Quotes on the Influence of Luck


In life, luck has a quiet but powerful influence that we often overlook. Personally, I believe embracing this uncontrollable factor brings a humility that can improve our well-being.

When we understand luck’s role, we can handle bad times better without blaming ourselves, maintaining our strength as we move forward. In good times, recognizing luck’s help keeps us from becoming arrogant, reminding us that our successes aren’t purely due to our own efforts and talents and that there are many people out there who are better and more accomplished than we are. There is no need to lose our grounded perspective. We are simply in the right place at the right time. This view encourages gratitude and keeps us humble, preventing undue pride.

Through a collection of quotes from my non-fiction readings below, we can see much more how luck shapes our lives in subtle yet significant ways.

Determined by Robert M. Sapolsky

We are nothing more or less than the cumulative biological and environmental luck, over which we had no control, that has brought us to any moment.

Robert M. Sapolsky, Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will

Read about the book here.

Same As Ever by Morgan Housel

People often have no idea how they’ll respond to a big windfall or an incredible gift of good luck until they’ve experienced it firsthand.

Morgan Housel, Same As Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes

Read about the book here.

The First Rule of Mastery by Michael Gervais and Kevin Lake

The self-reliance myth that underpins our culture of self makes for great storytelling and effective branding but masks a fundamental truth: no one does it alone.

Michael Gervais, PhD and Kevin Lake, The First Rule of Mastery: Stop Worrying about What People Think of You

In the culture of self, both achievements and failures are perceived to depend entirely on one’s own efforts. While that idea can be a source of motivation (“you can change the world”), it can also work against mental health. When we identify as a separate itself, we take authorship of what happens around us, including those things we don’t control. Life unfolds. Things happen. And then we layer on the subjective interpretation that they are happening to me. They are happening because of me, because of something i am doing or not doing. We give ourselves too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things don’t work out. We often feel like we are not good enough, like something inside of us is unlikeable. We turn our experiences agains ourselves and the become a referendum on our self. Consequently, we are continually in pursuit of our worth and evading the fear of our inadequacy. We are running to stay ahead of our self-judgements and the opinions and judgements of others.

Michael Gervais, PhD and Kevin Lake, The First Rule of Mastery: Stop Worrying about What People Think of You

Read about the book here.

Fluke by Brian Klaas

Think of luck like a lightning bolt: it strikes haphazardly. Due to their sheer numbers, luck is overwhelmingly likely to strike someone from the vast billions of middle-level talent, not the tiny silver of übertalented geniuses. Researchers sum it up,”Our results highlight the risks of the paradigm that we call ‘naive meritocracy’.. because it underestimates the role of randomness among the determinants of success.” Some billionaires may be talented. All have been lucky. And luck is, by definition, the product of chance.

Brain Klaas, Fluke: Chance, Chaos, and Why Everything We Do Matters

If you believe you live in a meritocratic world, in which success is doled out to the most talented individuals rather than partly by accident or chance, then it makes sense to claim full credit for each success and blame yourself for every defeat. But if you accept that apparent randomness and accidents drive significant swaths of change in our lives—and they do—then that will change your outlook in life. When you lose at roulette, you don’t kick yourself for being a useless failure. Instead, you accept the arbitrary outcome and move on. Recognizing that often meaningless, accidental outcomes emerge from an intertwined, complex world is empowering and liberating. We should all take a bit less credit for our triumphs and a bit less blame for our failures. We’re particularly prone to inventing and clinging to false explanations in the face of seemingly random misfortune. “Everything happens for a reason” is a coping mechanism most often heard when shit happens. While it can help us make sense out of the senseless, comforted by the myth of a neat, ordered plan for everything, the saying isn’t true. Somethings just happen. That’s the inevitable result if an interconnected chaotic world.

Brain Klaas, Fluke: Chance, Chaos, and Why Everything We Do Matters

Most human traits, including intelligence, skills, and hard work, are normally distributed following a Gaussian, or bell-shaped, curve, a bit like an inverted U. Wealth, by contrast, isn’t normally distributed. It follows a power law or a Pareto distribution, with a tiny group of people controlling huge swats of global wealth. Today’s richest person is more than a million times richer than the average American. So, someone who is marginally smarter than you could become a million times richer, rather than marginally richer.

Brain Klaas, Fluke: Chance, Chaos, and Why Everything We Do Matters

Read about the book here.

Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned by Kenneth O. Stanley and Joel Lehman

You’ll have to search for the right stepping stones, and if you’re lucky and clever enough, you might discover the ones that lead to the objective.

Joel Lehman and Kenneth O. Stanley, Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective

Read about the book here.

Breaking Through by Katalin Karikó

I believe my work made a difference. But for this to have been the case, so many things had to come together just so. There was so much luck involved. It makes me wonder: Who else was out there and didn’t have such luck? Who could use a little luck right now? What are we missing?

Katalin Karikó, Breaking Through: My Life in Science

Read about the book here.


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