Success and Luck

I have had several conversations about success and luck today.

The truth is that if someone is successful at anything meaningful, s/he had to work hard, but s/he also got lucky. The right opportunities appeared at the right time, and the right place for that person to take advantage of them. This isn’t to say that hard work wasn’t involved. It certainly was. It is to say that luck is involved too. Sometimes a lot of it.

Now, most people, especially most successful people, think it is all about hard work. I don’t want to deny hard work, but realize that some people who are less successful worked just as hard, but didn’t get the same opportunities.

What really grates is the implication that if you aren’t in whatever successful group it is, it is surely because you just don’t work that hard.

This is explained by the Just World Hypothesis, a known cognitive bias in psychology. We all want to believe in a just world. And in a just world, the deserving, the hard-working, will succeed, and, well, we know who it is that fails.

News bulletin: the world isn’t just.

This goes along with all the talk about the relationship between power and empathy. They don’t go together. Here’s a link to the research paper and scientific results.

I hope you didn’t miss the video with evidence that wealth and economic success go along with poor behavior: cheating, taking advantage, lack of empathy.

What got to me today was a conversation about online dating. I tried that several years ago. My experiences were mostly pretty awesomely awful. And hilariously funny. But not so much while I was going through them.

A friend met her husband on one of these sites. I don’t think she realized that she immediately began offering advice on how to succeed, how to play the game right. I know she wasn’t criticizing me, but all I could hear was the message, “if I just tried harder, put together the right profile, screened the other users of the site more carefully, then success would be mine too.”

It grated several weeks ago when someone else commented, “Well, I didn’t meet my special someone until I was 50.”

As if … as if we can just play the game right and find the relationship we are looking for. Or anything else. Yes, it requires hard work. But it requires more than hard work.

And hey, I also know I’ve done this to other people too, in a variety of contexts. I’m not innocent of this, and it is hardly a crime. We all say things that strike others the wrong way sometimes. No sense in getting angry, No sense in getting upset.

So yes, it is kind of stupid to get so upset, I know, but after the awful experience this spring, it all hits home that I’m 44 years old, and I honestly don’t believe I am going to find that special person. And even if I do, at this point it is too late to have a family.

And yes, I do know how negative and unfair that line of thinking is. The Just World Hypothesis. If I’ve been doing things right, I shouldn’t have to go through this. And what is it I did wrong? Can I fix it? Make it up to the universe and somehow get back on track? Of course not. Ah, but the world isn’t fair. And yes, yes I do have to go through this. And the other things that are bothering me right now.

I have to just let this and all the rest go. I have to find a way to be happy with the life I have, not with the life I thought I’d have, not wanting something that isn’t mine. Focus on the things that I am grateful for. Surely students are the next best thing to having children. Even when they walk out of class right after quizzes.

But another truth is, as true as all that might be? It isn’t comforting much of the time. It all tastes like ashes. These days it takes a hell of a lot of effort to put on that happy face and keep moving forward. Not that I’m about to stop, but just saying.

And yes, yes, I do know first world problems. Yes indeed.

I also know that this is a sign that my world has been disrupted, and I haven’t resolved the disruption yet. I think it is harder when you are older. But maybe I’m wrong; when you are older you at least have more experience and maturity to realize what is happening and what you need to do to get through it. I am surely an expert at grief by now.

If you are single you establish a pattern (eventually) that at least mostly works for you. Then you start a relationship, which disrupts the pattern. Then if the relationship ends, you don’t have a pattern any more, and you go through a time as I am now, where I spend a lot of what little free time I have alone. Which is hard on a person. Solitary confinement is punishment everywhere for a reason.

And the other part, too much work, too little free time, just wears me down day after day after day. I haven’t had 24 hours off since the beginning of the semester. Not even when I was sick. And some real nasty issues have come up at work, making me uncomfortable and unhappy there. So nothing in my life aside from teaching the honors class is working well right now. And that is working well at the price of a hell of a lot of time to make it happen, and once again without much hope that I will get to re-use the work I put into the class this semester. No wonder I am emotionally and physically tired.

But there we come back to it again. Put on as happy a face as you can and keep moving forward. Keep moving forward. One step at a time. But that sure doesn’t make it easy, and it sure doesn’t make it better quickly. But yes, it is, indeed, all I can do.