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How many of the success stories you see on TV, YouTube, TikTok, or in Forbes talk about the impact of luck, timing, privilege, and other advantages as a substantial factor in their achievements? Instead, how much more do we tend to hear success framed as an act of individual brilliance or hard work?

However, under even modest scrutiny, most of us all know in our hearts that luck plays a greater role than the standard narrative presents.

It’s easy to understand that in a world of nearly 8 billion people, there are countless examples of brilliant, hard-working people, teams, or companies, that simply never have — or will — attain the sort of wealth, power, and network that we associate with our greatest stories of success.

Today, let’s take a quick walk through the role of luck and privilege. In doing so, maybe we can give ourselves space to breathe in the midst of our own circumstances and conditions, and put a little dust on the polished image that the successful present to the world.

The System

I’ve said it before, and I’m not the first, nor the most well read on the subject but meritocracy is a myth. It’s a white supremacist myth used to justify the oppression, subjugation, and discrimination against non-white people. It is simultaneously used as a post-hoc justification for the continued success of established power and wealth, which just so happens to be predominantly white, male, Christian, and heterosexual. Finally, whenever someone from outside the dominant group is able to achieve uncommon success in spite of the odds, that person is then tokenized and used as an example to prove the meritocracy myth and shut down conversations about inequity.

Baked into this myth is something I call “flattening to the outcome.” That is, the idea that regardless of the additional challenges you may face, the only thing that really matters is whether you win in the end. It asks: can you overcome your obstacles to compete “in the real world?”

By de-emphasizing the process and amplifying the end result, it becomes easier to obfuscate the advantages of those who win with a head start. Not surprisingly, the construction of this meritocracy myth and the propaganda it affords its winners, means that some people born into this system will have an easier time succeeding, no matter what.

Therefore, the first condition of luck, for some, is the mere existence of a system that favors any one group.

The Lottery

In doing some research for this post, I found the following findings in a blog post on Scientific American:


None of these are unlocked achievements. They are randomly distributed circumstances, or arbitrarily selected cultural biases.

Therefore, the second factor is easy to see: whether or not you win the lottery of being born into the highest caste within a system, and whether or not those who brought you into this world understand the rules of that system.

The Timing

There is close to a 0% chance that another Facebook could be built today. So much has changed. Aside from user preferences morphing and adapting, the competitive environment is now significantly more hostile to new entrants than it was when Zuckerberg built Facebook in his dorm room and subsequently grew it through privacy violations, stolen technology, and anti-competitive acquisitions. Zuck was the lucky beneficiary of timing — among other things.

Meanwhile, as I write this, my hometown Philadelphia Eagles are a mere hours away from playing in the Superbowl. While they were the team with the best record in football this year, they also advanced to the Super Bowl against a team that lost their 3rd and 4th string QBs to injury in the Championship game. Our starting QB Jalen Hurts suffered a minor injury in the later weeks of the season. During the play that he sustained the injury, differences of only a few split seconds could’ve changed the nature of the injury, potentially causing our mighty Philadelphia Eagles to lose our most valuable player for the playoffs. Finally, the starting QB for the Eagles win it all, it will be a product of hrd work, but helped along by a significant string of good luck for their chances.

Timing matters. When things happen is often nearly as important as if things happen. Therefore, a third factor of luck, is timing.

Interviews From The Top

Look at nearly every success story and you’ll likely find one or possibly all three of these lucky factors lurking underneath. While it is rare to hear successful people cite luck as a factor, it does happen on occasion though it is typically stories about timing, and rarely one about privileges, financial leverage, or systemic advantages. Even when luck is acknowledged it is usually buried shortly afterwards by clever misdirection featuring inspiring stories about strategic risk, prescient foresight, or tenacious hard work.

While those stories are often useful, we would do well to remember that these tales of greatness are told by those with survivorship bias. Countless others likely took similar steps or had similar ideas but without the benefit of luck. So, we hear from those who made it through and tend to give additional weight to their actions, rather than their luck.

As much as we want to believe the narrative that we make our own luck through hard work, that simply doesn’t track with reality. While hard work, intelligence, persistance, and countless other attributes are remarkably useful in the pursuit of success, we would do well to remember how many people fail even with an abundance of the hallmark traits of success.

The truth is that if you really want to be successful, often the most helpful thing you can be, is lucky.

P.S. Go Birds!

Click here to read a summary of this post

Success is often attributed to hard work and individual brilliance, but luck, timing, privilege, and other advantages play a much bigger role than we realize.

In a world of nearly 8 billion people, there are many talented and hard-working individuals who will never achieve the same level of success as those who have been fortunate enough to have these advantages.

Meritocracy is a myth that is used to justify the oppression and discrimination of non-white people, and the end result is that some people born into this system will have an easier time succeeding. Luck includes being born into a certain caste, winning the lottery of being born into privilege, and timing, such as being in the right place at the right time. Successful people rarely mention luck as a factor, but it is a crucial component of success.

The truth is that hard work alone is not enough to guarantee success, and luck is often the most important factor.

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