When people used to say how lucky my grandpa was to have such a beautiful vegetable garden, he’d reply: “Anyone can be lucky if they work.” When my dad first told me this story, I agreed with the sentiment but didn’t think that much about it. But I was recently reminded of it when someone congratulated me on the success of my career so far.
I heard myself saying, “Thanks, I’ve been really lucky to have the opportunities I’ve had.” The individual nodded, agreeing with me, and we kept talking. But what I had told her didn’t sit right and it wasn’t the least bit true.
As we talked, I kept trying to figure out what irked me about my response but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. So at the end of our chat I just came straight out with it.
“You know how I said I was lucky to have opportunities come my way?”
“Yeah,” she replied.
“Well, I wish I could go back and edit myself. You see, I lied.”
Her raised eyebrows told me I had her full attention.
“Luck had nothing to do with it. I worked really hard to be where I am today, I mean, I gave up a lot when I was younger. I didn’t go to parties, I studied every night, and I read a lot of books. And the last few years I’ve put a lot of effort into building relationships with people all around the world. I got up every day and worked towards this future, whether I realised it at the time or not.”
“Then why did you use the word luck?”
“I don’t know. I guess I was afraid I’d look full of myself if I owned my success. And I think these days,’ people want everything straight away, and we love a good story, you know the one where the poor tech dude, turned bajillionaire overnight, never has to work again because Apple bought his app.”
“That’s so true. No one wants to know about all the apps that failed and how he was bankrupt.”
“Exactly. He looks lucky to us outsiders because we don’t know everything he had to do to get where he is now. All the hard work he had to put in.”
We need to stop using the word luck to describe our success.
This time last year I was at home in my PJ’s, eating pot noodles, when I saw it. An email from the then-editor of Frankie magazine, Jo Walker. She had seen my course Don’t be a Dick Overseas on Workshop’s website and wanted me to turn my course material into an article.
I couldn’t believe it. I sat staring at my computer with my mouth open for a good minute or so before I called my boyfriend to check I wasn’t hallucinating. I’d be trying to get published in Frankie for months but I’d never heard back on any of my pitches.
I’m telling you this story because from the outside it looks like I got lucky. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’d spent the last seven years travelling to over 40 countries across six continents. I’d been working in International Development since 2009. I’d been writing on my blog, pretty much weekly, for over four years.
I’d spent countless hours building my website and branding myself as a writer. And I’d spent hours writing the course and used the feedback from teaching the course to try different course names (a key factor in gaining Jo’s interest). I had to do all this work just to get asked to write a piece in Frankie. I still had to write the damn thing and for it to be accepted, thankfully it was.
So if I tell people I’m lucky in this story, it undermines all the work, money, time and brainpower I’ve invested into myself and my career. I quickly devalue myself. And it dismisses everything I’ve learned along the way.
We need to start owning our success.
Admitting we’ve dedicated huge chunks of our lives to something doesn’t make us any less successful, it shows we’re passionate, dedicated and hardworking. Also, sharing our mistakes and failures shows we are genuine, trustworthy and approachable.
But more importantly, taking luck out of the equation helps others take us seriously. Because who really believes all you need to do is sit around until one day a big box of luck falls into your lap? I’d rather bet on myself, thanks.
So who’s with me? Let’s add luck to our use-sparingly list, like we did with ‘sorry’ and ‘just.’
Featured image from Pexels.