The Myth That Everything Depends on Luck

by | Jun 23, 2023 | Business Ethics

Did you work to make or take advantage of your own luck?

While some aspects of your life are based on things you do not cause or plan, not everything depends on luck.

Let’s start by defining luck. Good luck is a benefit that you did not cause or plan. Bad luck is something harmful that you did not cause or plan. For example, it is much more beneficial to be born in America—or any free, modern country—than in a dictatorship or a country mired in tribal warfare, or crime, or hopeless poverty. People try to immigrate to the United States all the time, even at the risk of their lives, because of the benefits of freedom and capitalism

Of course, even in a free country, beneficial and harmful things can happen to you that you did not cause: having good or bad genes; benefiting from good health or contracting a serious disease; living in a safe, supportive local environment or living in a harmful environment caused by accidents, injuries, or criminals; surviving or being harmed by a natural disaster; being born to loving, conscientious parents instead of cruel, irresponsible ones; being adopted by a wonderful family or being a neglected orphan; having or losing one or more loved ones; having a great or very poor teacher or employer; having a valued friend or being deceived by a traitorous one.

Nevertheless, since people have free will, they can often, as circumstances allow, make choices about what to do.

Let’s start with health. You can try to find something safer than smoking cigarettes to reduce boredom or anxiety. You can seek help to limit your drinking if it is out of control. You can avoid illicit drugs that may kill you. You can choose healthy foods and beverages and exercise regularly.

You can use foresight and project the possible consequences of your choices and actions and make careful preparations. For example, get vaccinated, drive carefully and do not drink alcohol or talk on your cell phone while driving; make careful preparations for all hikes; learn to swim; think about when or where you can walk; make your house or apartment physically secure; use smoke detectors; carefully budget your spending and invest your money in safe places; get as much education and training as you can (learn marketable skills); choose friends carefully (avoid being a gang member); be situationally aware when you walk, park, or get into or out of your car; learn about the many types of scams and how to protect yourself; be aware of possible dangers and risks of websites including dating sites; be careful at parties where strangers offer you drinks; and so on.

But what if you try and fail at something? Perhaps you want to attribute this failure to luck, but the truth is that you can use this experience to gain knowledge for future success, and in doing so, you will have better future outcomes than if you simply chalk your failure up to bad luck. You can do a failure diagnosis by asking and answering these questions:

  • What were the causal factors?
  • Did you have an ineffective plan? Is there a better one?
  • Did you fail to engage in foresight?
  • Was your goal unclear or too unrealistic?
  • Did you put in enough serious effort?
  • Did you lack the needed skills or knowledge? Can you acquire them?
  • Did you fail to make the most of unexpected opportunities?
  • Did you work to make connections with people who could help you and further your success?

The answers to these questions can help you make plans to improve your situation in the future.

In sum, did you work to make or take advantage of your own luck?

Edwin A. Locke is Dean's Professor of Leadership and Motivation Emeritus at the R.H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial & Organizational Behavior, and the Academy of Management. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (Society for I/O Psychology), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Management (OB Division), the J. M. Cattell Award (APS) and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Academy of Management. He, with Gary Latham, has spent over 50 years developing Goal Setting Theory, ranked No. 1 in importance among 73 management theories. He has published over 320 chapters, articles, reviews and notes, and has authored or edited 13 books including (w. Kenner) The Selfish Path to Romance, (w. Latham) New Directions in Goal Setting and Task Performance, and The Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators. He is internationally known for his research on motivation, job satisfaction, leadership, and other topics. His website is:

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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