Am I Right?

How to live ethically

Success Equals Talent Plus Luck

We win applause for our accomplishments but luck deserves its fair share

Many believe that their success is due soley to their own efforts. This is rarely the case. For most it is only part of the truth and, for some instances, far from the truth.

Success is largely determined by chance, which begins with our very existence. Our lives are largely contingent. If our parents had never met, we wouldn’t exist. The odds are stacked against there being life at all, as our search for it in the universe turns up more nothing than something. It is a miracle that life exists at all, on this fragile planet, so unlikely is this occurrence.

So, too, are the talents we have been given and the natural tools we have at our disposal. We may win applause and accolades for our accomplishments, but luck deserves its fair share of the credit. For example, the American Psychological Association points out that children with low socioeconomic status develop educational skills more slowly than children from higher SES groups in large measure because they were born into conditions, such as poor schools and ill health, that interfere with high educational achievement.

Daniel Kahneman formulates success in these “equations”: success = talent + luck; great success = a little more talent + a lot of luck. Or to paraphrase Warren Buffet’s comment about his own success, if he had been born to a nomadic family in the African desert, he wouldn’t be a billionaire today.

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It has been said that the doctrine of chance is the bible of fools. But understanding the role of luck makes us less arrogant and more tolerant of those who haven't been as misfortunate.We are but builders who work with the tools we have been given.

Chance furnishes me what I need. I am like a man who stumbles along; my foot strikes something. I bend over and it is exactly what I want,” James Joyce wrote.

The role of talent is that when chance places before us what we need, we can use what we find.

The world is overflowing and is ready for harvesting when we are prepared. It is we who become available to the world. This is the talent that takes advantage of what luck provides by turning chance into opportunity.

 

 

Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W., teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than twenty books.

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