On hard work and luck

I remember sometime in 2009 while I was in elementary school as a young, impressionable boy. I had often represented my school alongside a few other colleagues in external competitions. We would spend extra hours in school working and studying hard, with intensive training from our teacher, in a bid to throw our hats into the ring with maximal and fortuitous preparedness.

The delegation was always led by the school headmaster to the competition’s venue. And just a few moments to his point of releasing us to the battlefield with our counterparts from other schools, "guys," he would momentarily say in his peculiar old-fashioned accent and calm demeanor, "good luck." That always lifted our spirit on an appreciable scale of optimism.

Of course, the outcome of those competitions we went for was sometimes not in our favour — despite our hard work and rigorous preparation. While we had a relatively few wins, we lost many times. "Better luck to you all next time," he would always say to us, perhaps to urge us to be stoical over the devastating loss.

Until after several years of growing up to witness more rejections and failures, I never really got the clear import of the real motive my headmaster was always wishing us luck — which I have always wondered. The answers eventually came dawning on me that he wishing us "good luck" meant that even though we were fully-prepared, there is still an often uncontrollable factor that plays out in the results, whether positive or negative. And that wishing us "better luck next time" meant that even though we stood a fair chance and in good stead in the competition, the odds were not in our favour enough and our luck simply didn’t shine well.

I would later ascertain that hard work and luck are key and, in fact, independent factors in the equation of success. That success, to a considerable extent, also depends significantly on chance. And that contrary to what I had always believed over the years, preparation coupled with opportunity do not automatically translate to luck.

It was in January 2019, I had applied for a seat on the Board of Governors (BoG) of a Pakistani-based and non-profit international organization, Journalism for SDGs. The opening attracted a pool of outstanding and highly-qualified applicants from various countries across the world. At a glance through the entire application processes involved, one could easily and safely conclude that the opportunity would be extremely competitive.

Having achieved not much as a student-journalist and laden with only 2 years of experience, I assessed myself to know if, in the actual sense, I was worthy of securing a seat on the esteemed board. And as events would have it, I took a huge leap of faith and chance on myself to put in an application despite not meeting some of the requirements. In the end and by a stroke of luck, I clinched a role at the organization — that had less than 5% selection rate.

My heart leaped with joy and of course, pop-eyed with utter disbelief when I received the acceptance mail that very cool morning. The Chair of the board would later say after the appointment, "you’re extremely lucky to be joining to work with us."

To be frank, till today, the reason behind my acceptance is eerie and has remained enigmatic to me. I never knew exactly why I was picked out of the large, talented and competitive pool for the famous roll. This was the first time I had to admit that I was truly lucky. The way the story turned out has since prompted a deep reflection, shaped my perception and made me appreciate luck the more. And then, sadly to admit and learn, always try to leave chance for what it is: to either favour me or frown on me (something I would never be in control of).

In the discussion and story of any kind of success, the role luck plays is often overlooked and hardly mentioned. And even if it is at all mentioned, it doesn’t get enough consideration and is typically laid off as a product of hard work. However, this is not to undermine the importance of the role hard work plays, but to push another perspective forward that success is not only as a result of a dint of hardwork. I am a hard-working person, like many others you would see out there. But I have come to realize that a large element of some of the successes I have recorded cannot be entirely attributed to my hard work. And likewise, some of the losses I have suffered did not result from the fact that I didn’t work prepare well for them. Chance only happened. And it’s just fine!

The philosophy I have so far held is that provided I do my best to put in as much effort as possible into making something a success, the rest is out of my hands. And the journey of practice, preparation and performance matters a whole lot, is incredibly fulfilling and counts for everything more than the outcome. Because many things factor in an outcome. But it is just what it is: while your hard work can influence the outcome a great deal, there is a limit to which you can help it with that. You stake your odds, test your chances and simply leave a part of what turns out to luck.

Borrowing a leaf from my then headmaster, I wish you good luck in all your present and future endeavours (because, apart from the hard work you will put in them, you will also very much need luck).

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Agbaje Ayomide

Agbaje Ayomide

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Baring fresh perspectives, one article at a time ✍