Privilege, LUCK, Effort, and the Lingering Question of Success Part 2

When it comes to the question of success, those who have achieved it are viewed as a strange species by those who have not yet become successful. We have been told over and over that we can do it if we just work hard enough. We think we are doing our best so we wonder what the difference is between their hard work and our hard work. If we are both giving all of the effort possible, why do they see a reward but we do not?

Is it luck?

Ask that question to one of those self-appointed experts and you’ll see their head spin like the girl Regan in The Exorcist. It’s as if the mere suggestion of luck is a personal insult. “No. I work too hard to have my special talent and considerable effort to be cheapened by an insinuation of silly superstition. I did this on my own. I am a product of hard work and sacrifice. Luck has nothing to do with it.”

If it’s not luck, then what is it? What makes you so special? It can’t be hard work and sacrifice alone. Because there are nations in Africa filled with women who work harder in a day than you ever will in your lifetime but they will never know wealth. Because there are physically and emotionally broken soldiers returning from war who have sacrificed more than you can imagine and for many of them the ability to get out of bed in the morning is how they define success.

Would it really be a bad thing to admit you’re lucky? If you still can’t bring yourself to admit you live a charmed existence, then there can only be one thing holding you back.


Which, once again, reminds me of that Steve Taylor song ‘What is the Measure of Your Success?’ At the end of the song, Taylor writes from the perspective of a dying man regretting a lifetime of pride and greed. “I am an old man and the word came. But you can't buy time with a good name. Now when the heirs come around like buzzards on a kill, I see my reflection in their envious eyes. I'd watch it all burn to buy another sunrise.”

Is that your future? Watching your offspring bicker over your fortunes? Wishing to trade everything in exchange for another day of life?

Your ego is so big you can’t even see the ground upon which you walk. You don’t recognize how you benefited from a set of circumstances that allowed your choices to pay off. You may have forgotten about the opportunities provided to you – through education or mentors or supportive parents. Perhaps you haven’t been plagued by debilitating injury or disease. Maybe you were never sidelined by a catastrophic failure of your only means of transportation. You ignore how your personality contributes to your successes and that’s something you were born with – that’s God given and not anything you earned on your own. And maybe, just maybe, chances were in your favor because of the color of your skin or your gender or your religion or your family name or the schools you attended.

I will not dispute hard work is needed to achieve success. But effort will always be elevated by circumstances and events and opportunities out of your control. Diligent effort can also be negated by different sets of circumstances, events, and opportunities. It won’t kill you to admit you’re lucky.

The silly part about this? I don’t even believe in luck. I believe in providence. I believe in hard work and planning. Yet I have no shame in giving credit to a luck I don’t believe exists.

On the surface, one could say I live a blessed life. My kids are delightful. My parents are as supportive as possible considering they live 900 miles away. I have an encouraging circle of friends that are like family. I have a great job and I am good at it. My colleagues respect me, my boss trusts me, and my clients frequently praise me. I have my own private office. My professional schedule is flexible within reason and allows me freedom to take care of my family and hustle on my writing when I am off the clock. I live in a scenic resort town where here is no shortage of things to do and my apartment is within walking distance of my employer, two beautiful parks, the grocery store, and my favorite pizza joint. My bills are paid, my kids are healthy, and I am happy.

Am I successful? Based on the paragraph above, I would have to say yes. I am successful. But that is just the surface. Underneath, I am a single parent to three kids. While I make more money than others in this area, the size of my household places my salary under the federal poverty level. Normal goods, necessities, and housing are more expensive than in neighboring communities because we live in a tourist destination. 90% of my kids’ wardrobes came from thrift shops. I cook at home as much as I possible so that I don’t have to spend money at restaurants. I would love to go out to the movies more and see more concerts but it’s just not in the budget.

Am I lucky? Consider the following. I work in an industry where the average tenure is less than a year and I have stayed for twelve years. I never finished college but got promoted into a position that required a degree. Most of the people that do the same job I do at different companies have degrees in IT. While I may not be educated, I am intelligent which helps in an environment driven by data. Even with my relatively low wages I am still able to feed and clothe my kids and keep them entertained.

Realistically, it isn’t luck. It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time. It is a result of God’s good grace. I can look at what lead me to where I am and see the results of my labor but I also see where friends, families, and acquaintances have helped where I was unable to do it alone.

I may not believe in luck, but if you tell me I’m lucky I will agree with you. I am lucky. So damn lucky.

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