The more years pass, the more I realise how much of a role luck has played in my life and how often I have confused it with my own abilities.

I consider myself fortunate in many ways: I was born to parents who placed a high value on education, I grew up towards the end of apartheid in South Africa with both of my parents being present, I was born to witness the internet and computer revolution, I live in a country that provides many opportunities, and I am able to freely express myself. I consider all of these things to be examples of my luck.

Yes, I put in a lot of effort, but there are people who put in even more effort than I did but were not as fortunate as I was due to a number of unfavourable circumstances [such as having only one parent, living in a dangerous neighbourhood, having a limited education, poverty etc.]

I am well aware that the factors that have contributed to my success in life include not just my abilities but also, to a significant part, my good fortune.

Warren Buffett used Afghanistan as an example to describe the role that luck played in his career and to make his case for greater taxes on the wealthy. He was illustrating the concept of luck.

During his speech at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting in 1997, Buffett said that he and Charlie Munger had won the lottery by virtue of their being born in the United States, having a high IQ, being able to work, and having no physical limitations.

The comments made by Buffett demonstrate that he is cognisant of the multiple advantages and privileges that he enjoys, one of which is the fact that he lives in a nation that recognises his capabilities and safeguards his riches. Afghanistan is his go-to example of a scenario that is far more difficult, and it fuels his idea that those who are less fortunate should be raised up, and those who are more fortunate should share more of their money.

The idea that success is a choice, and that those who haven’t attained success are lazy and therefore don’t deserve to be successful, is the dark side of capitalism and meritocracy, which is fed by the idea that people who don’t recognise their blessings are feeding into it.

According to @thetweetofgod, “Intelligence looks in a mirror and sees ignorance. Ignorance looks in a mirror and sees intelligence.”

People who were born into affluent families have an unparalleled level of arrogance because of the industries of technology and finance, which have reaped the benefits of the greatest prosperity while concentrating their benefits on an increasingly small population.

When we feel threatened, we are more likely to consider each other as an enemy rather than someone who simply has a different point of view than we do when we are not feeling threatened.

We don’t want to just argue against what someone stated; rather, we want to challenge them as a whole. “You are poor/African, so you can’t argue with me.”

Since the beginning of human evolution, our brains have been wired to make the straightforward binary distinction between “enemy” and “one of us.”

Do I have a personal faith in that individual, or do I not consider them to be “one of us”?

Daniel Kahneman, in his bestselling book Thinking Fast and Slow, argues that we are more rational when our minds are in a more developed, slower-thinking state [thinking slow]. but when we are in our reactive, threatened state of quick thinking [thinking fast], we determine that the other person is our enemy and argue from our amygdala rather than our frontal lobe.

When we feel threatened, our capacity for empathy decreases as well.

People are less empathetic when they feel threatened. When the gap between the rich and the poor is high, people tend to be less generous. When inequality is low, the rich are more generous, but as it rises, they become less so.

We are less likely to help the poor when they need it the most since we don’t consider them to be part of “our” community. They transform into another group “them.”

The middle class, once successful, they forget their roots. They think they attained success via their smarts alone and neglect the role luck played. They forget how the actions of one person who believed in them enough to give them a chance altered the course of their life, and instead of sharing their good fortune with those who are less fortunate or going back to uplift those they left behind, they prefer to bask in the glory of their achievements.

Michael Lewis writes:

“The problem is caused by the inequality itself: it triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few. It tilts their brains. It causes them to be less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen.” 

In Genesis 12:2; God says to Abram:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 

Let’s get rid of the “one of us” vs “them” mentality, for we have been blessed with the ability to be a blessing to others.

If you’re here, chances are you’re in a position of significant professional success; it is my hope that you’ll take advantage of your position to lift up the people around you.

If you’re not privileged, keep working hard; God will answer your prayers. He is a faithful God.

2 thoughts on “The role of luck in success

  1. I love this and agree. We often minimise the priviledges we have, that luck…I know if I was born in some of the very rural places in SA, I would not have had the exposure I have had, the education I continue to enjoy and more. So humility is necessary because God placed me here. Thanks

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