Is it hard work or luck that brings about success in one’s life?
Is it a bit of both?
More of one or another?
I won’t attempt to settle this debate by quantifying hard work versus luck, since it’s impossible to do so.
Instead, I want to take some time today to discuss this debate from a very interesting perspective – in fact, two different but equally interesting and valuable perspectives.
I say this as someone who was born and raised in the United States, only to indefinitely relocate to Chiang Mai, Thailand a little less than a year ago.
I came from a world where hard work reigns supreme.
And I now live in a place where luck is apparently considered to be pretty essential to outcomes.
USA: Hard Work
If you can work hard, you can achieve the American Dream.
We’ve all heard that. And most of us believe in it, I think.
I’ve certainly witnessed the value of hard work firsthand.
Finding myself below broke and unemployed in 2009, I embarked on a mission to completely turn my life around.
That mission eventually included working hard to move across the country, getting a job where I worked incredibly hard for 50+ hours per week, working incredibly hard at learning investing and researching investments, working incredibly hard at building and growing a business, working incredibly hard at saving money, and working incredibly hard on myself as a person (physically, emotionally, financially, etc.).
It led to financial freedom in my early 30s.
And I now get to enjoy the amazing life I’m able to lead today.
Keep in mind, this all came from a guy who grew up in a crack house in a ghetto of Detroit. I lost my mom to suicide, my dad to rambling on, two sisters to resentment, and an adoptive set of parents to being ridiculously terrible people.
If you’re looking for someone to sell you on the idea of hard work, it’d be tough to find a better example than me.
Indeed, many Americans value themselves and the people in their lives by the jobs they hold, the amount of work they do, the amount of money they earn from their work, and the stuff they’re able to accumulate from said earnings/work. That’s just America, for better or worse.
Now, I believe hard work has been instrumental for me to get to where I’m at.
Nobody put in the hours for me.
I was the one who got up at 6 a.m. to get ready for work. I rode the bus down to the dealership, put in 10 hours of grueling work, and then rode the bus back home.
I read the books that educated me on investing. I did the stock research. I built my FIRE Fund into the collection of wonderful businesses it is today.
I wrote the 1,000+ articles that are part of my legacy. I built my online business. I wrote my best-selling book.
Even now, it’s not someone else writing this very article.
And an apparition won’t be working out for me later today (as much as I might wish that was the case).
It was my hard work that brought about the position I now find myself in.
However, it’s been a lot more than hard work that got me here.
Working smart, rather than simply hard, has been very beneficial.
And being quite lucky in many respects has immense value, too.
I’ve heard the word “luck” bandied about more in the nine or so months I’ve lived in Thailand than I think I ever heard it in the 35 years I lived in the United States. I’m not exaggerating here.
Now, I’m relying on anecdotal experience. And I haven’t talked to hundreds of Thai people here, so my anecdotes are somewhat limited.
But I’ve noticed enough of a repetitive theme regarding luck since I’ve lived here to start to form an opinion that Thai people strongly – or at least far more strongly than Americans – believe in the power of luck.
My viewpoint was recently backed up by an American expat who’s lived here for 20 years. After asking his opinion on this, which initially surprised him (it wasn’t a topic anyone else has ever brought up in two decades of living here), he totally agreed with me and further expounded on the cultural differences between luck and hard work.
What’s strange about this is that Buddhism doesn’t necessarily condone this behavior; however, amulets that are specifically designed to provide the wearer with good luck are extremely prevalent here – my Thai girlfriend literally won’t leave the house without wearing hers. And you’ll find these charms everywhere over here.
In addition, luck is routinely cited as the prime cause of related effects in my interactions with Thai people.
When I first decided I trusted my significant other enough to divulge the situation I find myself in (particularly as it pertains to finances), which is how I’m able to indefinitely live abroad, her first response to me was:
“Wow. You’re so lucky!”
In the United States, I would have probably been offended by this.
Lucky? Do you have any idea how much work I put in? How dare you!
But then I thought for a moment about her innocent, cheerful, and even supportive manner of speech. And the more she asked about my situation and responded, the more I realized that she felt genuinely happy for me – and she also felt blessed to be spending time with someone so lucky. It almost made her lucky by association.
Furthermore, I’ve noticed pretty much all of the Thai people she’s introduced me to and had me spend time around have directly and firstly noted luck in almost any beneficial situation one would find themselves in.
