“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it” ― Thomas Jefferson

Recently, I watched a Youtube video discussing luck and privilege. The vlogger, John Green, discusses many ideas surrounding the notion of deserving the success we attain in our life.  

He made some good point about happening to be born in America where opportunity is plentiful, being born white and male, or even speaking the English language. I concede some of those factors are very important when determining the probability of a specific person being successful. Statistically speaking a child born in a third world nation may not ever become a wealthy person. 

It got me to thinking about success in this country. The American way of thinking is work hard and get ahead. It’s the American dream. I am limiting this blog post to success in the United States. It’s obvious if you live in a worn-torn country your chances of attaining success in a given field of study or work is limited. 

However, in this country opportunity is plentiful and I reject the notion that what a person achieves is due to luck. Yes, I get that I am a white male and therefore many believe I have biased ideas of what it is to be successful. I do not. I recognize that others have it more difficult than I do but that does not mean that they too cannot attain success.

As of late, we have a tendency to want to punish success. We want to diminish what others have done. Let’s take an example:

John Smith is born into a middle class family. (Happenstance) He goes to public school and gets a modest education. He studies and achieves about a “B” average while in high school. (Choice) He gets into a state school and gets a few scholarships and has to cover the rest of tuition with loans. (Choice) He decided to be in a major that was somewhat progressive with income levels. He receives a BBA, Bachelor’s in Business Administration. (Choice) John then applies for twenty or thirty different job listings. He gets a few interviews but none that yield results. (Happenstance) He then applies as a loan officer in a bank. (Choice) He gets an interview and after that process is over is selected for the job. (Happenstance) John works for this bank for twenty years and has worked hard for them. He is promoted for his hard work every so often and now has been made a V.P of the bank and works in that position until retirement. (Choice) John has been investing money into an IRA for his working life and can retire with comfort. (Choice). 

This example highlights many American’s life decision. They have a few things that happen to them but work very hard for what they have in life. 

Let’s dissect this example. John Smith happened to be born in this middle class family. But he chose to go to college. He chose to get a degree in something that would yield a job. He did NOT major in the “History of Art”. You do have to be practical about college majors. He then worked hard to graduate. He “pounded the pavement” and searched for a job. He was shot down more times than he was said yes to. A company did give him an interview. (As someone who has been in tons of job interviews, those are not easy to navigate. You are selling yourself and are attempting to prove why you are the best candidate out of the selection pool. That is a skill in itself and is hard work. But I will concede that this opportunity may be a slight mixture of happenstance and hard work. No matter how hard one works to sell themselves the company does not have to go with them.) So now John has been working hard for this company by meeting deadlines, gaining clients, and generally improving the company. He is then promoted as one of the vice presidents of the company. He has been investing in an IRA and can retire comfortably. He chose to do those things. He did not have to go the extra mile with his job or invest in an IRA during his adult life. 

My question is, at what point was any of that luck. We dissected the man’s life and only a few of those incidents were happenstance. The rest of them where the culmination of time and hard work. Due diligence. It is certainly cynical to say that John Smith did not achieve his aspiration because of hard work. That he just lucked up. 

People fail to realize that hard work is important but to achieve some levels of success the right work must be done. People have to take the right steps to get to wealth. A person that works in a fast food restaurant for forty years as a cashier will not become a millionaire. However, if that same person worked in a fast food restaurant for ten years and then decided to start their own restaurant it is very possible for them to become wealthy. They may or may not go to school to get a business degree but they can at least create their own start-up. 

Our country should be about equally opportunity not equal outcome. Not everyone doing the same thing can garner the same results. 

I’m not attempting to make any effort in addressing this country’s socioeconomic problems. They are complicated and will take generations to fix. I do believe that a problem cannot be fixed by throwing money at it. I also think many of America’s problem is the breakdown of the American family. We are not stressing certain life skills that are imperative to success. People should be learning at home how to save money, delay gratification, and learn priorities. Those are things that have to be taught at home. A government cannot do those things. 

In John’s video he believes he was lucky his “book was published so well”. “lucky to have a great cover”, and “lucky he sold the movie rights to the right people”. He is being too modest. John Green is an exceptional author. His work is great. I am glad others sought him out to make his book into a movie. He worked hard for many years to develop the plot, characters, and overall themes for the Fault In Our Stars. I am sure there were many late nights where he would sit and stare at a blank computer screen. 

He makes it be known he doesn’t deserve what is happening to him. From my viewpoint, none of use actually deserve the outcome of what we achieve. It is a blessing. We have been given talents. We choose to develop them. If we do we may yield successful results. If we choose not to then we will not have a successful outcome involving those particular talents. 

I do not believe certain people inherently deserve something just because of happenstance, last name, race, or religion. However, if one chooses to work hard they do deserve to yield the rewards that may come. They should benefit from their success. There is nothing wrong with that and it isn’t cocky. 

Ultimately, I think we all have choices in life. Largely, whatever we decide impacts the direction our life goes. If John Green decided to never write The Fault In Our Stars he would not have all the success with this movie. However, he is a terribly brilliant author, I’m sure his success was inevitable. 

I recognize that certain groups of people may have more obstacles than other individual. I recognize that poverty is a major hindrance for success. However, our government has many programs that help poverty stricken people get an education. There are plenty of opportunities for people to get ahead. Paring that with the imperative life skills can set that person on the right track to rising above their situation. 

If they do overcome and they do achieve their dreams are they not entitled to feel a sense of success or accomplishment? They earned that dream job. They earned ability to pay their mortgage. They earned the opportunity to send their child to college. I dare say no one would say they didn’t earn those things. Due to their hard work they yielded the results they wanted.  

That is the best thing about this country. Opportunity is there. It does not matter how long the road is, how many bumps the road may have, or how deep the valley are. There is a road and it can be traveled. The road can be perceived and the finish line is at the end of it.

That in itself is humbling. 


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