The President of the United States missed a golden opportunity to inspire a group of soon to be college graduates in Washington, DC. recently.
Speaking from the podium at Howard University, the President enthusiastically uttered a line that caught and held my attention. As the author of a book entitled Success Is Not an Accident, I believe you’ll immediately know why this line stood out to me and temporarily disrupted my train of thought.
As part of this speech, the President said:
“That’s a pet peeve of mine: People who have been successful and don’t realize they’ve been lucky.”
This line bothered me not just because it opposes the title of my book, or because it clearly opposes the work I’ve been immersed in for the last 25 years. That was bad enough. It got under my skin, most of all, because I felt so bad for those young people sitting in the audience.
Instead of being challenged to set big goals, work hard and push through adversity, they were exposed to the very uninspiring notion that some of them, if they were lucky, might just end up being successful one day. And if that “happens,” it will be accidental, not the effect of their initiative, focus and perseverance. I remember graduating from college. It was not luck. Maybe an answered prayer, but most certainly not luck.
I imagine that some of those students listening to their commencement speech felt the same way when the President attributed success to luck, not to virtuous character. Did these Howard graduates make it to commencement because of lucky circumstances or because of persistent hard work? And, does luck apply to academics, sports and the arts or only to the business world and economic matters? While “unexplained occurrences” are a reality, these fortuitous happenings are not the primary cause of an individual’s success. A bigger reality is that good things tend to happen much more consistently to those who work very, very hard and focus on bringing value to their fellow citizens.
Interestingly, the “lucky” line from the graduation speech was an eerily similar sentiment to the infamous “you didn’t build that” conclusion that was offered by the president to business owners several years ago.
But, the Bible says, “The point is this; he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). The apostle Paul was emphatic about this: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7)
This is a wonderful promise reminding us that the actions we take today, not luck, create the world we live in tomorrow.
This week, we’ll be discussing the difference between success and luck. This article is part 1, look for part 2 and part 3 this week!