An Analogy for Understanding Luck’s Role in Life


Tea Plantation Kerala, India. Source: Ian Wagg Unsplash. Would you describe these ladies as lucky or unlucky?

A few days ago I was on LinkedIn and read an article about the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, 27 year old John Collison from Stripe. In the article he mentioned that his success was a result of “intense application and hard work…But I also think that luck was required too… There are [others] who are smarter and harder-working than us who just didn’t get the same good fortune.”

As usual, in the comments section people pitched their ideological camps and started arguing. Some said that his success was purely a result of the luck of being a middle-class white male. Others said “Luck does not exist, you can do anything with hard work”. However, like most things in life the truth is a lot more nuanced and is a balance of both sides.

The luck debate is one that has been brought up many times in all walks of life and while I see people passionately argue both sides, I rarely find a perspective that properly contrasts the strengths and flaws of both arguments. For a long time, I intuitively knew that the short answer was “both”, but I had a hard time articulating my thoughts in a clear, cohesive way. Fortunately, as I write this at 2:53 am in the morning, in a flash of inspiration, I think I have a neat analogy for understanding how luck impacts our life.