I have been meaning to write this blog post for ages, and it is a month (eek, how did that happen?) since my last post, so when this quote posted by Leaders in Heels popped up in my Facebook feed yesterday, I thought it was a sign I should get on and write this.
Until recently, I often referred to my 15 year career working for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade using the words luck or lucky. I was lucky to be selected in a group of 30 or so to join in 1999 from 2500 applicants, I was lucky to be posted to Beijing early in my career, I was lucky to be able to take maternity leave for 7 months, I was lucky to get the posting to Hanoi, I was lucky to have taken a redundancy and be reshaping my career. I could go on.
It was only during my coaching sessions with Lisa from Multiples of Two that I realised it was not about luck but hard work. It wasn’t like I was entering the lottery and being randomly chosen (although believe me, the postings process can feel a little that way). The reality was I studied hard to get my undergraduate degree. I worked hard on my application and put my best efforts into all steps of the interview process. Once I joined DFAT, I worked hard to learn new skills, develop networks and understand how the organisation worked. Learning Chinese for two years full time was a great opportunity – but I still had to do the work. And my career change – yes, again I am fortunate to have been in a position to take a redundancy so we can make this lifestyle and career change, but again, this was due to taking chances, opportunities, working hard rather than being lucky.
I think the fact we to refer to our achievements as being due to luck probably has something to do with the way we (women in particular) downplay our achievements. And we agree when people tell us (no doubt in a well-meaning way) how lucky we are to have a great career or opportunity. To correct this and say, “No, actually I worked really hard”, may sound to some like we are complaining.
But instead, if we take out luck, and realise it is about hard work, determination, commitment, persistence, personal choice or doing our best, then perhaps we would all see that we are all capable of great things and of creating the lifestyles we want. It isn’t just about someone else being luckier.
I think the same could also be said for the choices we make about how we live our lives. One friend told me she was often exasperated when people suggested she was lucky to only work three days a week. As she said, this isn’t about luck, its about her designing her life the way she wants it.
Before I saw the Margaret Thatcher quote, I had been searching for some other quotes to sum up this idea of shifting our mindsets from talking about being “lucky”, and I came up with the following quotes:
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity – Seneca (Roman philosopher)
I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it – Stephen Leacock
So the next time you find yourself downplaying your choices or achievements as just luck, stop and be honest about it. You made a choice, you worked hard, you took an opportunity and you deserved it.