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Do You Need Luck to be Successful?

I don’t consider myself a lucky person; in fact, I’m probably one of the least lucky people on the planet. I’ve always said that I could be the only person to enter a contest and some loophole would still prevent me from winning. Several friends of mine, though, seem to run into good fortune wherever they go. (And I may or may not want to kick them a little as a result.)

I’ve always believed that luck plays a role in success, especially when it comes to finances. Do I think it’s the only factor? Of course not! But it’s difficult to look at any wealthy person’s life without seeing circumstances – good schools, supportive parents, preexisting family wealth – that helped him or her along the way.

On the flip side, I can look at my own life and see that I’ve had plenty of advantages, too. I went to good schools. Not the best by any means, but good ones. My parents were (and still are) supportive of almost everything I’ve ever done. No wealth in my family, but we aren’t exactly poor, either. So why am I not super successful? Is it because I’m not lucky?

The Role of Luck

Awhile back, I wrote a post on my business blog about my sister’s success in creating a website and online business. (You should click through and read it; it’s a pretty cool story.) I’m really proud of her accomplishments, but it’s hard not to feel a little Eeyore-esque when I realize she has made almost as much in 4 months as I’ve made all year (not even counting her income from her job), and with a lot less work.

Overall, my sister seems to have amazing luck. I won’t talk about her personal life because she’d strangle me, but things have pretty much always gone well for her. When she decided to start a blog last summer – her first real attempt at blogging, I might add – she didn’t necessarily set out to make tons of money. She hoped to, sure, but it’s not like she knew some kind of secret that would propel her into untold riches.

No, she just used her knowledge (being an elementary school librarian) and skills (a former career in marketing) to create something that has earned a ton of semi-passive income. She was also lucky enough to stumble upon a profitable, untapped niche without even realizing she was doing it. It was the combination of both skills and luck that have helped her reach a level of success most of us can only fantasize about. However, the luck wouldn’t have mattered if she hadn’t been able to put her skills to use in the first place.

What My Sister’s Experience Taught Me

I really make an effort not to punish myself for dumb things I’ve done in the past. It’s not like it changes anything. So I try not to think about what my net worth would be if I had started saving money sooner, or how happy I would have been if I had pursued a different career, or why my sister struck gold on her very first attempt to earn money online while I’m still figuring it out. (Not that I’m bitter.) Except every now and then my brain goes there on its own, though, and I find myself whining, “Why can’t I just be lucky like other people?!?! Then everything would be perfect!”

Thinking like that is dangerous, which is why I try so hard to avoid it. Instead of looking at all the times that my “bad luck” kept me from succeeding, I have to realize that my choices played a role as well. How could I have gotten lucky while spending money? Maybe by getting an unexpected discount or something? But the real luck would have come from saving money instead – maybe I would have been able to invest in Apple when it was still dirt cheap, or help fund the first batch of Snuggies in exchange for a stake in the company. There’s really no limit to what I could have done with all the money I’ve wasted over the years, depending on the circumstances.

You see, the difference between my sister and me is that she has typically had a healthy relationship with money. She has never had to make decisions out of desperation. She has never filed for bankruptcy or taken out a payday loan. And because of that, she can spend time thinking up awesome ideas instead of panicking about how she’s going to pay her bills.

It’s not that my sister is so much luckier than I am. She has just made better choices, and now she’s benefitting from those choices while I play catch-up.

I make good choices now. My financial situation is under control. No more credit card debt, no more spending sprees, no more excuses. And I’ve spent this year building a business that I’m extremely proud of, one that has paid the bills and allowed me to stay home with my son. I feel incredibly fortunate, which is new for me. But that never could have happened without a change in the way I dealt with money. I may even have some extra money leftover to experience the advantages of spread betting.

A friend of mine is fond of saying, “We make our own luck.” And I’ve always secretly thought that was dumb – if we made our own luck, why wasn’t my luck any better? Now I realize that my luck (or lack thereof) isn’t the problem – it’s the fact that I created a million roadblocks, mainly financial, that prevented me from accomplishing more.

