Words of Wisdom

It is popular to quote famous people who speak about success, victory, life, whatever. It likely seems that what they have to say should be given great weight, because after all, they were successful. Maybe if we follow their advice, we could become successful, too.

This doesn’t really work. True, a person’s success might have been accomplished through applying their words of wisdom. Maybe following their advice could make me successful, too. But there’s more to this than words and attitude.

Much of success is a matter of luck, random events that give a person an advantage. Often the successful person was in the right place at the right time, and caught a lucky break. They still may have had to work hard to take advantage of their good fortune, but it may well be that there were other people, equally motivated, equally wise, who simply didn’t get a chance to use it.

Asking people for their secret of success overlooks the fact that it’s mostly luck. Not that it’s purely luck; a top athlete or scientist still has to be excellent in what he does. No amount of lucky breaks is going to turn a mediocre scientist into a Nobel Prize winner. But there were many potentially excellent scientists who, for one reason or another, didn’t get the chance to shine.

The simple fact is, no matter how intelligent or athletic a person is, no matter how motivated and dedicated, a person isn’t going to amount to much if they’re slaving away in some field or factory and have no access to education, schools, sports teams, etc. It’s just as likely that our greatest genius was born into poverty and never had any opportunities to blossom, as it is that their talents were recognized.

This is why I become impatient when I find quotations from some famous person who says things like, “All you have to do is persist,” or “Anyone can do this.” It’s bullshit. It’s not enough. You still need the good fortune to find yourself in a place where you can shine. And most of us never have that opportunity.

And this is not to take away from the fact that people still have to struggle and work to make use of their lucky breaks. Without their hard work, they would not have been successful. All I’m saying is that their exertions are a necessary, but not sufficient part of attaining their goals.

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