Turns Out No One Likes Admitting They've Been Lucky

By Holly Brockwell on at

Successful people are much more likely to believe their achievements are down to innate talent and working hard than luck or chance, says a psychologist.

In an article about the effect that believing in luck can have on your career, the Guardian reports that because it's easy to remember all the hard graft you put into your job, people tend to overlook the role of other factors – like luck, connections, and plain old privilege.

"Of course, there’s an element of luck to everyone’s career. Whether you’re a chief executive or an artist – your accomplishments won’t be based on hard work alone. How can they be when the place you were born accounts for your education, which determines whether you learn to read, write or complete qualifications – which in turn limits your career choices.

Many people believe success is down to talent and hard work, but “this is because most people underestimate the role of chance”, says psychologist Dr Elizabeth Nutt Williams."

We also apparently find it very difficult to imagine not achieving the same things if we'd found ourselves in different circumstances – an effect any woman in tech can describe after talking to a male colleague about systemic sexism, for instance. Similarly, it explains how white people find it so hard to imagine how they might have been held back if they'd done all the same things while black.

The confounding factor is that we're more likely to remember things that disadvantaged us than the opposite, which is why so many awards acceptance speeches are about the terrible first-world hardships the winner had to endure to get there.

None of this is new or surprising, of course: it's just useful to have some scientific backing for something we've all felt. It might be harder to accept that a good portion of our success is out of our control, but at least if you acknowledge that luck (in the form of chance and circumstance) exists, you can blame it when you accidentally CC the entire company on that career-ending email. [The Guardian]


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