What is Checkout Aisle Syndrome?

I’m starting to like these little thought experiments.

The other day I talked about luck and acting as if it wasn’t there at all, behaving as if there was no such thing. Let’s see what happens when we do the opposite of this– in other words, if we considered ourselves lucky, how would we behave? (Like Hurley from Lost, maybe.)

Belief in luck (and having it) leads to what I like to call “checkout aisle syndrome.” This is what happens when we start to believe that incredible, out of the ordinary events will just happen to us as we go ahead and behave the way we always have. It’s named after the idea that people think they will be “discovered” by someone in power at the checkout aisle, usually accompanied by the phrase “ZOMG!!! You are the one I’ve been looking for!!!”

In other words, they believe in a prince charming that will sweep them off their feet (career-wise or personally) so that they don’t have to do anything. It’s a belief in destiny that isn’t accompanied by any need to change any of their behaviour.

Of course, people that believe that this will happen to them (they’re more common than you think) also believe that they are special– otherwise this unlikely event that will happen to them would also happen to any number of other people. Since it doesn’t, they must be different.

I loved Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s answer to this– place ourselves in as many “lucky” instances as possible by accepting any party invitation we could (instead of staying home, say) just because the likelihood of meeting a future business or romantic partner is much more likely than if you’re sitting there microwaving Michelina’s. That said, a basic set of skills to find opportunity should still be cultivated.

Are you still waiting? I know I do it sometimes. Usually this happens in some parts of your life, but not in others. What do you think?





5 responses to “What is Checkout Aisle Syndrome?”

  1. Mark Weatherley Avatar
    Mark Weatherley


    An interesting post. I think we use luck as a way to avoid addressing why an event really happenned to us. It often reflects a level of jealousy on the part of someone using the expression “wow that was lucky”. I know that happens when I am sailing. If you try a move that provides a reward its luck yet when it fails its bad luck. But it isn’t, it is the result of planning and interpreting the input information well.

    Sometimes it also is a shelter for us not to address the question of what is miraculous. We might say that it is the confluence of several improbable events to meet a particular need or result at a particular point in time.

    I think so called luck takes planning and work. It isn’t luck at all. The miraculous is something else, you can’t plan for it.

  2. Ric Dragon Avatar

    Similar thing happens with “lucky numbers”…. once you have one, you see it everywhere. But then, you sort of overlook all of the other numbers you see in the course of a day.

    1. Julien Avatar

      @Ric — isn’t that what they call “confirmation bias”?

  3. Kevin Williams Avatar


    I have dealt with this a lot in my career. Some would say I was lucky. Some would say I was a chump and finagled my way in. Others would say I was passionate and worked really hard. But I can say this; to quote LOTR, “It’s a scary thing walking out of your front door.” Big things happen, but I think the main thing is having a goal and vision for your life. Once that’s established you have something to strive and push for. If you don’t have those two key ingredients, then yes, you will be waiting in the aisle for a long time. You can’t plan for luck. It just happens along the way.

    1. Julien Avatar

      Great comment Kevin– I couldn’t agree more. 🙂

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