Luck’s Role in Career Success

Career Blog

There are two types of luck. The kind you make and the kind that occasionally drops into your life. The latter can happen. You might snag a job at a scrappy start-up destined to become the next billion-dollar unicorn. Maybe you’ll ride the coattails of the generous, visionary leader you befriended in grad school. And perhaps your Tuesday afternoon social media post will go viral, launching you to career stardom. More often however, luck is a synonym for sacrifice, another name for perseverance.

Making Your Own Luck

Before you think it, I’ll conceded the point. Nepotism happens. More often, however, luck is a long game and one that’s rarely rigged. Advancement requires the right mix of skill, talent, and hard work, all wrapped in the courage to consistently take purposeful actions and thoughtful risks. It also takes planning and a willingness to separate oneself from the pack. That can be a lonely affair.

The contest is easy to understand. Long before an opportunity arises, a collection of savvy, career-minded A-Players strive to demonstrate their value to the organization. The “lucky” winner is the one who hustles harder and makes a more compelling case for securing the role.

From there the talent process repeats, only with fewer contenders and even fewer next level positions. Luck continues to play its part, but its impact is subtle and more aligned to personal choices and external forces. Examples include selecting the right international assignment and weathering the storm of changing corporate strategies.  Fortune is fickle. Today’s “it” project could be tomorrows clunker. What stays the same is the work required.

The Diminishing Role of Privilege

It can be argued that being born wealthy gives you an edge. That’s true when it comes to access to education and influential connections. But tenacity trumps privilege once you arrive in the working world.

Despite its ever-increasing costs, education is becoming a commodity. And while country club ties still matter, the rise of social branding is threatening that old world’s choke hold on influence. Again, “luck” comes down to will. If you’re willing to do more than the silver spoon crowd, you can get to the top on the mountain.

Beating Bias

Of course money isn’t the only hurdle to overcome. Many lament the career drag that comes with being a “diverse” candidate. Yet with the definition of diversity being rewritten to include everyone but straight, white, conservative, males, it’s hard to play the minority card. Also, given the proliferation of DEI programs and hiring quotas, it’s actually the pale penis people who have a better shot at claiming selection bias. Many are starting to and have data to back up the assertion.

But the problems may be all in our heads. Leading organizations teach recruiters and talent managers to recognize, accept, and address their own biases and the cognitive dissonance that gives them life. For example, someone can FEEL that overweight people are lazy or those with nose-rings and neck tattoos are prone to poor life choices, while simultaneously KNOWING that is factually incorrect.

For all the paranoia, there really is no unconscious bias. People know their views. The trick becomes learning to consistently rise above feelings and focus on facts to make the best possible choice for the organization.

Candidates should take comfort that hiring managers are paid for making these decisions. Bad ones have consequences. Thus, hiring managers want substance – the knowledge, skill, and experience required to solve real problems. That said, if you feel you’re being passed over to due discrimination or bias, voice your concern to HR.  

Forcing the Hand of Fate

Try as we might, we simply can’t schedule serendipity or ward off unfortunate events. Comfort comes from understanding that things tend to even out. We all experience career missteps spawned by ill fortune, but we also enjoy rising tides and the high marks they bring. In the end, success comes from having the courage to ride out the storm. 

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Photo by lil artsy

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