April 19

Can We Create Our Own Luck?

You create your own luck by being ready to grab opportunities as they come to you. Richard Branson. 

True or False?

Luck: That which can’t be explained

Imagine you've planned an outdoor party and learned too late that a storm is forecasted for your area that day. Or picture yourself in the middle of a Zoom meeting when, suddenly, the internet goes out. Immediately, you might find yourself thinking, "Why does this always happen to me?"

We are quick to invoke the role of luck in our lives, especially when things don’t go as planned. We complain about being unlucky when things go awry.

On the other hand, we seldom acknowledge the role of luck when things go well. For instance, we tend to attribute other people’s successes to luck, yet we may be offended if someone else feels that way about our own triumphs.

So, what is luck anyway?

Luck is often understood as a series of unpredictable events (both good and bad) that affect our lives without any personal control or action. It’s the random stuff that changes outcomes that we have no control over.

Can we create our own luck?

The question of luck—whether we stumble upon it or somehow conjure it—has intrigued thinkers for centuries, from Seneca, who mused that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” to modern-day psychologists like Richard Wiseman, who insists that we can, indeed, influence our own luck.

Is luck a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor at the University of Hertfordshire, argues that "lucky" people aren’t magically blessed. He reckons they are more adept at seizing opportunities, riding through tough times with a positive outlook, and listening to their intuition. According to Wiseman, lucky people are not just in the right place at the right time; they put themselves there.

Jacqueline Woolley, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, explains that humans are inherently uncomfortable with uncertainty. We, therefore, like to fill in those gaps with beliefs in external forces such as luck.

But, according to Prof. Woolley’s research, even as kids, we start questioning the role of luck in life.

They (kids) are starting to realize that if a kid forgets her lucky charm and loses a race, it’s not because this supernatural force was missing in her life that day — it was because she forgot her lucky object, and that made her stressed and anxious, and that’s why she lost the race.

This shift from a magical view of the world to a more rational one is a fascinating transformation and reflects our own adult conflicts about luck.

Or does luck determine it all?

And then there are others on the opposite side of the “create our own luck” spectrum. They squarely believe that luck is at the center of it all, such as philosopher Galen Strawson, who contends that “Luck swallows everything.”

Oliver Burkeman succinctly explains this point of view in this article.

Whatever your station in life, you got there by following some course of action. But even if that course of action were wholly your doing, you still had to be the kind of person able to pursue it, and even if you became that kind of person by the sweat of your brow, you still must have already been the kind of person who could raise that sweat…
Eventually, working backwards, you will reach some starting point that can’t have been your doing. The troubling conclusion is that the person born in poverty, with no parental support, who scrimps to put himself or herself through college, finally achieving success through ceaseless suffering, owes their triumph no less to luck than, say, Eric Trump does.

So, how should we think about luck?

Many interchangeable labels describe the uncertainty in our lives: luck, chance, randomness, being at the right place at the right time, destiny, fate, fortune, etc. But they all point to one indisputable fact: we have very little control over external circumstances and factors.

We must acknowledge that we are in no position to influence where we are born, the genes we inherit, or our financial circumstances at birth. Beyond those sorts of constraints, though, we may, through the following practices, be able not so much as create our own luck but at least influence our response to the lucky or unlucky events in our lives.

Force Serendipity

Serendipity, slightly different from luck, plays a vital role, especially in creative and new industries where innovation is critical. Creative professionals often find that mixing up routines and staying open to new experiences can lead to serendipitous encounters that significantly impact their work. This isn’t about controlling luck but being open to opportunities that may seem random initially.

Cal Newport's blog post describes how to create serendipitous circumstances. He references Frans Johansson’s book The Click Moment—specifically, the story behind Twilight author Stephanie Meyers's success. Stephanie Meyers' success came not from being the most talented writer but from being at the right place at the right time.

Newport writes,

Something about her new take on vampire tales hit the cultural moment just right and earned her extraordinary renown. The lesson, according to Johansson, is that luck plays a central role in the success of these activities. If you want to do something remarkable, therefore, you have to keep trying new things — placing, what he calls, purposeful bets — hoping to stumble into an idea that catches on.

Build Resilience

People who consider themselves lucky tend to be more resilient. Believing that we can create our own luck does not mean our lives will forever be roses and sunshine. It does mean, though, we believe we can weather life’s storms and bounce back quicker and stronger.

Don’t imitate blindly

Imitating a successful person’s journey without regard for their circumstances is an exercise in futility and a surefire path to disappointment. Stephanie Meyers conquered the vampire genre with her innovative and novel stories. But copying Meyers today, in a saturated vampire fiction market, will be a waste of time.

Instead of emulating the specifics of a person’s success, look for the underlying principles to follow.


Life’s unpredictability is what makes it thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. We can’t control the outcome of every venture, but our reactions to events—good or bad—are within our grasp. Recognizing that luck (or the lack of it) isn't a personal attack from the universe, but a natural part of existence might be the first step toward feeling more in control of our own lives.

So, do we create our own luck? Perhaps to some extent. But it’s more about putting ourselves in the path of opportunities and being prepared to run with them when they arise. As for those times when luck seems to have it out for us? Maybe those are just reminders to stay flexible, adaptable, and ever-ready to find the silver lining. Being lucky means choosing to act consciously and with equanimity.

Whether you chalk it up to luck, preparation, or a bit of both, life keeps us on our toes. And maybe that’s lucky in itself.

Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck. Dalai Lama



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