Aug 22, 2008

On Luck, Effort, and Personal Successes

Luck, talent, or perseverance?

I bumped into an old work acquaintance the other day, and she said that she heard I recently got back from a trip to Spain and Portugal.

"Lucky!" she commented, somewhat enviously. "The rest of us are back here working!"

Part of me wanted to protest, making the argument that I worked hard the past year to save up enough money to afford to travel overseas, and that it has taken me eight years of undergraduate and graduate school to get to the point where I can set aside a few weeks in the summer to travel, if I so choose.

Instead, I just smiled, and I said: "Yeah - there's a little luck involved."

But as I mulled over the concepts of luck, effort, and success, part of me recognized that I am indeed lucky to some extent. I am lucky that I was born in the United States, the wealthiest nation on the planet (at least for the moment). I am lucky I was born male, born white, and born to a stable two-parent family, all of which are linked to future financial success in life.

I was lucky to be born with a normal-functioning brain with a respectable IQ, and to have been born to parents who instilled in me the value of education (even if it took me a few years to remember their admonishments). I was lucky to have genes that made me grow to almost 6'6", as there is a statistical correlation between tall people and financial success.

Yet there is still much to be said for good, old-fashioned hard work. I may be a bright person, but I know people with higher IQs, just as I know taller people and people from wealthier backgrounds. One of the few areas I've allowed myself to be proud of is my willingness to work as hard as I must in order to succeed. There may be greater thinkers, more talented writers, or even people with Ivy League credentials competing with me for an ever-decreasing number of academic positions, but I can hold my head high and know that there are not many people who are able to out-work me.

And even in a land of diminishing opportunities, I still believe that hard work trumps almost any other factor.

So, to my ex-colleague, there is some luck involved in my trip to Spain, but I think it is best typified in the fact that the Spanair flights I recently boarded were not the tragic Spanair MD-82 flight JK5022, which inexplicably exploded Wednesday just off the runway at Madrid's Bajaras Airport.

That turn of events I would rather attribute to divine intervention than luck, as I could easily have stayed another week in Spain and found myself on the doomed flight.


Mad Jack said...

I was lucky to be born with a normal-functioning brain with a respectable IQ...

So, ah, how do you explain the cement hippopotamus in your front yard?

historymike said...

Heh. Must have been placed there by the Soviet agents who are after me.