To a degree, I still don’t think we make our own luck. At least not all by ourselves; we don’t exist in a vacuum. But I do think our decisions either put us in a position to take advantage of opportunities, or put us in a position to miss out on opportunities because we’re too busy worrying about other things. Guess which one I spent most of my life doing?

Feeling Lucky?

Success can be defined in any number of ways. Some people would call me successful (which I find hilarious) because I got my financial act together and became self-employed. Others might think I’m a miserable failure because I still have a car loan and student loans to pay. Your definition of success will never match up to mine, and that’s okay.

The best thing you can do, right now, is figure out what success looks like for YOU and what’s preventing you from achieving it. Are you putting up roadblocks, intentional or not, then wasting time lamenting the fact that other people are luckier than you? Or are you doing what it takes to remove those roadblocks and clear a path for success on your own terms?

To answer my own question, I think one has to be at least somewhat lucky to become successful. But I also know that “luck” is something any of us can access if we are (1) able to learn a skill, (2) willing to work hard, and (3) free of the negative thinking and poor decision-making that hold us back.

What does “success” mean to you? Is there something you want to achieve but haven’t managed yet? What’s standing in the way, and what can you do to remove those obstacles? Are you typically a lucky person? Tell me what you think!

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. For me, "success" means being happy with myself. It can be family, friends, job I like, places I visit, people I meet, whatever… all these smaller or biger things are parts of my general definition of "success". Maybe I'm naive but I do believe that even when I'm not lucky sometimes, I'm hard working and I'll achieve all these things/plans/etc like "lucky" people but maybe a little bit later than others 😉

  2. plantingourpennies says:

    I'm not lucky in terms of winning raffles or anything like that – there really are some people who seem to win those consistently somehow.

    But I think I've been lucky in that pretty early on I learned that most things in life take a sh*t-ton of work, and when faced with that, I am usually more motivated than daunted.

  3. I don't consider myself a very "lucky" person generally, and I'd like attribute my professional success to my own amazing skills and talents, but I actually got really lucky.

    I'd just moved back to the city and was working at a coffee shop until I came to terms with the fact that I couldn't support myself on $8/hr. I was walking down the street on my way to a temp job interview, resume in hand and suit-clad, when a guy stopped me and asked "Are you looking for a job?" Surprised, I said "Yes, I am." He handed me his card and said that he was a scout for a placement agency and would I like to come up and see what they have available? Uhhmm, sure, I guess.

    This story could have a horrible ending with a warning about stranger danger, but I was placed and started a full-time job two days later that has lead directly to where I am today. Don't know if/how I'd be here otherwise, so I have to luck was on my side.

    My job growth since then? I like to chalk it up to my skills and talents. Blog and writing success? That remains to be seen.

  4. Budget & the Beach says:

    We need to skype with a glass of wine in hand for this one. I could go on for days in a blog comment about the luck phenomenon. I'll try to make this as short as possible. In a nutshell when I think about people who consider themselves lucky, it's mostly about perspective. There is a guy I know who is always proclaiming, "I'm the luckiest guy alive." And when you see what he has accomplished, you think that. And the reason we think that is because he is mentioning only the positive things in his life. Over and over, so I do believe everyone else gets the impression that they are lucky. And because they are so positive, I think it attracts more good things his way. He has more friends which probably leads to more connections, business opportunities, whatever. His outgoing personality lead him to audition and win a spot on a game show where he won 50K! Oh the other hand, I'm not a 100% believer in "the secret, " so I often wonder how all of those things intermingle. More importantly, how does an introvert like myself learn to take advantage of "how the universe can work for me?" I do believe lucky people fail all the time, I just don't think they ever put emphasis on it. I'm sure there is much more I could say, but this is already long-winded. lol

  5. Who know but it certainly doesn't hurt! LOL

  6. There is a saying, the harder I work the luckier I get. I believe in that! Whether it is luck or taking advantage of opportunities, I don't know.

  7. Success to me is being financially independent, and being the kind of man that my wife and children are proud to call husband/Dad.

