Photo: Marko Aliaksandr (Shutterstock)
The idea that success, money, and power spring from hard work and dogged determination has been hard-wired into America’s cultural DNA since the founding of the country, when Ben Franklin wrote, “Energy and persistence conquer all things.” But every now and then, even old white guys with granny glasses are wrong: Franklin’s quote doesn’t take luck into account.
Whether we like it or not, our station in life is determined largely by fortune. Hard work has nothing to do with our place of birth, our race, how easy it is to pronounce our names, whether we have a middle initial, and a million other out-of-our-hands factors that help determine our likelihood of success.
While I won’t dissuade you from spending your life shaking your fist at the heavens and cursing the vagaries of fate—we all need hobbies—it’s not hopeless. There are ways you can make yourself more “lucky.”
Rich people are really, really lucky
The facts of a person’s birth are the ultimate lottery. Your family’s socio-economic status, your gender, orientation, race, appearance, health, and birth country are all indisputably tied to your likelihood of success. It doesn’t determine your outcome, but it does determine how difficult it will be to achieve a positive outcome. There is nothing you can do to change your starting position in the social hierarchy—so congrats if you are a straight, white man born into a wealthy family! Sorry, everyone else.
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The good news is that you are probably pretty lucky. Things may look bleak when you compare yourself to people who were born with the most advantages, but the fact that you are literate enough to read this and materially stable enough to have an electronic device upon which to read it puts you ahead of almost everyone who has ever been born. So congratulations to you, too.
Luck, in its strictest sense, can’t be influenced (it’s luck, after all), and everyone is as likely to be lucky as everyone else, but if you define luck as “unplanned events that lead to greater success,” it is possible to become “luckier.” Or, more accurately, to capitalize on the luck you do get.
A caveat: You will never have the quality and quantity of the “lucky breaks” people higher than you in the societal hierarchy have. The best you can do is to take full advantage of the lucky breaks you do get. (Unless you’d rather try to tear the entire system apart. I’m cool with either.)
How to be luckier
I have some tips for how one might increase one’s luckiness. They are as follows:
Believe in the power of lucky charms, cast spells, and witchcraft
No amount of sorcery or superstition is going to actually bring you more or better luck (sorry, Wiccans/Christians), but studies have shown that people who believe they are lucky are more likely to take advantage of opportunities that come their way. Taking advantage of opportunities is what luck actually is, in practice.
Understand the math
While it can be advantageous to think of yourself as lucky, don’t take it too far. Convincing yourself that you will win the lottery because of your outstanding luck will not make you any more likely to win the lottery, but it will make you easy to take advantage of. Las Vegas was built on this principle. Take calculated risks instead of wild stabs. And if you do go for some sort of brass-ring dream, have a plan for if it doesn’t work. Like if you don’t become a professional placekicker, maybe you could go into sales.
Consider that luck actually comes from other people
Apart from something like finding a bag full of money on the street, most “lucky breaks” actually come from other people, so success-minded business jerks recommend networking. People used to call “networking” something like “having friends,” but either way, the more people you’re connected to, the more likely it is that someone will hook you up with a worthwhile opportunity. What luck! For this to work, you’ll have to be likable, sociable, and a generally enjoyable person to be around.
Don’t base your entire life on Woody Allen’s, but his quote about how “90% of success is just showing up” is still useful. It’s another way of saying “be in the right place at the right time.” My dog has this one locked; I don’t often drop food on the floor, but she’s right there when it happens. While you are showing up, you should also develop whatever talent or skill you have so that if the lucky break does come, you’ll be ready.
Remember that luck is (partially) hard work
Everything, including luck, is a circle. Ultimately, the thing you need to take advantage of luck is hard work. So to recap: Lucky people show up, are open to opportunities, and are generally agreeable. While a person might naturally (or through the effort of their parents) possess these qualities, they are also traits that can be achieved through personal effort. Self-improvement is hard work; but luckily, it is its own reward, because there is no guarantee that any of this will actually work. It’s just about increasing your odds, not creating a sure thing. Unless you get lucky and win the lottery or something.