Upon more careful reflection of this, I realized my significant other wasn’t incorrect at all. I am so lucky.
Perhaps one could nitpick the preference of luck over hard work, though, which leads me to my next point.
Hard Work Versus Luck
See, the thing is, we need to have both hard work and luck in our lives in order to be successful. There is no reason to be absolutist on this.
You can’t have one without the other. And they complement each other quite well.
Moreover, the more of both you have, the more successful you will certainly be.
Meanwhile, having a lot of one but almost none of the other will limit your success and happiness.
Sure, I worked hard. Really hard.
But it’s great luck that I even exist in the first place to work hard. The odds of being born were recently pegged at one in 400 trillion.
It’s not hard work that allowed me to overcome those odds. It was pure luck. I didn’t “work hard” to be born.
Moreover, while I was born to two drug and alcohol abusers and raised in a ghetto in Detroit, I was also born white, male, physically and mentally healthy, in 1982 America. Not in 1800 India. Not in 700… well… anywhere.
That alone confers massive advantages that billions of people who lived and died before me never had. And the simple fact that I wasn’t born handicapped in some major way is a lucky gift. As a grateful optimist, I cannot see it any other way.
That said, I could have avoided hard and smart work all my life, followed the path of my mother, and ended up a drug addict – or worse.
Instead, I took those advantages and worked really hard to become the person I am today – even though I suck at almost everything in life (which, umm, isn’t so lucky).
I see both hard work and luck as two circular, holistic, complementary, and necessary components of the sum of one’s life.
The happiness, success, achievements, and overall life position one has will be correlated pretty strongly to one’s exposure to both luck and hard/smart work.
But We Can’t Control Luck – Or Can We?
The issue with luck is that we can’t control it.
That’s why I believe hard work is so heavily touted in America. You can dig in, dig deep, and march forward with everything you’ve got, but you can’t just bring about luck.
Or can you?
I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.
It’s an interesting thing to think about. The harder we work, the luckier we can be.
I think there’s some truth to that. If I didn’t work as hard as I did, I wouldn’t have been “lucky” enough to land into some of the amazing opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of.
So I suppose I created my own “luck”.
At the same time, though, I was fortunate enough to have been blessed with a certain amount/ratio of particular character qualities that predisposed me to the very life path I took. This is luck. Luck that I didn’t create.
I naturally enjoy writing, and I’ve found I’m not too bad at it.
Reading financial statements was almost immediately intuitive to me, making investing quite easy.
And my natural body composition makes it not as difficult as it otherwise could be to build and maintain a relatively fit and healthy body.
Likewise, it was pure bad luck that brought about a minor affliction that I’ll probably have to deal with for the rest of my life. It was just playing the odds on that one (as it is with many things in life).
Carrying things out even further, it’s a great degree of luck that allowed me to wake up, say, cancer-free this morning. I’d find it awfully difficult to work as hard as I do if I were dying.
Have I found the harder I’ve worked, the luckier I’ve become?
I suppose so.
But I think that’s missing a huge preceding element of luck in the first place, and it’s assuming that all luck can be made – when it cannot. We can make some luck. But most of it cannot be made. And to be in a position to make luck means one needs to first be lucky. It’s a catch-22.
If I were to rephrase the above quote based on my own experience in life, it would look like this:
The harder I work, the luckier I get. And the luckier I am, the harder I’m able to work.
In my opinion, the best take on the dynamic between hard work and luck is by Dustin Moskovitz:
Success is very much the intersection of luck and hard work.
That’s about as accurate as it gets, folks.
Believe in hard work. Harness it. Take advantage of every opportunity you find yourself able to, which will probably be greater in number when you work hard. Create your opportunities. Create your luck.
But also be humble. Realize that a significant percentage of whatever success you find yourself able to build in life is due to sheer luck not of your own creation.
Americans and their hurrah attitude that hard work gets you everywhere might have it right.
Or maybe the Thais (at least the Thais I’ve encountered) and their content acknowledgement of the power of luck are correct.
Well, I think it’s quite a bit of both.
And when you’re able to see it that way, you’re able to properly take advantage of both and be appreciative of the amazing results.
What do you think? Is hard work or luck responsible for where you’re at? One or more of the other?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
P.S. If you’re interested in becoming financially independent, which requires a good dose of both hard work and luck, check out some fantastic resources that I personally used to take advantage of both!