luck vs hard work debate

The Luck Vs. Hard Work Debate: What Matters Most In Life Success

What matters in life in order to success? The standard debate goes something like this, “What bring success in life: luck or hard work?”

But that’s the wrong approach. Both are at play. It is not one or the other. Also, there are more factors you can leverage to succeed.

Today, I cover the following topics:

  • Does luck play an important role in life success?
  • How luck plays a role in someone’s success (I reference case studies like billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates).
  • What matters more: luck, hard work and effort, or other factors (I’ll explain what these other factors are).
  • Why life is not all about luck.
  • Keys to motivating yourself and having a strong work ethic.

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Pat Cash’s Thoughts

Pat is regarded as one of the best tennis players of all time. He is a Wimbledon champion, 5-time Grand Slam finalist, and has achieved a career high ATP singles ranking of #4.

In a Q&A session hosted by Quora, he (like many other top athletes I’ve studied) admitted that to get to the highest levels of the sport, you need a combination of genetics (luck) and rigorous training.

“My genetic makeup gave me the potential to break the world record sprint over 10 m. This is one of the advantages that allowed me to achieve success in tennis. But never in my wildest dreams could I run a marathon at the pace required to be a champion marathon runner. I am physically not built for it.” -Pat Cash

He could train his heart out for long distance running, but he doesn’t have the right muscle fibers, leg length, and so forth to be the fastest.

Pat makes a great point in his answer that the emphasis here is on genetic potential. Without consistent hard work, you may never come close to reaching this potential, even if you have the genetics to be the best Tennis player or sprinter on earth. You have to put in those thousands of hours of hustle.

“The will to win, dedication to work hard, creativity to overcome obstacles, ability to plan ahead and the fortitude to deal with tough times are all essential. Without these qualities one can not become a champion.” -Pat Cash

Therefore, Pat does not believe in the motivational quotes out there that say “You can achieve anything you want in life if you … (believe hard enough, help enough other people, etc.).” It isn’t always true and can be misleading.

I’d like to remind you that you can still achieve quite a lot, such as live a wealthy, happy, comfortable life, even if you aren’t the best in the world at something. Pat’s question addresses becoming #1. But there are plenty of people far below the #1 rank at someone who are making more than a comfortable living.

Show Notes:

1) For further study, check out Matt Mullenweg’s answer to the question, “What has contributed to your success other than luck and hard work?” Matt is the CEO of Automattic, a multi-billion dollar start-up. Essentially, he says that there are tons of unnoticed failures behind every person’s success. Also, you should have a greater motivator than just money to succeed.

Here is a great Google Talk about this topic by Michael Mauboussin. One of my favorite points from this video was the test you can use to see if something can be improved with hard work or only luck. You simply ask if someone with skill can deliberately lose if you tried. For example, a lottery ticket won’t let you lose on purpose, but a baseball player can purposely miss the ball.

2) Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, is eye-opening. She did an extensive examination of hundreds of studies and interviewed hundreds of successful people. It turns out there is more to success than just hard work. In fact, there was only one factor that held consistent among these people. She called it Grit.

She defines Grit as a mixture of perseverance and passion for long-term goals. The best news? Grit can be learned and improved.

3) Check out my Success Habits Outline. It is constantly updated based on the top patterns I discover among successful people.

4) If there is one person I trust about wealth creation it is Napoleon Hill.

He spent his whole life studying the world’s richest people in person. I recommend his book Laws of Success as the #1 bible. He covers a lot of the top must-have principles on success, which includes perseverance, enthusiasm, and goal-setting techniques. But make sure you actually do exactly what he says. I know a lot of people who have read the book, but very few who actually do what he says verbatim.

5) Check out the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

This book popularized the idea of 10,000 hours, which says you need at least 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. This is actually a myth. He actually asserts in the book that some professions require at least 10,000 hours if you already have the required amount of talent and education. Gladwell’s main point was that working harder than someone does work after certain levels of talent, practice, and education are met.

What is most important for you is the section of the book on Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, gymnasts, and the highest IQ students of the country. You’ll find that at the highest levels of competition, luck has to play a role. Whether it’s chess, Olympic gymnastics, or programming, these people were born with a talent and introduced to world class training at an early age.

You may find this discouraging, but when you think about it, he is only talking about the top 1% of the 1% of a profession and saying they all have to credit luck. At such a high level, it makes sense that you have to respect Lady Luck on some level. But for the rest of us, we can still achieve great things that aren’t in that 1% level. Whose to say that lesser, but still magnificent, achievements require as much luck? There are millions of millionaires out there, for example. That feat is entirely possible for you as it is not something that only a handful of people have accomplished.

In fact, Michael Mauboussin argues in the video above that it is liberating because you can move on once you have tried your hardest.  My word of caution is that most people give up too early or do not try everything they possibly can because they think it’s already futile. Don’t let the process of blaming luck do that to you.

Many successful people spent years plowing after a project after everyone else had given up. It was their perseverance that increased their chances of success.

6) For more value bombs and real-life examples on this debate. Watch my video below:

Parting Message

“In the long run, luck plays a smaller role in your career than the factors are within your control.” -Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, from the book Winning

Some people like to give it all up to destiny. They think everything is already written. What makes me doubt this idea is that I have seen many young people die pointless accidents. Many die from preventable car accidents, drownings, or adventure accidents that could have been avoided if they were more safe.

You start to think, “Is this how it all ends for him?”

Was this young man destined to die a pointless death so early on? The fact that these events change my own behavior means that I have changed my own possible destiny by being safer in my travels. In fact, the very process of believing in destiny can change your behavior to be more lazy and less persistent since you believe “it doesn’t matter anyways.” And that lack of enthusiasm could affect whether you achieve certain results, like getting a job you applied for or getting a business to succeed.

You could argue that someone who is genetically built to be adventurous wouldn’t have listened to safety advice anyways and a slight twist of luck would have saved him from falling to his death…

But the point is that you have the choice to work hard, be safer, and persist. That is in your control. Whether or not luck completely controls your life, you have to try as hard as you can.

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Now, I have a question for you: What was your favorite lesson from this episode? Leave a comment below letting me know.

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  • Kevin

    June 9, 2017

    Great article, Will!

    I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of being able to control whatever you can. In your career or personal life, you will always be able to control how hard you work.

    The caveat is how effective the work really is. This will take a more strategic approach to yield the desired results. By establishing the right strategy, your efforts can exponentially impact your brand!

    • Will

      June 10, 2017

      Work harder not smarter. Thanks for reading Kevin


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