An intriguing article by Jill Suttie dropped into my inbox this week from the Greater Good website. It deconstructs one of our society’s basic but damaging assumptions: hard work guarantees success and you failed because you didn’t try hard enough. Its take is a subtle one and certainly does not reduce to a slogan such as, ‘Don’t bother! Hard work doesn’t work.’ Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.
A new book debunks the myth of meritocracy and offers recommendations for creating a more equitable society.
My husband is a successful lawyer at a national law firm and works on cases he feels passionate about, mainly toxic tort and consumer protection lawsuits. He is definitely a hard worker and a very smart, talented person. But, as he will readily admit, much of how he got to where he is has to do with luck, too—being in the right place at the right time and connecting with someone who believed in him.
This random path to success is the subject of a new book, Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, by economist Robert Frank of Cornell University. Though we Americans tend to think that we are the masters of our own destiny and that hard work pays off, we are only partly right: Many of us succeed at work and in life because of luck, too.
Frank gives plenty of examples from his own life to illustrate how luck made a difference. We learn of his own two near-death experiences and how, by luck, he survived, as well as how happenstance put him in touch with his birth mother in his 30s. We also hear from many educators, inventors, actors, and businesspeople who happened upon the right idea or opportunity through accidental encounters or events that propelled them down their current path.
All of this makes for entertaining reading. But why is it important for us to consider beyond that? Frank believes that not seeing the role that luck plays in our lives makes us less sympathetic to why others fail and blinds us to their disadvantages.
While the American Dream suggests all that’s needed is talent and perseverance to get ahead, this is false thinking, says Frank. The family we are born into (and even birth order), the opportunities available in our neighborhood, the schools we attend, and whether or not we have positive adult mentors—all of which are beyond our individual control—also play an important role. If we ignore this—if we perpetuate the myth that only the deserving succeed—we will not be able to create the social change needed to better our lives.