The harder I work, the luckier I get

- Samuel Goldwyn.

That's not the whole story, but it says more than I realized.

We've all heard that before, work hard and create your own luck. I recently found myself rethinking this, because it was not luck. At all. Even a little. In its entirety, after noticing when I talked about luck, it really just was hiding the hard work, the ugly trying and failing (1 time ending up in stitches) and other things that I may not be able to put into words. "How'd you know?" "Just got lucky". I also started to note when I used "luck" as a type glossing over details I either didn't feel like discussing or the person didn't care.

(Don't) Show your work

Busting knuckles for years... looks a lot like luck

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 one before like this and it was a total disaster in every. sense. of the word. This time, I had decided it was within my realm of skill and knowledge, less some usual "new-to-me car" -- I knew what I was getting into. The list of things that could go wrong is astonishing but I accepted that risk for the reward. What reward? A reliable, fun car ... ahem, with ~40% more power than it had before.

During a break, everyone wanted to ask me about it, "how's the car coming along?". At the time I had run into a problem, a big problem, I could not solve and was utterly stumped. I got over it with a tiny golden piece of information. I told others it went way better than I could've expected (which it did) 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 with the failures, learnings included and having nearly all the right tools (for the first time in my life by the way), a heated garage, the space for it, another car to drive in the meantime, and a literal expert on this type of engine and this specific car on standby if I got stuck. In other words, lots of risk mitigation, learning from experience, and asking for a lot of help.

Not everyone wants to work for it

Fans vs Athletes

Talking again 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". What they were speaking towards is a passive set of info I was posting at various intervals. This was not a conversation about what I was doing, just responding to static content. That conversation was entirely different and purely contextual.

Sometimes context comes into play, like hearing a winning team talk about how "our plan just came together", "a few key plays" and "we just kept at it and believed we will 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 - it'll alienate others.

Stories and your audience

Know your audience, calibrate the details

I attribute a lot of what I do to luck for a number of reasons. Not because I don't think others can understand it, but because I lack the words for some of the concepts, approaches, ideas. It would take hours to fully describe and paint a picture of how all these outside influences helped me get to an answer that worked. Would that be a constructive use of their time? From my experience, it's a strong "No". (but I'd enjoy the thought experiment).

I also noticed it was to hide how much work and effort it really did take to come to a conclusion, an outcome. The more I was digging into "luck" and how I was using it, I'm starting to think its a dirty word. I have been using it in a number of capacities that once I stepped back, it was in some head fake for being "humble".

All too often, in order to explain how in the world things all came together at one magical moment, we as humans will do one of two things - force meaning and reason onto it or chalk it up to luck.

Luck vs Skill

When it doesn't matter what you do, the outcome's the same

A final thought on this is the narrative I hear from others. Because of their deep insight and superior intellect, their decisions won they day, which is only flipped when a bad outcome occurs and it was due to "bad luck". I'm beginning to look at what is luck, and what is skill, and if there are times where zero skill is required and the outcome is favorable, as well, as when top level skill results in failure. So is luck a dirty word? I'm still not sure but I certainly think its a word that hides a LOT of hard work, and excuse away failure.