It’s Not Luck

What we often attribute to luck is not luck at all; it’s the result of passion, persistence and perseverance of work done years earlier. Here are a couple of personal examples to illustrate this point.


Years ago I was contacted by Macmillan Publishing to write a book on performance appraisals. I was astounded when I got the call. I couldn’t imagine how such a relative unknown as I am could have been found by a major publishing house.

When I posed the question to Macmillan’s acquisitions editor she said “We were contacting the presidents of human resources associations in search of an author. One of them told us that you’d been writing for their newsletter for years and people really enjoyed your messages.” This call came years after I’d stopped writing for that newsletter.

More recently, I’ve been speaking to a veterans business group about programs that I believe will help veterans enjoy greater success. I was surprised at how quickly they responded to my original request to discuss my programs with them. Then I recalled that I had, over a number of years, done programs for their business roundtables. The last one was more than seven years ago.

My point in sharing these examples is to illustrate that what we often consider serendipitous, luck, is the result of efforts made years in advance of the opportunity presenting itself. It’s the time separation that makes the result seem like luck. What really produces the result are three things: passion, persistence and perseverance.


The foundational element is passion, for without passion it’s almost impossible to maintain persistent effort or persevere through the inevitable obstacles we encounter. While most of us would agree that passion is essential, many of us view passion as binary: either you have it or you don’t. 

Passion, like everything else in life, is spectral. The spectrum runs from no passion to singular focus. The degree of success that one achieves depends upon where on the spectrum your passion lies. Here’s an example to illustrate this point.

I’ve been a recreational tennis player most of my life. I enjoy the game, but have no passion for the effort it would require for me to improve my game. I play for the sheer enjoyment of the effort and time spent with friends.

My youngest brother, was much more into the game. He joined a club that had a “ladder.” You progressed up the ladder as you developed your skills and ability. He hired a coach, had videos made of his game so that he could continue to move up the ladder. Obviously his passion was greater than mine as was the success he enjoyed in playing competitively.

At the far end of the spectrum from me is Serena Williams whose passion for the game and her desire to become the best has resulted in a career record wins unrivaled in women’s tennis.

Passion does not determine whether or not we’ll be successful. It determines the level of success we enjoy. I was successful in enjoying the game even when my brother consistently thrashed me on the court. Actually, I played some of my best tennis against him because I knew I was playing against a significantly more skilled player and he, in his generosity, didn’t beat me as badly as he could have. But I digress.

The level of success experienced by me, my brother and Venessa Williams was determined by the passion we felt for the game. With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to persistence.


Over the years I spoken to countless people about the success they’ve enjoyed and the one thing that they all agree upon is that it never happens on the first attempt. They all agree that it takes persistent, day in/day out effort, to achieve any worthwhile goal. The sharks on Shark Tank often say that a major goal takes a decade or more to achieve. 

Now imagine trying to persist in your efforts for a decade or more without passion. I can’t begin to fathom how much effort it would take to force myself to do things I don’t enjoy, that I’m not passionate about, for a decade or more. It’s never going to happen. I doubt that you could make it happen; we’re simply not built that way.


We are all well aware of the frustration we experience when our efforts aren’t producing the desired result. We also know that this is the path to success that we must inevitably travel. The only thing that enables us to persevere as we work our way past the learning curve to success is passion. 

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. put it this way “When I thought a thing worth doing, I made up my mind that the annoyances, the obstacles, the embarrassments had to borne because the ultimate goal was worthwhile.” For most of us, the ability to set aside the annoyances, obstacles and embarrassments come only with passion. I know that it’s certainly true for me.

What does this mean for you?

For you

Before you embark upon any effort, recognize that:

  • Your success does not depend upon luck; it depends upon your passion.
  • You can measure your passion by outlining the first three to five things you need to do to be successful in your effort, then rating your willingness to do each on a scale of one to five with five being high.
  • If the ratings aren’t all fours or fives, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to be persistent in your effort and persevere during the inevitable challenges you face. You’ll also gain insight into the level of success you might enjoy.
  • Your choice to move forward despite lower ratings is a choice that can be revisited at any time in the future. Too many of us feel locked into earlier decisions…whether they were good choices or not.

These simple steps will increase the likelihood of your success when passion exits and help you avoid the frustrations and potential hits to your confidence that come when it doesn’t.

For our kids

First and foremost, live the message. Allow your kids to see your thought process as you evaluate opportunities that present themselves. They’ll learn the process for evaluating passion which will dramatically increase their likelihood of success and minimize the amount of time and energy they’d waste pursuing things when their passion is low. They’ll also realize that their success isn’t luck; it’s the result of their passion, persistence and perseverance.

Finally, they’ll learn that future opportunities, even those that appear years from now, aren’t luck; they’re the product of the work they did today.

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