September 5, 2018

Is it luck or privilege?

I saw a question posted on Facebook recently about the role of luck in business success and it stuck with me. How much of anyone’s successes are due to luck? How much are due to privilege?

See, as a white person in Canada, I’ve been largely unaware of my inherent privilege throughout my life. I’ve only been thinking about it in recent years.

I can go into any store and no one assumes I’m going to steal or am up to no good. The name I use right now is easily spell-able and pronounceable, though my previous one was not and that closed so many doors for me. My ability to get housing or a car loan was pretty much assumed. My education path was set.

The only luck I can attribute to this is the luck I had being born into the family, and location, I was born in. The rest is privilege.

When you have privilege, there are more opportunities to leverage it because you’re skipping the issues that other people have to face like their own defined personhood.

Now, without a doubt I’ve faced a lot of issues because of my gender. Being a woman in tech immediately put me in the middle of a world many men wanted me to know that I did not belong in.

So let’s define who has privilege as it stands in Canada or the US right now. It includes the following groups
• White people
• Able-bodied people
• Heterosexuals
• Males
• Christians (I think this is less important in Canada)
• Middle class people
• English-speaking people

Anyone in this group may scoff that they have privilege but people who have it often don’t see it. If I were a white male, I would be tooting the usual line of “hard work and dedication will open doors, quit whining.”

I can tick off four of those boxes for me, and two others are assumed about me though they would be wrong. But I don’t correct that assumption because I want as much privilege as possible. The only one I can’t get away with is being male.

Ok, so what about luck?

If we exclude privilege from this, let’s just assume we all start in a place where we want to grow, have ambitions and drive, then luck is what happens when you say yes to the opportunities that come your way.

Yes when it scares you. Yes when you think you’re not good enough for whatever. Yes when you don’t know how to do the thing but you think you can learn it fast.

Waaaaay back in 2000 or so I told a client I knew XML (it was the hottest markup language at the time) when I didn’t. I had two days to learn it and then jump on his project. XML ended up being the corner stone of most of my work for the next 18 years. I can easily attribute my business success to that moment.

Now that doesn’t look like luck on first glance, it kinda looks like a ballsy move, but honestly luck shows up when you do those things.

But luck can also be meeting someone you click with and it turns out they interview people for a living and suddenly you’re in front of a large audience. Of course, that luck only happens when you say yes to the interview even if you want to say no.

This time last year, I flew to the UK with my oldest spawn. I met with people I’m still in contact with today, cementing what could be a fantastic business relationship and definitely bringing us closer as friends. Privilege was having the money to go to the UK. Luck showed up when I faced my fears of traveling as an adult without someone there to guide me.

Ok so what if luck is interchangeable with opportunity? Am I really talking about luck here? It kinda sounds like I’m talking about seizing opportunities as they arise.

Maybe luck is winning the lottery. You have to play to win but there are no other factors at play affecting your ability to win aside from the number of people who play that week.

I had listed my old house twice. The first time we got nothing but terrible offers and contentious potential buyers in the mix. I actually threw one couple off the property. When one sale fell through, we pulled the house off the market to catch our breaths literally the day I was about to sign a lease on a house.

Luck was there when I didn’t sign the lease.

When we listed the house again, about two weeks later, it sold within 24 hours for full asking price. The house I’ve currently leased was suddenly available (it’s a new construction) and I ended up in a far better house than the one I was going to settle on.

That’s definitely luck. I had zero control over the various pieces in the air. All I did was google the hell out of “4 bedroom homes for lease in London” and then contact every agency that had houses that didn’t look like crap.

I did my part but I had no control over when or if this house would be ready to live in. I had no control over when or if my old house would sell and for how much.

I definitely need to think on this more. Maybe the question should be: is it privilege, opportunity or luck?

What do you think? Has privilege, opportunity or luck played roles in your life, and if so how would you define which did what?

Food for thought.