The harder I work, the luckier I get

- Someone. Probably.

All too often, in order to explain how in the world things all came together at one magical moment, we as humans will do a few things - force meaning and reason onto it, say it was all skill, chalk it up to luck. Is that fair? Is that a disservice to those I'm explaining it to?

We've all heard that before, work hard and create your own luck. I recently found myself deeply rethinking this. It was not luck. At all. What I found more interesting was when I talked about luck, it was hiding the hard work and other things that I may not be able to put into words. "How'd you know?" "Just got lucky". It was also the context, who I was talking to, and so on.

(Don't) Show your work

Busting knuckles for years... is lucky

I recently bought a car with a blown engine that was... undriveable. I got it cheap, and knew the amount work I had to do before I got into it. I had done another car, long before this one and it was an absolute, total disaster. Worse than that, I did not have any type of support network, nor people around that were truly knowledgeable. Learning from my very educational (and expensive) mistakes, this time, I had decided it was within my realm of skill and knowledge, (the race team I had joined was a big help) even though I had not done this level of work to this kind of car. At least I knew what I was getting into this time around.

The list of things that could go wrong is staggering but I accepted that risk for the reward. The reward? A reliable, fun car ... with ~60% more power than it had before. What, I'm not going to do all this work without fixing literally everything in the process. Like writing a bunch of unit tests for code I didn't write.

During a holiday break, I wasn't prepared. The family had seen my posts about it and everyone wanted to ask me about it, "how's the car coming along?". At the time I had run into a nasty problem where the car wouldn't run for more than 30 seconds and I had no idea why. I left that part out. Instead, I said overall it went way better than I could've expected and how lucky I was during the whole process.

Luck had nothing to do with any of it. It was paid for way ahead of time from the countless hours of past car work, having nearly all the right tools (for the first time in my life by the way), a heated garage (heaven), the space for it, another car to drive in the meantime, and a literal expert on this type of car on standby if I got stuck. In other words, all the things I needed, and more, to make it as seamless as possible.

Not everyone wants to work for it

Fans vs Athletes

Context comes into play, like hearing a winning team talk about how "the plan just came together", "a few key plays" and "we just kept at it to win". What they don't talk about is the weeks of preparation, the analysis, the drills, the work that went into giving themselves the best chance of winning. Depending on who's around, this may not be good to dive into, and worse if you do - alienating them doesn't take long, and they get bored.

Going back to the family's questions about the car, I found most of them were fans of the work I was doing. Not only the "I can't believe you have done so much work in so little time" but even a "thank you for sharing, I feel like I was part of this somehow". They were fans, and no desire to turn a wrench - and that's fine!

When I would talk with others that knew what I was doing and had done it themselves, I could dive into those plans that I couldn't with "fans". They'd offer up reminders and pit-falls to look out for, and ask when would I be working on it next. No luck to be found while around other athletes.

There is a catch

hi, confirmation bias here, hello!

I've certainly been using "luck" to carry on the conversation, the story, of what I was doing and finding a balance of how much detail to include. Ultimately, it hides how much work it really did take to come to a conclusion, an outcome. So what? It's a dirty word when luck and skill are mistaken, and confirmation bias shines.

If the number of variables that lead to success make it unclear if what I did was the thing that made it happen, then yes, I think luck is a dirty word and can be quite dangerous. If I were to say how clearly I'm an expert in selecting a replacement engine, confirmation bias would kick in my door like the kool-aid man. I had no control of it being a complete failure. I got lucky.