The Luck Vs. Hard Work Debate: What Matters Most In Life Success

luck vs hard work debate

What matters in life in order to success? The standard debate goes something like this, “What bring success in life: luck vs hard work?”

But that’s the wrong approach. Both are at play. It is not one or the other. Also, there are more factors you can leverage to succeed.

Today, I cover the following topics:

  • How luck plays a role in someone’s success.
  • How hard work is a lot more valuable than you think.
  • Keys to motivating yourself and having a strong work ethic.
  • What matters more: luck, hard work and effort, or other factors (I’ll explain what these other factors are).
  • Does luck play an important role in life success? (Hint: It depends. Are you aiming to be #1 in the world or just to earn a good living?)

You should trust my advice on the luck versus hard work debate because I reference proof and case studies from successful people like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

Listen to the audio podcast below (while you’re in the car, working out, waiting in line, wherever you want) to find the truth about the luck vs hard work debate:

Subscribe to my podcast free on iTunes. Leave a review. These help my podcast get noticed so I appreciate it if you do.

Prefer watching to listening? Watch this video:

Will Smith’s Thoughts on the Difference Between Talent and Skill

Let’s take a look at what one of the most famous actors of all time has to say about hard work. In this video, starting at time stamp 0:33, he explains that there is a huge misconception around the difference between talent and skill. Talent is what you have naturally. Skill is only developed through hours and hours of beating on your craft.

This reminds me of the tortoise and the hare fable. The hare (rabbit) raced the tortoise but got arrogant because he could run so much faster. He falls asleep in the middle of the race and the tortoise wins slowly and steadily moving while the hare slept.

Why is this relevant?

Well, what Will is saying here is that talent is simply potential. Without putting in work, you will never come close to reaching that potential. And many people with a lot of talent don’t put in the necessary work because they become spoiled and rely on their talent to get by.

I’m sure you know someone in school or who plays a sport who can study or practice much less than you (or not at all) and still beat you. So rather than working harder, they are tempted to work less and get lazy because they can. This works until you start competing against a national or global playing field as you reach college and adulthood. That’s exactly what Rich Froning, one of the top CrossFit athletes of all time, said in his book about what separates the good from the great.

All of a sudden, you’re competing with people who have talent and work hard.

Simply put, hard work is a very useful factor to get ahead of others. You may not become the best in the world without a certain amount of talent. But you can still do pretty darn well and above average if you outwork others.

Pat Cash’s Thoughts

Pat is regarded as one of the best tennis players of all time. He is a Wimbledon champion, 5-time Grand Slam finalist, and has achieved a career high ATP singles ranking of #4.

In a Q&A session hosted by Quora, he (like many other top athletes I’ve studied) admitted that to get to the highest levels of the sport, you need a combination of genetics (luck) and rigorous training.

“My genetic makeup gave me the potential to break the world record sprint over 10 m. This is one of the advantages that allowed me to achieve success in tennis. But never in my wildest dreams could I run a marathon at the pace required to be a champion marathon runner. I am physically not built for it.” -Pat Cash

He could train his heart out for long distance running, but he doesn’t have the right muscle fibers, leg length, and so forth to be the fastest.

Pat makes a great point in his answer that the emphasis here is on genetic potential. Without consistent hard work, you may never come close to reaching this potential, even if you have the genetics to be the best Tennis player or sprinter on earth. You have to put in those thousands of hours of hustle.

“The will to win, dedication to work hard, creativity to overcome obstacles, ability to plan ahead and the fortitude to deal with tough times are all essential. Without these qualities one can not become a champion.” -Pat Cash

Therefore, Pat does not believe in the motivational quotes out there that say “You can achieve anything you want in life if you … (believe hard enough, help enough other people, etc.).” It isn’t always true and can be misleading.

I’d like to remind you that you can still achieve quite a lot, such as live a wealthy, happy, comfortable life, even if you aren’t the best in the world at something. Pat’s question addresses becoming #1. But there are plenty of people far below the #1 rank at someone who are making more than a comfortable living.

Charlie Munger’s Wisdom

Hard work and luck are both important factors. Charlie Munger has said in many interviews that when he was in college, he tried out pursuing a career science. But he quickly realized that he wouldn’t ever be better than his other classmates. Therefore, he switched to law.

The lesson here is that talent (luck) should not be ignored as a factor. Talent is a genetic gift that allows you to get greater results than your competitors with less effort.

Charlie understood the power of this and switched to a playing field where he had more of a chance.

This may seem like contradictory advice to what Will Smith said about how he is mainly successful because of his work but I don’t think so. Will acknowledged that he was still slightly above average in talent at acting. Not all industries require have as much of a difference in natural ability. You simply don’t want to jump into one where the odds are severely stacked against you.

Is Your Attitude Affecting Your Luck?

