Luck and Success

This triggered the internet today. I, like many others, don’t agree with Pomp on this one.

This makes it sound like people that never achieved success in the traditional sense didn’t work hard and didn’t put in the work. To say this is insulting is an understatement. Sure, there are people who would have been successful no matter what walls they had to run through, but how many people who might have been willing to run through walls never had the opportunity to do so?

Luck is a loaded word. Saying somebody got lucky takes away from everything else they did to deserve what they have. Saying someone is fortunate doesn’t encroach as much on their efforts. For example, “they’re fortunate to be where they are” still allows that person to take some credit while “they’re lucky to be where they are” makes it sound like they just won the lottery. Words, in this case, really matter.

If you’ve done well in life, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that luck played a role. It doesn’t take away from the fact that hard work and intelligence and a couple of good decisions got you to where you were.

On the flip side, I also don’t think you deserve a ton of credit for acknowledging that luck matters. It’s sky is blue type stuff.

I want to share how I got lucky, not because I want a pat on the head, but because after reading my story, I think that maybe you’ll have some compassion for people who didn’t.

I’m 35 years old with a wife, two kids, and a nice house. I have a great job, a popular podcast, and I wrote a book. Am I successful because I worked hard? Yes and no. I mean, for god’s sake I got kicked out of college twice. How hard could I have worked? I’ll come back to this shortly.

So let’s talk about how luck helped me. I was lucky to get into the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. I didn’t put in much effort in high school but I was a decent test taker, so my grades were slightly above average. My father, an educated man, understood the importance of SATs so he got me into some sort of training program. I did very well on this test, and the preparation was the reason why. I’m lucky to have parents who valued education and had the financial resources to help me prepare.

I went to the great state of Indiana to live, not to go to school. And as a result, I got a 1.1 in my first semester, and a 1.0 in my second one. They told me to go home for a year and get my act together. So that’s what I did, at least the going home part.

I did well enough at community college that they let me back into Indiana, this time on academic probation. Like the irresponsible kid that I was, I didn’t learn my lesson the first time. I dropped calculus and boom, immediate dismissal. There wouldn’t be a third chance.

I came home and did what I had to do to get a degree.

I got a job right out of college at an insurance company. I hated it but I couldn’t leave because I had nowhere else to go. And then I got lucky. Again. My father introduced me to an advisor at Wells Fargo who took a liking to me. He started sending me daily notes from various publications and I was hooked. I knew I wanted to work in the stock market. “To work in the stock market.” What the hell does that even mean? I know that sounds ridiculous, but that’s what I wanted. I didn’t know anything and I was eager to learn.

So I quit my job and decided it was time to get serious. The library became my workplace. I was there 5 days a week from open until close.

I guess you could say, to Pomp’s point, that it was hard work, discipline, and relentless determination. It was also, and I hate to use the word luck here, because it’s anything but, but the reason I was able to treat this as my job while not having an income is because my mother left me some money when she passed away. If she were alive, she would have made damn sure that I got to work, even if it was earning minimum wage.

I was out of work for two years, and was about ready to throw in the towel of getting into the financial services industry. And then I really got lucky. I’ve told this story many times before so I won’t get into details, but I met Josh Brown on a Friday night at 11 o’clock at the train station in the town we both grew up in. I walked up to him and said “hey Josh”. If that chance encounter didn’t happen, my life would look very different today. I have no doubt about it.

“Put in the work and you got a shot.” I wish this were true, and I guess it is to an extent, but there’s more to it than that. The shot that you get as a result of your hard work is not evenly distributed, to state the very obvious. We didn’t need the college scandal with Lori Loughlin to know this, but it should remove any doubt.

I don’t begrudge lucky billionaires, or people that were born on second base. But I respect the hell out of people who were born in the dugout and made it home, because they had to fight so much harder to get there.

I won’t go as far as saying that every successful person got lucky, but every successful person can thank luck for playing at least some role in their life.