I find it particularly disturbing that when I Google up things like, “What is luck?” or “How does luck affect success?” all I get back out are people trying to sell me something. They might even go as far as to blame me for my bad luck or lack of success, in a way that I don’t entirely approve of. Are you serious?!
It would seem that it’s not cool to be an — ahem — “thought leader” and believe that luck or chance influence success in some way. In fact, this prick at Forbes wants to blame you for your lack of progress in life. You just need to get out of your comfort zone or get a mentor or improve your character and your whole world will change. No matter if you’re already doing that stuff and things are still going wrong.
Now, I’m not going to begin to pretend that your attitude can’t make a big difference to your outcomes in life, but the question I want Google to answer is if luck, random chance and that sort of thing actually influences success.
I don’t think it’s a simple matter of just declaring that you make your own luck. I think that’s probably the way that people who have really good luck justify their success. They want to be self-made people — and although that’s a lovely fantasy, it’s sure as Hell not a fucking realistic scenario.
Turns Out, There’s Actual Evidence of Luck
My husband graduated from college with a degree in math (I know, right?). He has repeatedly told me that lucky people are statistically guaranteed to exist. I didn’t really understand what that meant until I read this piece from Wired’s archives. In it, math guy Michael Mauboussin, then the Chief Investment Strategist at Legg Madison Capital Management, discusses lots of things, including the concept of luck.
Basically, he concludes that the effect of luck on a huge scale, like across the entire population of a country or college or whatever, is more or less cancelled out by some individuals who have better luck than others, making it hard to see. However, on a small scale, say of an individual or a group, luck can make a huge difference. The example he gives is taking math tests. Provided you have the skill to ace the test, your score can still be variable based on the questions that the teacher chooses (which you can in no way influence). Any observed outcome, he recons, is the combination of both skill and luck.
This is what happens in life, too, he argues. Sometimes we have better luck than other times based on random outside factors we can’t influence. At some point, though, we return to a neutral luck state, which he equates to the stock market term “reversion to the mean.”
What happens in the stock market, he says, is that sometimes we’re up — way, way, way up… but eventually we’ll revert to the mean, or the neutral point in the case of real life. Same when we’re down — even way, way down. Eventually it all evens out. But “eventually” isn’t a set amount of time, nor is it guaranteed in this lifetime. That’s the tricky part.
And that’s where we enter this conundrum. That’s where I’m coming in to tell you how to deal with this string of bad luck you’re suffering (because we all know that no one bothers to Google things when they’re going well).
Dealing with a String of Ass-Kicking Defeats
I was talking to my editor about the string of luck that our team at Top Shelf Copy has been experiencing lately. Not just regular illnesses, but really bad, weird shit. For example, this editor had just had a flight of deck steps come apart underneath her (and before you ask, she’s a wisp of a person) and drop her hard on her back. Another writer has, as of this writing, managed to destroy three laptops since August despite normal usage. Anyway, I’m not saying it’s bad luck, but it certainly seems to be something influencing us beyond our control.
Did we make our deadline anyway? Hell yes.
And that’s where this discussion of if there’s such a thing as bad luck turns into a discussion of how to deal with it. Despite what huge samples may tell us about the luck of a population, the stock market shows us that individuals can suffer terrible luck — so coping with a hard ass-kicking defeat is really the trick.
Over the last few years, it’s fair to say I’ve had my share of trouble. This is how I advise you keep from curling up in a ball in the corner:
Recognize that your trouble is temporary. Remember that thing about the reversion to the mean? What that means, in a practical way, is that eventually you’re going to stop getting stomped to snot all the time. There will be a break in the clouds, the trouble will part, so there’s no reason to give up. This shit is temporary, at very best.
Stop dwelling on defeats. I firmly believe in bad luck, but bad luck alone isn’t going to derail you. Dwelling on it, though, can keep you from seeing other opportunities that might be just as good as the one(s) that got away. I know it’s hard to see through your blood-smeared glasses right now, but letting yourself get overtaken by your defeats is a recipe for endless demoralization.
Listen to your gut. Believe it or not, your gut has a pretty good head on its, er, shoulders. Intuition, just so we’re on the same page, is a complicated process that relies on our past experiences and our skills to help our brains come to some types of decisions on their own (subconsciously). Something science types studying luck noticed frequently was that people who had the worst luck were often guilty of ignoring their intuition — so stop. I don’t mean you have to act on every weird thought your brain throws out, but you certainly should consider them because they might contain the answers to your current conundrums.
So, in long and short, luck is a thing, but it doesn’t have to be THE thing. It can just be A thing — and despite the bad luck you’ve been experiencing with your current projects, or your current clients or your life in general, things will get better. You will eventually return to the status quo.