Success: Effort or Luck?

We wish to be successful. Perhaps in different pathways, ideals, or fashions, yet no doubt we do. But what does it take to realise our dreams? There are indeed two factors of success, or the two main ‘variables’: effort and luck. Some believe that success is surely achievable with effort, while some believe that an individual’s luck determines whether she’d be successful, regardless of her effort. I however strongly believe that effort and luck are both essential to becoming successful.

‘Effort’ is a given. You may have all the luck in the world, but if you don’t possess the required skills or capabilities to exploit your luck, all that luck would go down the drain.

In ancient China, Jiang Ziya was eighty years old when he finally had the opportunity to show his capabilities: by serving Emperor Wen (wén wáng) of the Zhou Dynasty (zhōu cháo) as a statesman and strategist. Before that, he was an extremely unlucky man who failed at maintaining his career as a fortune teller (because he was too good at his predictions) and businessman. But he was optimistic and spent more than half of his life exploring astrology, astronomy, politics, the military, business, and further areas of knowledge. (Nobody questioned how he got any money to eat, though.)

One day, he went fishing and set the fishhook a few meters above the water. This ridiculous way of fishing caught the attention of Emperor Wen, who was passing by. After a lengthy discussion with him on building, running, and expanding an empire, Emperor Wen became really impressed with Jiang Ziya’s broad knowledge and wisdom, and appointed him as the prime minister (chéng xiàng). If Jiang Ziya hadn’t been well-equipped with vast understanding of the world, he wouldn’t have made use of his luck to meet Emperor Wen and convinced the emperor how outstanding he was.


Jiang Ziya intrigued Emperor Wen. Source: Budaya Tionghua


After putting in sheer effort, nevertheless, you now need luck to showcase your capabilities. You can possess the best qualifications, skills, and optimism, but you’d still need luck to be successful. Just imagine how impossible and insane it must be to meet an actual emperor while you’re fishing alone.

Sometimes life can be unfair as some successes materialise due to substantial amount of luck (which I don’t have for most of the time). After completing A-Levels, I applied for scholarships to further my degree studies overseas. I’ve put in great effort to obtain the grades required and secure an unconditional offer. As there were uncertainties, thanks to changing economic situations in Malaysia, few scholarships were available for overseas further studies. I submitted my scholarship applications anyway. I did several online tests, attended two interviews, and participated in a boot camp. But, after the selection processes ended, I didn’t receive any of the scholarships. My effort could only get me that far.

Only after this experience had I realised how effort alone is never enough to achieving success.

However, I somehow like to think of luck as very similar to ‘opportunities’. Of course, although opportunities are similar to luck, finding or creating opportunities is actually part of the effort, which explains why opportunities and luck aren’t perfectly same. We often say that being lucky is just being at the right place at the right time. Opportunities are similar, with the exception that one needs to be the right person too. As luck is a variable which we cannot control, we might as well work on the variable that is more predictable: opportunities.

We should always be on a look out for opportunities. When I applied for scholarships, I diligently searched for many organisations’ websites and contacted my seniors as well as teachers to know more about scholarship opportunities. (Call me ‘kiasu’ if you want, I was only being opportunistic!) This more or less at least increased my probability of obtaining a scholarship as I could apply to several scholarships. Like what we love to say, “Don’t put all your eggs in a basket.”

Surely there are times when we don’t get the opportunity we eagerly long for. Therefore, we should try to create opportunities. Instead of passively waiting for luck to knock at your door before you’re born, we could find ways to promote ourselves to those who may need our skills and knowledge.

One of the many ways to accomplish this is perhaps by expanding your network. Say if you’re very talented and skilled in a field, but you lack the opportunity to shine, you can approach people in that field and offer your skills to them by collaborating in projects or other means to make them notice you.

Effort and luck are equally important to success. We must of course ensure that we’ve put in the necessary effort, and we’re constantly on a look out for opportunities or create them to succeed in various aspects of life.


Written by Seow Sheue Ying

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Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of IGNITE. 

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." (George Orwell, in Animal Farm, 1945)

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