Hard work vs luck

A lot of success in life is pure luck. But that doesn’t mean hard work has no role. If I look back at my life, I have been a fortunate guy. Most of my career success came out of luck. No, I’m not being humble here. I’m trying to prove a point.

My journey

When I look at my career progression, my first job switch from a tedious corporate job to an exciting startup came because of a lot of hard work.

After the 8-10 hours of job and 2 hours of commute through scorching Chennai heat, I still made time to learn a new technology (Javascript) and apply for jobs. But I was lucky enough to be in a city with a few good startups, and I joined Freshdesk (now called Freshworks).

From there, my career was guided mainly by luck and supported by hard work.

At Freshdesk, I met some brilliant people who introduced me to the world of startups, how startups worked and how to build startups. I co-founded a startup with them a year and a half later. I owe it to luck – I met the right people at the right time. 

Though the work I put in the form of learning programming languages had prepared me for that luck at the time.

Although we shut down that startup later, it has brought me extraordinary experiences, learning and opportunities. 

Later, when I was jobless and looking for opportunities, one man’s Tweet helped me bring many job offers from around the world. I applied to Product Hunt, was rejected – but somehow impressed the interviewer. I got mentioned in one of his tweets, which took me to Europe, and my life took a new and exciting trajectory. 

Again, 100% luck. The only “hard work” I did was applying for a job I was sure I won’t get and performing well in that interview. 

My last startup acquisition happened via an introduction from a VC who rejected us. Luck played a big part there, too (Along with many sleepless nights).

So, is it luck or hard work?

As you might have guessed, the answer is a bit of both – but mostly luck. Hard work increases the surface area of luck. But it’s also futile without a drop of luck.

Instead of waiting for fate to come around, there are things you can do to maximise the chances of luck. We can call those buckets of things that you can do to increase the chances of your Luck “hard work”. The more you put in it, the better the chances of your luck.

You have more chances of getting lucky working on a project that will make you money than spending time binging on Netflix. Action increases the chances of luck. Right actions increase it further. Knowing the right actions comes from trying different things and failing.

But many “successful” Instagram gurus preach how they made their own luck – that’s not entirely true. And the extreme success portrayed on social media, with people walking around Lambos, needs way more luck and privilege.

Here is a note I wrote about privilege a few months ago.

People love a self-made success story. Everybody loves to think they are self-made. But the reality is often different. Everyone gets plenty of help along the way but hates admitting it.

I was lucky to have wonderful parents who gave me good education. When I quit my job to start my first startup, my sister bought me my first Macbook. I would never have been able to afford it. (I’m sure it was way out of her budget too). I had a partner whom I could start a company with. A tweet from a kind person on the internet landed me a job that changed my career trajectory.

I’m the result of small and large kind gestures from many people. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your achievements, no matter how small they are. You should celebrate them. And no matter how much help you get, you need to work hard to achieve things.

But there is a problem with peddling the “self-made” story. You are setting the wrong precedent for people who don’t have your privileges but want to follow your path.

While your stories can inspire them, someone with fewer privileges will have a drastically different path to your destination.

Parting note

Hard work can take you to better places, depending on where you start. A lot of billionaires began from nothing. 

One of my favourite stories (and a recent discovery) is of Dame Stephanie Shirley, who started her tech company in the 1960s. She was a Jewish refugee who got “lucky” to move to the UK as part of “Kindertransport”, which saved Jewish children from Nazis. 

She started F-international, a British freelance software and systems services company, in the 1960s. A time when all odds were against women. And still went on to create one of the most successful tech companies in the world.  

That’s just one. There are many. 

There are also millions of stories we haven’t heard of people who lost and never got lucky. Remember that hard work doesn’t guarantee anything. Still, it can improve the chances of a better life – whatever better means to you.

Work hard. Get lucky.

2 thoughts on “Hard work vs luck

  1. Nice read, Sooraj. Takes humility to admit the role of luck. I relate to it as well. Big part of how I landed my job was that market was hot. And I happened to be at the right place, right time.

    Liked by 1 person

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