What's Luck Got to Do With It?
Bad luck is real, but so are bad choices.
Posted June 11, 2014
Sometimes we have good luck: We correctly use the word to describe positive situations in which we benefit by pure chance. For example, we are lucky if we are born healthy and able-bodied. We are lucky if we get perfect weather on our day off so that we can enjoy a day outside. We are lucky if a stranger buys us coffee out of the blue and tells us to “have a nice day.” We are lucky if we put five dollars into a slot machine and win a big jackpot bonus at the casino. In these moments, we truly benefit from occurrences completely out of our control.
Conversely, sometimes we have bad luck: we correctly use the word to describe negative situations that harm us by pure chance. For example, we are unlucky if we get a flat tire on our way to work. We are unlucky if our flight out of town is cancelled and we sit at the airport for six hours hoping to get a seat on the next one. Of course, if we get a seat on the next flight, we will undoubtedly be sitting at the back of the plane next to a crying baby. In these moments, we are truly experiencing the negative consequences of events that were completely out of our control.
Yet, too often we incorrectly use the word luck to avoid taking responsibility for our choices. In this way, we lie to ourselves and others by blaming good or bad luck for a given life situation. For example, perhaps you are interested in becoming more physically fit but do not make time to exercise. When you run into your very athletic friend at the grocery store, you say to him or her, “You are so lucky that you get to workout. Between my work schedule and family commitments, I never find time to go to the gym.” In this situation, instead of accepting responsibility for your choice not to exercise, you blame your inability to get to the gym on bad luck.
The truth is, most of us lie to ourselves by blaming luck with regularity. Most frequently, we do this in situations or around people that remind us of a truth about ourselves we do not want to admit. For example, when we are uncomfortable with our financial situation, we are often reactive around people who are financially secure. We think and say things like, “They are so lucky that they can afford to go on vacation.” When we are not happy at work, we say things like, “You are so lucky that you have such a great job,” to people who like their careers. When our children struggle with behavioral problems, we say things like, “You are lucky that you have such well-behaved kids,” to other parents.
The truth is that luck doesn't get us to go to the gym—making time to exercise is a choice (especially on the days that we really don't want to get out of bed). For most of us, going on vacation is not only about luck; it is also about saving money and scrimping on some desired things today so that we can enjoy a trip in the future. If we love our career, part of it may have been because of luck: we may have struck up a conversation with our future boss at a random cocktail party, leading to our current job. However, the rest was probably not luck—we probably had to work hard and develop strong skills in our given profession to be competitive for the position in the first place.
The Naked Truth is this: If you want to spot a lie and a liar, listen for the word luck. When you say or hear it, ask yourself: Is this really about luck or is this an effort to avoid taking responsibility? Remember that only when we admit the truth do we have the opportunity to change. In other words, we can become more honest liars. (TEDx Honest Liars)
Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.