The Role of Luck in Your Career Success

Lucky four-leaf clover

When things go your way and you achieve some level of success, it’s natural to want to take credit for that success. After all, you worked hard, overcame obstacles, and did many things right. But can you really take total credit? Maybe not.

I never gave this topic much thought until I read this article, in which a colleague of the writer comments that he could identify at least ten huge breaks in his career that were due to “pure, dumb luck.”

It’s likely that this is true for many people who have experienced success in their careers. Maybe for some people, it was only two huge breaks or five rather than ten, but however you look at it, pure, dumb luck—random chance—very likely played a big role. If we don’t acknowledge that possibility, we may give ourselves too much credit for the role played by our skills, talent, intelligence, and hard work.

This isn’t to trivialize anyone’s skills, talent, intelligence or hard work. Just the reverse: These factors may very well have set the stage for luck to appear. After all, there are things you can do to attract luck, such as pay attention to the choices you make and recognize that failure may be a stepping stone to eventual success. You certainly don’t want to simply sit tight and wait until luck pays a call.

The tricky thing about luck is that you don’t always recognize a situation as good luck at the time. Long ago, after I’d spent a few years as an IT manager, my boss’s boss called me in and told me he wanted to transfer me to head a relatively new department that was struggling under its current manager. It felt like a step backward, and I genuinely didn’t want the job. I told him I’d think about it. He smiled in that knowing way and said, “The job is yours. Get used to it.”

The job proved to be a turning point in my career that set the stage for everything positive that followed, including opportunities I never could have envisioned. Looking back, I realize that was just one of many instances of extraordinarily good luck.

If you’ve achieved some level of success in your career, can you identify some instances of pure, dumb luck you’ve experienced—and acknowledge the role they’ve played in your success? Doing this can be a humbling experience, but it can make you very appreciative.

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