Stop and acknowledge how much luck has to do with your success

Carl Richards
Warren Buffett attends the 'Becoming Warren Buffett' World Premiere at The Museum of Modern Art on January 19, 2017
J. Kempin | Getty Images

I have a lucky friend. Chances are you know him. He has written several New York Times best sellers. By any outward appearance, he has officially made it.

I wanted to know what role he thought luck played in his career. Without batting an eye, he said, "Oh, luck has been everything. I can point to at least 10 occasions where pure, dumb luck landed me a huge break in my career."

I was skeptical. "O.K., maybe you've had some luck," I said. "But you've been working hard and 'playing in traffic,' right?"

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"No," he told me. "I'm talking about flat-out luck. A guy I met on a plane, a random stranger, an introduction to a friend of a friend who happened to know great book agent — that kind of luck."

He is not alone. From Warren E. Buffett, who says he won the "Ovarian Lottery," to the venture capitalist Fred Wilson, a lot of smart, industrious and hard-working people admit that luck played a role. Mr. Wilson writes that he wouldn't suggest anyone take his career path: "It won't work unless you get incredibly lucky."

And yet, it feels as if for every person who credits luck for his or her success, 10 others dismiss luck. They don't acknowledge the kind of luck that you can't take credit for when it happens to you — if you are being honest.

Many of us, in fact, seem to be scared to give this kind of luck any credit because we feel doing so devalues our talent or hard work. But here is the conundrum: If bad luck exists and it is not your fault, so does good luck that has nothing to do with your efforts or actions either. And that is O.K. too.

A multi-million dollar company can be built $7 at a time
A multi-million dollar company can be built $7 at a time

We shouldn't rely on luck, but let's stop kicking it in the teeth when it does show up. Go ahead. Practice saying out loud, "I am very, very lucky." And guess what? You can say those words and still have working hard, learning more and daring to play in traffic be really important.

By recognizing the role luck has played in our lives, we can go forward with just a little more humility and a little less ego. That is a great investment for long-term success.

This piece originally appeared on

Carl Richards, a certified financial planner, is the author of "The Behavior Gap" and "The One-Page Financial Plan." His sketches and essays appear weekly.

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