Skill, Hard Work, and Luck

Three men working in a design company are all gunning for the same promotion.

One has skill, the other works hard, and the other has luck.

Which one would you rather be?

George is skillful. He’s really good at drafting and he’s always had an eye for the thing. He can look at a problem and get a quick, great impression of how to solve it. He’s a creative, shoot from the hip kinda guy.

Henry is a hard worker. He fails a lot (because he isn’t skilled) but he’s willing to put in more hours than anyone else. He burns the midnight oil when everyone else has decided to pack it in, because they’re not paid for overtime. Neither is Henry, of course, but he knows that’s not what this is about.

Jim is lucky. How did Jim even get up to this point in his career, anyway? Did he take a lot of risks? Did he brown-nose? Is he brilliant? No one has any idea. Jim just finds a way to be in the right meeting at the right time, and when he does, he gets the project. This has happened enough times that, now, most people think of his luck as being something else.

Everybody has a little bit of George, Henry, and Jim inside them. We work hard sometimes, we have some innate ability, and we’re sometimes lucky. But no matter who you think you may be, here’s the main thing: Act as though luck doesn’t exist.

It’s worthwhile to try to be George or Henry, or both. But believing in luck is to leave yourself to fate, to be complacent with your position. Instead, just act as though you are Jim already.

You will become him.





11 responses to “Skill, Hard Work, and Luck”

  1. Mel Avatar

    A client of mine wrote a book that elaborated the concept that luck does not exist and that people we “consider lucky” are people who actively do things to put themselves in a better position for good things to happen.

    Good stuff. I agree. I’m half Henry, half George. (Henrietta/Georgina) I guess!

  2. Ricardo Nunez Avatar

    Skill and hard work is what we need, I don’t think luck play any roll and is only used by people that don’t want to do or have the first two. Arnold Palmer said “It’s a funny thing, the more I practice the luckier I get.”. Cheers

  3. Eugene Avatar

    Excellent post, Julien.

    I like your thoughts here about hard work and skillful work.

    Perhaps I would have differentiated the skillful and the creative. The reason is that I know people who are good at what they do, but fail to improvise when necessary (they aren’t as creative).

    I’ve also read how when people are asked to attribute their position/pay/progress to various factors, many dismiss the element of luck altogether. Yet, luck is such a persistent part of our lives. Good to know that you also think that a lot of us are “Jim,” even if we don’t admit to it (or even think about it).

  4. Pedro Lopes Avatar

    You are right, believing in luck is leave ourselves to fate, but… luck actually exists, no matter how hard you work, no matter how skilled you are, if you don´t have a “little bit” of luck, what i mean for luck is: that little push that take you to the other side, that last mile when you are helped by something or someone.


  5. Serge Lachapelle Avatar

    Ah, life is like that…sometimes shit happens…for no reason…Luck does exist, I don’t believe in this deterministic view that everything that happens to us is created by us, hard work and bla bla…Like I said, sometimes shit just happens…

    Naturally one wants to put the chances on one’s side…but sometimes having no plan is a better plan, it takes us where logic would not…and it just might make shit happen…

    Analyzing one self to extreme…Am I this, or that, enough of this or that…just leads to more frustration…Maybe not succeeding in what you want will be the luckiest break of your life…

    In the end, everything is a point of view…

  6. John McLachlan Avatar

    Once I stopped believing in luck, my life got a lot better. Mind you, the same thing happened when I stopped believing in “God.” To me, they are the same and they only muck up one’s life, even though some magic goes away.

  7. Khaled El-Hage Avatar

    I tend to agree with Mel’s proposition. Lucky people are skillful at something they might not be aware of. I don’t rely on luck when I look ahead, but if I look backwards, I can see how lucky I was.

  8. Tamsen Avatar

    In other words, focus on what you *can* control. The rest is out of your hands.

  9. Tom Webster Avatar

    I will freely cop to being lucky – but there is a difference between passively waiting for luck to happen, and pressing your luck 🙂

  10. Selina Avatar

    Great way to reframe for those who have a mindset that prevents them from reaching their goals with limiting thoughts, “they got there because they were lucky, I’m not lucky.”
    Freeing yourself from thinking it’s luck that gets you where you want to be (and sure, that can be part of it) is liberating and you can spend time on actionable things to get you where you want to be and contribute to your growth. And yes, as Tamsen pointed out, focusing on what you can control is key.

  11. Erika Napoletano Avatar

    Why is it that every time I see “luck” mentioned, I think about the line from Two Face in The Dark Knight where he says, “I make my own luck”? Aside from never really knowing where the question mark goes in that situation (inside, outside the quote mark) we’d all be a shit heap better if we just put on our big people britches and got the work done instead of relying on some sort of outside force to lift us up by our wings and carry us on to the Next Big Thing.

    WE are the reason we are where we are. No one saved us or brought us a golden unicorn that craps money. When we own our actions, luck becomes the smarm of used car salesman and slimy “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday” sales schpiels.

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