Bad luck is often an excuse for complications in life. Occasionally, this excuse is valid: bad luck does make things go wrong (sometimes). More often than not, however, I think bad luck is confused with bad choices.
Why would we blame bad luck? Mainly because of pride and ego. Nobody likes to be wrong, and nobody wants to be embarrassed, ashamed, or disappointed in themselves. Simply put, if we hold ourselves responsible and accountable for our actions, we risk being overwhelmed with these troubling feelings. By blaming external forces for our troubles, we avoid feeling responsible and thus avoid the unpleasantness of finding faults within ourselves. Unfortunately, doing this will keep us from growing and learning from our mistakes.
Luck is independent from our choices and desires. Bad luck is something we couldn’t have reasonably avoided. Below are some examples to clarify the differences between bad luck and bad choices.
Example 1: If a cop pulls you over mistakenly, and as a result you are late for work, that’s bad luck. You could not have expected it or avoided it. If a cop pulls you over because you were going 15mph over the limit, however, that’s a bad choice. You knew the risks, don’t blame luck.
Example 2: If you’re fired by a company that is downsizing or changes its needs, that’s bad luck. If you’re fired because you showed up late, disrespected the boss, left early, slacked off, or didn’t do the required work, you made bad choices.
Example 3: If you fail a test because the questions were written in a foreign language, that’s bad luck (and totally unfair – unless it’s a foreign language exam). If you fail a test because you didn’t study hard enough, that’s a bad choice.
In the end, it all comes down to personal responsibility. The truth is, we are responsible for whatever happens in our lives, both the good and the bad. Most people will only claim responsibility for the good things, though, and blame the bad things on other factors (bad luck being just one of them). In the words of Larry Winget,
Few people will turn to themselves to take responsibility for their results until they have exhausted all opportunities to blame someone else.
My Social Psychology professor once said in class, “It’s not possible that everything bad in your life has nothing to do with your decisions.” This is my point exactly. Some bad things come from our bad decisions; will we recognize them or look the other way?
A close friend of mine recently got into big trouble with the law. He blamed bad luck more than anything else. I reminded him that different actions and different decisions could have avoided the whole ordeal. But once again, it’s hard to admit that. Sadly, until we are willing to recognize the truth, we are liable to make the same mistakes over and over again.
How can we guard against this? We can take a stand and decide that we will hold ourselves completely responsible for our actions, no matter what. Have no excuses. Once we take away the possibility of attributing blame elsewhere, we will naturally work harder to make sure our decisions are the right ones. Cut off sources of retreat, and the incentive to succeed dramatically increases.
To summarize, bad luck isn’t as common as a bad choice. This invites us to focus more on our decisions and actions. The extent to which we are willing to be accountable for every single one of our actions will ultimately determine how much we grow and learn from our own shortcomings. Just like getting over an addiction, the first step is to admit there is a problem. The first step to learning from our mistakes is to admit we made them, instead of blaming the intern, bad luck, the rain, the law, etc. If we do this, we will be sure to grow, learn, and put ourselves in the best position to succeed.