  8. Success to me is defined as leaving the world a better place. I want to be a great wife, good mom, and trusted friend. Seems easy enough! 🙂

  9. Frugal Portland says:

    I love this, Andrea! Luck plays a role, you're right, but I sincerely believe that we have to be open to it, and whatever we throw out into the universe is what we'll get back, and for me, some of the trick is to tell myself how lucky I am and look for those examples, rather than feeling sorry for myself and looking for examples to back that up. I'm not always successful. PS I want to be in on that Skype date with Tonya!

  10. I've never really put a definition on success and have gone by the I'll know I've gotten there when I've done it mentality… I think that also means success is always just out of grasp! Maybe I should work on defining success…

    My girlfriend always calls me lucky. I'll admit that time I won $100 on a $1 scratcher was luck, but there are other times where it is just hard work and preparation meeting opportunity!

  11. I don't know if you need luck to be successful but I will say that sometimes success happens to people who work harder and sometimes success happens when you least suspect it. But, I think by getting your finances together, it let you open to other things which then in turn granted you opportunities you may not have had other wise. I think a lot of it might go hand in hand.

  12. I totally agree with you. I think a little luck has a bit to do why some people are successful and some people are quite. It just reminds me of this one guy I went to school with. I swear, every awesome opportunity just got handed to him while I was working my ass off trying to pay for school and look for a job after I graduated. But I try to not let that get me down, because some of those people who look successful on the outside, well we don't see what's going on behind closed doors and what they're life is really life. Just like Facebook, sometimes we just see people having an awesome life, but really who knows what's really going on.

  13. Grew up poor, screwed up early part of life; had a very defeatist attitude. Then discovered The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. Started 'thinking' success and adjusted my actions to match. Turned my life around in many ways.

  14. WORD. I feel I am on the same page as you. I stopped making terrible financial choices and other things started working out. I am starting a new job and it feels like the first time that I made a CHOICE about my job. I didn't have to take it. I even negotiated for almost 20% more than their original offer. I feel like I am finally not operating from a place of desperation. It changes my luck. Although our luck has been changing due to sustained effort- no one would disagree with me if I said you've been consistently busting ass to make your business happen. So that naturally begins to pay off. Our sisters sound similar too! My sister is not motivated by money but she has always managed hers well, saves for the kids, retirement and has no debt. She showed me it's not impossible without even talking about it.

  15. Success to me is being healthy, happy, and able to afford the necessities in life. Dont' get me wrong, I want more than that, but those would be goals and not definition of success. I don't consider myself unlucky, but I am not someone that super cool stuff happens to either. I agree that luck has more to do with seeing the opportunities when they arise and making the decision to go for it. I think you should be proud of what you have been able to overcome and accomplish…lots of people haven't even done that.

  16. saveearnlove says:

    I currently find myself slightly confused with my own career and not exactly feeling "successful". I have a lot of ideas-my mind moves 100 mph but I can't seem to come up with any brillant ideas for finding what I really want to do in this life.

    I can sympathize with the fact that you have a sister who you feel is successfull. My sister while not finished with school yet, had an internship last summer that paid more than my full time job pays..sheesh those engineers!

  17. I believe in luck and a lot of hard work. I am also a strong believer in talent. These are three essential components of success. Your sister definitely had luck but she also put it hard work in her project AND if she was selling crap (no talent part), she won't be able to maintain that success.
    Now about your friend who said what we make our own luck. I think luck is more of a chance. Call me a fatalists but I am a strong believer in chances. Life gives us certain opportunities (ideas, people, places, you name it) and we either act on them or not. So, maybe in part we make our own luck. I think it is a two-fold statement. And a totally different discussion. 🙂

  18. Great post, Andrea.. You are right of course.. I kind of think that life presents all of us with opportunities.. It may seem like others get more opportunities than us, but everyone has their chances.. Like you said, if you have built a ton of roadblocks around you, you might not be in a position to jump when these chances present yourself. The same is true if you live a close minded life that is completely terrified of change (obviously, you do not.. You quit your day job to blog and do web design full time)..

  19. Terri Clay says:

    I don't think you need Luck to be successful ~ Just a lot of hard work ~ Great blog ~ I too want to be successful ~

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