Recently, I’ve had to confront my beliefs about destiny. You see, I have a rather strong internal locus of control (type A; DISC D; Earth element; whatever other box/test you want to use…). It’s not that I don’t see how luck plays a role, it’s just that I’d prefer to believe that I can control most of what happens to me in the future: whether that’s because I look for opportunities, keep in touch with helpful people, or simply work hard. There has to be a certain amount of opportunity around but I tend toward the “make your own” camp. A camp that is supported by science.
That was until two recent events made me reconsider. One involved a friend of mine and the other Sir David Attenborough. The former was a conversation about careers. My friend is intelligent and hard working yet hasn’t managed to secure his dream career. His complaints about current employment made me reflect on my own situation at a previous job. What got me out of that environment was, I admit, partly luck. However much I wanted to believe that it was me communicating my desire for greener fields and my constant searching and applying for jobs, opportunity had a large part to play. My thoughts hadn’t progressed quite to accept “large” at the time of the conversation. That came midway through a documentary on TV.
TV isn’t dead
While watching the show about seals (marine mammals in general, but this part was about seals), I was impressed by images of killer whales catching baby seals close to shore, turning back to the ocean with prize in mouth, and throwing the pups around like rag dolls even postmortuously. One of my first thoughts was about how lucky the surviving seals were – had they been the ones who swam just a little to the left (or right), they would be flying corpses also. I caught my thought and told myself to be rational – evolutionary advantages and disadvantages explain the fate of the orca’s meal. YES! The pubs who swam the furthest out or who are the slowest would be caught more. That was it, I reasoned, if you train hard and don’t take too large a risk there’s little chance of becoming an orca’s dinner. But that didn’t explain it all. You see, there was a group of the tiny seals caught expertly on tape which clearly showed there was little separating them in terms of strength or risk-taking. It really did seem like LUCK as to which one was targeted. Perhaps there’s something the tape couldn’t show: how the pups smell to the orca, if there were subtle differences in body heat etc, but it seemed to me like the whale was spinning the Russian Dice with its prey. While evolution and “fitness” can probably be applied to this, it did make me think a little more about the role luck plays in our lives…
Huh, Orcas and careers?
OK, so I may have got a little carried away with myself – there are a fair few differences between career climbing and natural selection. Or is there? At least one article has compared companies to natural beings. Really, if you think about it, it makes sense. If you are the strongest candidate then you should get the job. But “strongest” can be subjective. Who you know can make a difference and how you “fit” with the interviewer on the day(s) can also make or break things. Having the ability to make good contacts is also potentially helpful. All these things are traits that may be thought of as the evolutionary advantages of candidates. However, there is also some luck involved… the feeling of the interviewer on the day, who else may be applying, the questions they choose to ask you. One thing that really stands out as “luck” is prejudice. Let’s not try to kid ourselves, they exist in the workplace for traits there is no way of changing – especially gender and race (again, this could be a whole new post so let’s not dwell for now except to say that, perhaps there is a gender difference in luck perception). More than this, however, is the luck of opportunity. The luck that I had and the luck that has escaped my friend. There is no way to get a great job if there are none available – someone has to leave or some company has to grow or change. You can’t control that [easily or legally].
What I think now
I am still a firm believer that we can make our own luck but have to admit that not all things are so simple. There is perhaps a larger element of luck in life than I would have admitted before. Not only did luck play a part in landing me my new job but also, more importantly, thinking about luck made me realise there was a whole bunch of the pixey-dust involved in all sorts of things in my life; most notably how I met my wife (but that’s a whole ‘nother post…maybe).