Don’t dismiss the power of luck

Economic fortune is often, perhaps always, as much a result of good, or bad, fortune as it is savvy decision-making

Striving for quality and building a solid record of achievement in one's profession is what rightly motivates the most successful among us. Impressive and valuable companies, organizations and careers can be the result of targeted and sustained execution of talent and skill.

Indeed, when I work with clients, a substantial amount of my effort is in helping individuals define what specific capacity they have for realizing achievement – the premise being that if one knows succinctly what they are best at producing, then they can more effectively promote their value to those most willing to pay for it. And it certainly appears that our economy rewards very well achievement in the workplace and marketplace, providing further incentive to be at one’s best.

At a political level, much is made about creating and maintaining economic conditions whereby motivated individuals can freely apply their aptitude and inventiveness to achieve professional success. It has become deeply ingrained in the worldview of many that a near-divine correlation exists between incentive and success. Such belief drives our national self-perception and serves as the basis for many of our political debates and battles.

I am hardly in a position nor do I wish to dispute the sanctity of the system whereby private production in pursuit of profits leads to economic success for many. It clearly does. But I would suggest that in our zeal to elevate the virtues of proper economic behavior in a market economy we not neglect to consider the power of luck.

Those of us who have the great fortune of realizing economic success tend to believe quite strongly that it is solely the result of our smarts, hard work, competitive abilities and willingness to take risks. Undoubtedly these criteria and others have played a significant part in our individual success stories. Many of us go the extra step in proclaiming, with unwavering certainty to all who will listen, that if they too follow this tried-and-true formula, then advancement, prosperity and happiness await them also.

Compassion and kindness

What is seldom – if ever – said, however, is that economic fortune in the capitalist sense is often, perhaps always, as much a result of luck as it is savvy decision-making.

If we are true in assessing ourselves and taking stock in how we got to where we are we have to acknowledge that, in most cases, we have not been tripped up by big impediments beyond our control.

Bad things happen to good people. And these bad things often have nothing to do with how we behaved or acted. They simply just happen. Someone runs a red light and smashes into your car. You discover your 7-year-old daughter has cancer. A greedy businessperson causes the company stock and your pension to collapse. The list of unfair and uncalled-for misfortune goes on and on and on.

If we have attained great professional things, then we deserve to pat ourselves on our backs for all we have accomplished. We should also thank goodness that we have been lucky. And when we evangelize about what it takes to be outstanding, we should keep in mind that not everyone's life circumstance follows our own. Many among us have been presented with great adversity not of their own making.

Fortune is not always an equal-opportunity employer. Where and when and to whom one is born and raised can make a huge difference in one's future.

Sure, overcoming adversity is to be greatly admired. We all have heard the stories of people who have been terribly knocked down by misfortune only to rise, dust themselves off, and go on to accomplish great things. These are the stories that inspire all of us.

But in assisting everyday people to succeed economically, we need to be mindful of not only practices that correlate with success, but with the compassion and kindness needed to create conditions whereby all have a chance and helping hand to succeed.

A great society is not measured by how many prosperous citizens it has, but by how effectively it assists all of its citizens to flourish.

Bill Ryan, founder of Ryan Career Services LLC, Concord, can be reached at 603-724-2289 or

Categories: Business Advice