Good luck is probably written as often on birthday cards as it is verbally expressed to a person we genuinely, or sarcastically, wish well in their endeavours. I mean who wouldn’t want to get lucky in life? According to superstitious lore, children born on a Sunday absorb more luck in life than others. While I am not sure why luck would fancy one particular weekday over the others, it can certainly sometimes seem as if a selected group of people get luckier in life than the common rest. I always thought my sister had the Midas touch while I had to comb off losing streaks, especially when it came to winning prize draws. I envied my sister for her luck, and mostly for the trendy plum-coloured satchel she won in one prize draw, not least because it rubbed the ugliness of my own school backpack into my face.
At some point in my life I noticed how several people would call me lucky.
“You really managed to get that job? Wow, that’s so lucky!”
“You bought this cashmere sweater for 6 Pounds? Lucky bargain!”
“Your dissertation might get published? How lucky!”
It reached a state where such comments started to sit unwell with my ego. I perceived how something inside me developed an allergic reaction to the phrase You are lucky.
This observation led to an introspective expedition to dig up the root of my problem with it. While weeding the reasons why being lucky swam on my mind as such a problematic phrase, I decided to shell my association with the concept luck.
To me, being lucky refers to the attainment of a desired outcome. More importantly however, it implies an absence of personal contribution as if the outcome was solely obtained due to external factors, namely the right time and the right place. A lucky person is somebody who happens to be at the right place in the right time.
But in the instance of the job I secured, I wasn’t just at the right time at the right place. I invested many hours every day into emailing my application to various employers. Among the many rejections, I only landed an interview with a small proportion, and it required skill rather than luck to pass the interview. It’s a similar story with the cashmere sweater I bought. I sieved online catalogues, negotiated with sellers, and after a dozen sellers had already declined my offer I finally found one who was willing to accept it. I would call this chance rather than luck.
How does chance differ from luck? In theory, they both encapsulate the very same objective subject: landing one successful hit in an uncertain future. Yet, luck and chance evoke slightly different ideas in practise since they aren’t necessarily treated as synonyms in everyday speech. Chance emphasises the process behind success: a series of trials including failures alongside successes. Luck on the other hand cuts this process out of the picture, showcasing one successful hit alone in a polished frame. Describing somebody as lucky conveys the impression that they scored a full house on their very first trial of the game – a scenario which isn’t impossible granted the necessary skill and a coincidentally promising deck of cards. However, such a scenario is as unlikely as winning the lottery’s jackpot. Although outliers may exist, the average player doesn’t shoot their first ball into the net.
What is the final finding from my expedition around the idea of being or getting lucky? If luck is equivalent to chance, should we from now on write I wish you good chance on birthday cards? Alternatively, we could start writing may the chances be with you, how does that sound? Whereas the first option tortures language too hard, the second one may be not a total linguistic abomination. The second suggestion may just remind of Star Wars too strongly.
Jokes aside, the real take-home message is about what one can actively do to seal their luck. Instead of hoping to be the outlier who scores at first trial, play the game; keep trying to hit your goal because the more often you try, the higher the chances for a success – it’s a simple equation and it applies to every aspect in life.