What’s Luck Got to Do with It: Creating Your Own Success

Are successful people just the beneficiaries of good luck or do they seize good fortune in the form of opportunities and also overcome adversity? President Barack Obama commented on this issue in a commencement speech at Howard University on May 7, 2016. “That’s a pet peeve of mine: People who have been successful and don’t realize they’ve been lucky. That God may have blessed them; it wasn’t nothing you did.” (The entire speech transcript can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/Obama-speech-Howard).

It is certainly true that some people are more blessed than others at birth. If your family is enormously wealthy, then you may feel that you were born on third base. If your family is desperately poor, you may feel that you are not even in the ballpark. However, the arc of life of the fortunate and the unfortunate is not predetermined.

Pick up any issue of People magazine to read about people whose God-given talents propelled them to fame and fortune—until they squandered it all due to poor choices they made in life.

The problem with ascribing success to luck alone is that it invites a corollary: failure is a result of bad luck and the unlucky among us are victims, not masters, of life. This “victim mentality” can be insidiously self-fulfilling if one wallows in self-pity.

However,there are many inspiring stories of people who overcame adversity to become highly successful. For example, there was a man who:

  • Failed in business at age 21.
  • Was defeated in a legislative race at age 22.
  • Failed again in business at age 24.
  • Overcome the death of his sweetheart at age 26.
  • Had a nervous breakdown at age 27.
  • Lost a congressional race at age 34.
  • Lost a congressional race at age 36.
  • Lost a senatorial race at age 45.
  • Failed in an effort to become vice-president at age 47.
  • Lost a senatorial race at age 47.
  • Was elected President of the United States at age 52.

His name was Abraham Lincoln. Many historians consider him the greatest U.S. President.

To be blessed with good fortune is one thing; to take advantage of good fortune and to persevere in the face of setbacks is quite another. Success is achieved not by talents bestowed but by using those talents wisely and well.