The Role of Luck

Lindsey Vonn's crash in the giant slalom at the 2010 Olympics caused teammate Julia Mancuso, who had started her run, to have to stop, go back to the top and start over. Her poor performance is largely attributed to this restart -- a stroke of bad luck.

People ascribe successes and/or failures to all sorts of things. Compare the student who passes a class: “I passed.” to the student who failed: “He failed me.” There are countless examples of people failing to accept personal responsibility for things they should, and likewise there are examples of people who take too much of the burden on themselves.

In the end none of this matters because the world at large doesn’t really care who is to blame for a particular success or failure.  Yes, sometimes we get caught up in it, but that’s rarely productive. It doesn’t matter. “It is what it is,” as I am prone to saying. One reaps the rewards or suffers the consequences and that’s that.

Luck is nearly always a factor, and often a major one. Some people talk of fate or destiny, of even of the will of God or whatever overarching power someone happens to believe in. Well, what if it’s just plain old luck? Randomness. It can be debated which is the case, but either way the point is it’s not in your control.

Luck provides a degree of unpredictability in our lives that can keep us on our toes or immobilize us. An athlete’s career — life even — can be wiped out in a moment of bad luck. Yet the race driver still races, the wide receiver still goes out for a pass. When they win they attribute it largely to skill and cunning. And when it all goes wrong it was bad luck. That is the mindset of the successful, even though they academically know luck is in play all the time. It’s ironically very similar to the lack of personal responsibility unsuccessful people seem to convey.

Luck’s unpredictability is an important part of what makes a thing risky. It’s part of what makes a great achievement even greater. Part of what makes trying valiant.

Luck also provides us a convenient place to lay the blame when we don’t want it.

Successful people inherently know when to attribute luck and when to attribute themselves. That is not to say that their assessments are accurate in any objective sense. It is to say they know when to take or leave the credit for the sake of the ends they have in mind. For the sake of continued success.

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