lucky shots” paying no mind to the thousands of hours of practice those athletes have put in to that very shot throughout their careers.

In business, there are the “lucky ones”, referred to as such mostly by begrudging lesser entrepreneurs with no mind to the process leading to the profit. In reality, the “lucky ones” get lucky through knowing their worth, taking risks, and being unapologetically driven. For those unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices, then, that is all reduced to luck, a far easier and self-satisfying explanation that allows one to avoid admitting one’s own shortcomings.

Consider an example: Yvonne Chouinard, founder of Choudinard Equipment (the company that became Black Diamond) and later the wildly successful eco-friendly outdoor company Patagonia, started with nothing, and hand made his early products himself in a shed. Over decades, that backyard enterprise that targeted poor rock climbers turned into a monolithic corporation. Calling that luck is an insult to Mr. Chouinard.

Business magnate and investor Richard Branson states in the essay “Success From Hard Work Is Not Luck”, “Sadly the vast majority of people seem to view their chances of “getting lucky” in much the same vein as the likelihood of being struck by lightning, as if it is something over which they have zero control. Well, in my humble opinion they couldn’t be further from the truth – anyone who wants to make the effort to work on their luck can and will seriously improve it”[i].

[i] Branson, Richard.  The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2014. Print.

How to do so? While good things do not just fall from the sky, one can increase their chances of being exposed to “lucky” happenings.  Creators can create more and get their work in more places.  Writers can submit as many book and article proposals as possible, despite 100:1 rejection ratios. Businessmen can get their hands in as many ventures as is financially wise.  The list goes on, but the point is that anyone can subject themselves to greater exposure in whatever their occupation is. The more exposure one receives, the more likely they are to stumble upon that highly coveted stroke of good fortune.

Another common attribution to success is the “right place, right time” explanation, but statistically, you can increase your odds of achieving a desirable end by putting yourself in that right place more frequently.  Staying alert and researching upcoming opportunities can be a great tool of prediction as well, and far more reliable than passively waiting for right time.

Imagine a scenario in which a person finds a $10 bill on the street; random things do happen independent to personal effort. Yet consider that one could search a large shopping mall parking lot, actively seeking out loose change, and probably acquire a greater sum than $10 in a couple hours of searching. The latter is more work, but in the end, yields more money on a more regular basis than waiting to randomly find cash. The key is repeatability and hard work is nothing if not habitual.

Even luck, it would seem, is a product of hard work, merely acting as the middleman between the self and success.  Just because an outcome seems unlikely or too good to be true, doesn’t mean it cannot be brought about through direct, intentional action.  Practice that unsinkable shot.  Apply for that prestigious job.  Put in the time and energy to manufacture good fortune, and when it comes, own the success.  Attribute it to nothing less than sheer effort.  It takes resilience, perseverance, optimism, even; all synonymous with hard work.

For more information on how to direct your hard work in a productive direction and make your own luck, download this free eBook and subscribe to this blog.

For more information on how to direct your hard work in a productive direction and make your own luck, download this free eBook

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[1] “Is the American Dream Dead or Alive?” WGBH Educational Foundation. 2016.  Web. 26 …