Your Responses: Do You Attribute Success to Luck?

BY Kelly Chen and Meena Ganesan  June 13, 2012 at 5:30 PM EDT

Earlier this week, we turned to you for some insight — do you attribute your successes in life to luck?

The question stemmed from author Michael Lewis’ commencement address to Princeton’s graduating class of 2012, in which he said: “You owe a debt, not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.”

We were curious to know if this rang true to your experiences — do you create your own luck in life? Many of you said success is a balance of preparation and opportunity. Others said our ‘luck’ depends largely on fate: being at the right place, at the right time or, simply, being born into the right family.

On Wednesday’s broadcast, Jeffrey Brown followed up with Lewis about the inspiration behind his speech and the bigger implications of being lucky.

“There are others who didn’t have that kind of luck. You owe them something,” Lewis told Brown. “Think about the responsibility of being lucky.”

Here’s what some of you had to say:

“Life is a series of opportunities that you choose to grab or let pass you by.”
–Kevin

Kevin: Opportunities can sometimes arise through no action of our own, but many others are created (or lost) through our own actions.

I applied to numerous colleges and selected which to attend from whoever offered me the opportunity to study there. Once there, I took opportunities to work as a teaching and research assistant for several professors as well as to spend a semester in an internship in Washington, D.C.

I was lucky that my [PhD program] adviser had an opening for a new student, but I put myself into the position of being able to capitalize on that opportunity through my choices and actions. So, in that way, I have created my own luck.

“Losing a child to schizophrenia has taught me that all people are not created equal.”
— Robin

I am very lucky. I was born with a healthy body and an above average I.Q., neither of which I can claim I had much to do with receiving. I was also born in the United States, a prosperous nation, in the 1950′s. I received a wonderful education, something largely attributable to the time and place in which I was born. All just luck of the draw.

I adopted a son though who grew up to develop schizophrenia. His luck was not so good. In the U.S. we do not have state run mental institutions. We house many schizophrenics in prisons, where he is. Teachers and parole officers would say to me that my son just needed to work harder. To me that sounded like saying a blind man just needed to look harder.

Lucky in love
— Kathy Hullopeter

Kathy Hullopeter: I have had too many life experiences where a series of random events led to a “lucky” conclusion. Yes, you need to be prepared to respond when luck comes your way, but you don’t make it happen.

I have had the same wonderful husband for 40 years because he and my father happened to be assigned to the same unit. I happened to not be able to get a job between my freshman and sophomore year at college. My future husband happened to be buried in clerical work in this unit. My dad happened to suggest I go after official working ours to help out. Six months later I was married. Forty years later, I still love those strokes of luck.

“Those who are easily discouraged allow themselves to be defeated by their own fatalism.”
— Bill Angel

Bill Angel: Those whom I have seen become successful in life have had the ability to persist again and again in spite of defeats. They have pushed aside negative thinking and are successful in the long run.

“Our good fortune is a combination of the circumstances into which we are born, in combination with various decisions we make. “
— Theresa

Theresa: In my twenties, I got a job in a federal program meant to hire people in places with high unemployment. I was the only white, college educated, not an unwed mother, in the group. My co-workers came from slum backgrounds, knew little about balancing a checkbook or parenting, or how to behave in the workplace. They expected men to abuse them, eschew marriage, and not to support their children. Drug abuse, family violence, criminal behavior, high school dropping out, were expected behaviors in their neighborhoods.

My background was different.

My parents got married and stayed married. Although the public schools in our city were dreadful, they made sure we got into Catholic schools, so I got a good education. My parents were decent people whose lives centered around church and work. Being white, we never had to endure racial discrimination in housing or employment. My mother was quite sickly, but we had access to good medical care. I did nothing to create the circumstances into which I was born.

I followed my parents’ example. I finished college, avoided unwed pregnancy, didn’t participate in the 60′s drug scene, and sought a career. In dating, I looked for someone who would commit to marriage, who was intelligent, honest, kind, and had earnings potential. Luckily, that’s what I got.

“We do have influence over our world, by showing up and trying,”
— James Cornelison

James Cornelison: The only times things ‘worked out’ for me are the times I put out some effort. I have had plenty of ‘bad’ luck, as a mechanic and as a single guy looking for dates; therefore I understand why some would say we do not control our luck. We do have influence over our world by showing up and trying.

“None of this would have been possible had I not taken a chance and thereby create my own luck,”
— Joe

Joe: I took a risk. I quit my high paying job in a major city and moved to Montana. I had no job waiting for me just a modest rental home. I was single and had a cushion of money and no debt. I squandered for over a year looking for employment and finally landed a job as a maintenance director at a local small hospital for less than half of my previous salary. Now over 17 years later I am married, own a nice home with acerage, and have had a successful career at this hospital. I will retire in four years and I am living very comfortably. I have a wondersul network of friends and I am active with volunteer organizations in the community and the state. None of this would have been possible had I not taken a chance and thereby create my own luck.

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