The Secret of Your Success: Luck


Interesting article:

Warren Buffett has said that the moment one was born in the United States or another Western country, that person has essentially won a lottery. If someone is born a U.S. citizen, he or she enjoys a huge advantage in almost every aspect of life, including expected wealth, education, health care, environment, safety, etc., when compared to someone born in developing countries. For someone foreign to “purchase” these privileges, the price tag at the moment is $1 million dollars (the rough value of the EB-5 investment visa). Even at this price level, the demand from certain countries routinely exceeds the annual allocated quota, resulting in long waiting times. In that sense, American citizens were born millionaires!

Yet one wonders how long such luck will last. This brings me back to the title of Rubin’s book, his “uncertain world.” In such a world, the vast majority things are outside our control, determined by God or luck. After we have given our best and once the final card is drawn, we should neither become too excited by what we have achieved nor too depressed by what we failed to achieve. We should simply acknowledge the result and move on. Maybe this is the key to a happy life.

On the other hand, it seems odd that this should be the principal lesson of a Western education. In Communist China, I was taught that hard work would bring success. In the land of the American dream, I learned that success comes through good luck, the right slogans, and monitoring your own—and others’—emotions.

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Good read. The author takes a very logical viewpoint in analyzing success, which is most definitely a minority viewpoint in the developed world today. As a society, we give way too much credit to individual effort and talent, and not enough to the advantage of circumstances. I said as much when I wrote a blog post about How I Retired:

But you don’t want to go too far the other way, either. There’s a lot of folks who don’t take full advantage of that “lottery win” that is mentioned at the end of the article.


“The harder I work, the luckier I get”.


I think the converse is that being extra lazy and doing nothing won’t make you successful. However, being lazy in the US or, say a rich Scandinavian country, will result in far better outcomes than the third world.


Interesting stuff. A teacher of mine was fond of saying “Luck is the residue of design”. I have always been ambivalent about that because I truly believe luck is dumber than that, especially when I see it regularly consorting with particularly undeserving people. A positive outcome from applied effort and thoughtful strategy in my opinion deserves better than to be called luck.

But as you’ve indicated, the other side is something you have to be wary of too. I’ve seen a fair number of people that attribute more to themselves than to the circumstance of being in the right place at the right time. Seems there’s a fair amount of survivorship bias out there.


I know very few successful people who don’t attribute their success to themselves and very few unsuccessful people who don’t attribute their misfortune to bad circumstances.

Lots of people are probably wrong on either side, but successful people are just so much louder about how great they are.