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What ultimately leads to success: luck or effort?

ultimately leads to success

The answer to this question is more complicated than you think.

Hard Work as a Prerequisite for Success

In today’s world, we put much emphasis on hustle and an indomitable work ethic. Our assumption is that if we work harder than the next person, we’ll improve our chances of success automatically. This philosophy is spread further by iconic figures like Elon Musk. When asked about the amount of time you need to work per week to change the world, the billionaire entrepreneur said: “It varies per person, but about 80 sustained, peaking above 100 at times. Pain level increases exponentially above 80.” Then he added: “Nobody changed the world on 40 hours per week.”

These statements lead many young people to believe that it’s all in the effort. After all, the number of hours you put into any activity is one of the few success variables you can control (unlike talent or IQ). The other part of the equation is luck, which you can’t control. Or can you?

The Subtle Relation Between Effort and Luck

Author Coleman Cox once wrote: “I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.” Such thinking is deeply ingrained in our culture partly because it rings true.

There’s an excellent book called “The Luck Factor” by Brian Tracy, which expounds on this idea. The thesis of the author is that yes, success is influenced by luck, but being lucky is not a random accident. Instead, you can improve your chances of success by practicing certain behaviors that other successful people espouse. These include setting goals, planning your days in advance, waking up early, focusing on your most important tasks and persisting no matter what. These are the types of behavior that lead to success. And ironically, once you climb the ladder of success through sheer determination, people will start to call you lucky.

Caption: The more effort you put in, the luckier you seem to get.

A Successful Life is a Wager

You should also consider what is a life worth having from your individual point of view. For many people, being lucky might mean winning a lottery or “striking it rich.” But for others, luck may mean living on your terms, doing what you want to do and dodging the American Dream version of success. Author Christopher Hitchens once said: “All the time, I’ve felt that life is a wager and that I probably was getting more out of leading a bohemian existence as a writer than I would have if I didn’t.” He died at the age of 62 from esophageal cancer most probably caused by excessive smoking and drinking. But he traveled the world, read thousands of books and attended more parties in one month than an average person did in one year. Was he lucky?

The Analogy Between Games of Luck and Real-World Success

You may think about the luck and effort equation through the eyes of a gamer or a poker player. Some people appear to have the Midas touch while others struggle to make ends meet. For example, Chris Moneymaker, a regular guy who entered World Series of Poker (WSOP) in 2003 with a $86 upfront payment, finished the same tournament with $2.5 million. But since this memorable event, he won over $1 million more in different poker tournaments. You must admit that perhaps the first big win had something to do with luck. But the rest of the success is attributable to persistence and high skill. The same thing happens in real life: You must at least try, and then persist after your first win.

But what about the so-called games of luck where you don’t have any power over the outcome? For example, it may seem remarkable that Jon Keywood won £13.2 million on a 25-pound online slots bet. These kinds of legendary wins lead many to assume that they can duplicate the same result. But if you study it closely, you’ll see there’s much more to calculating slots odds, and it’s almost impossible to figure out the exact chances of winning. In short, by putting another coin in the machine, you face the same probability of winning each time. In a way, it’s like flipping a coin. Let’s say you call it five times, and it’s all heads. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should expect tails on the sixth flip. The chances are always 50/50, and the results should average out if you flip the coin enough times. That leads us to the next idea you can use on a day-to-day basis.

Success and the Law of Averages

Success in life is governed by law. It’s called the law of averages, and it states that after enough tries at any activity, you can expect to see a certain ratio in results. For example, if you’re a salesperson, after some time, you will see that on average, three out of 10 presentations end in a sale. Now, you have somewhere to begin. In a way, it’s luck, but it’s a type of luck you can control to some degree. If you want to increase your sales, you do more presentations, and at the end of the month, you make more money. But instead of “working the numbers,” you can work on improving your ratio as well. You may go from three out of 10 to five out of 10. That’s called working smarter, not harder. You will find that the law of averages applies to almost any career endeavor, so make good use of it, as it’s a perfect intersection between luck and effort.

It’s Time for You to Forge Your Destiny

They say that fortune favors the brave. That’s almost a cliché, but in truth, it holds a deep meaning worth musing. Just look at history: You would never have heard about Alexander the Great if he didn’t leave his small kingdom to conquer half of the world. But how about your life, which may seem mundane in comparison? The fact is that if you continue what you’ve always done, you can only expect the same results. Sometimes, it’s worth it to take your chances and go “all-in” in your life. As far as we know, this is it. So, you may as well drop what makes you unfulfilled and go after your dreams, using both effort and luck as your secret weapons.

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