The factor of luck gets even more complicated when you realize that most people who are interested in reading this may be sabotaging their own luck already based on their attitude about luck. Just believing you can’t succeed because it’s about luck or thinking you are unlucky can affect your “luck.” 

Derren Brown did a series of experiments where he found that those who thought they were unlucky missed out on $100 bills placed in front of them much more often than those who thought they were lucky. Just based on their attitude, their reticular activating system in their brains were turned off from scanning for positive opportunities.

Show Notes:

1) For further study, check out Matt Mullenweg’s answer to the question, “What has contributed to your success other than luck and hard work?” Matt is the CEO of Automattic, a multi-billion dollar start-up. Essentially, he says that there are tons of unnoticed failures behind every person’s success. Also, you should have a greater motivator than just money to succeed.

Here is a great Google Talk about this topic by Michael Mauboussin. One of my favorite points from this video was the test you can use to see if something can be improved with hard work or only luck. You simply ask if someone with skill can deliberately lose if you tried. For example, a lottery ticket won’t let you lose on purpose, but a baseball player can purposely miss the ball.

2) Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, is eye-opening. She did an extensive examination of hundreds of studies and interviewed hundreds of successful people. It turns out there is more to success than just hard work. In fact, there was only one factor that held consistent among these people. She called it Grit.

She defines Grit as a mixture of perseverance and passion for long-term goals. The best news? Grit can be learned and improved.

3) Check out my Success Habits Outline. It is constantly updated based on the top patterns I discover among successful people.

4) If there is one person I trust about wealth creation it is Napoleon Hill.

He spent his whole life studying the world’s richest people in person. I recommend his book Laws of Success as the #1 bible. He covers a lot of the top must-have principles on success, which includes perseverance, enthusiasm, and goal-setting techniques. But make sure you actually do exactly what he says. I know a lot of people who have read the book, but very few who actually do what he says verbatim.

5) The Truth About 10,000 Hours (from the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell).

This book popularized the idea of 10,000 hours, which says you need at least 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. This is actually a myth. He actually says in the book (and clarifies in a Reddit AMA) that some professions require at least 10,000 hours to become world-class if you already have the required amount of talent and training from an early age.

This concept applies only to specific athletic skills like gymnastics because you have to have the luck to have the right body type and start training almost after you are born by world-class instructors, which many Olympians had, and then, you have to have the passion and ability to put in the work necessary.

There are plenty of successful people who didn’t find their skill or big idea until much later in life. Gladwell’s main point was that working harder than someone does work after certain levels of talent, practice, and education are met.

What is most important for you is the section of the book on Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, gymnasts, and the highest IQ students of the country. You’ll find that at the highest levels of competition, luck has to play a role. Whether it’s chess, Olympic gymnastics, or programming, these people were born with a talent and introduced to world class training at an early age.

You may find this discouraging, but when you think about it, he is only talking about the top 1% of the 1% of a profession and saying they all have to credit luck. At such a high level, it makes sense that you have to respect Lady Luck on some level. But for the rest of us, we can still achieve great things that aren’t in that 1% level. Whose to say that lesser, but still magnificent, achievements require as much luck? There are millions of millionaires out there, for example. That feat is entirely possible for you as it is not something that only a handful of people have accomplished.

In fact, Michael Mauboussin argues in the video above that it is liberating because you can move on once you have tried your hardest.  My word of caution is that most people give up too early or do not try everything they possibly can because they think it’s already futile. Don’t let the process of blaming luck do that to you.

Many successful people spent years plowing after a project after everyone else had given up. It was their perseverance that increased their chances of success.

6) For more value bombs and real-life examples on this debate. Watch my video below:


“In the long run, luck plays a smaller role in your career than the factors that are within your control.” -Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, from the book Winning

I truly believe that hard work is more important than luck. And as you can tell by the quote, from one of the most successful CEO’s of all time, Jack Welch agrees. In the moment, it may seem like you are screwed and can’t move upwards. But a year or two is a short time in the course of your life. If you keep investing and improving yourself over others, it will add up.

Some people like to give it all up to destiny. They think everything is already written. What makes me doubt this idea is that I have seen many young people die pointless accidents. Many die from preventable car accidents, drownings, or adventure accidents that could have been avoided if they were more safe.

You start to think, “Is this how it all ends for him?”

Was this young man destined to die a pointless death so early on? The fact that these events change my own behavior means that I have changed my own possible destiny by being safer in my travels. In fact, the very process of believing in destiny can change your behavior to be more lazy and less persistent since you believe “it doesn’t matter anyways.” And that lack of enthusiasm could affect whether you achieve certain results, like getting a job you applied for or getting a business to succeed.

You could argue that someone who is genetically built to be adventurous wouldn’t have listened to safety advice anyways and a slight twist of luck would have saved him from falling to his death…

But the point is that you have the choice to work hard, be safer, and persist. That is in your control. Whether or not luck completely controls your life, you have to try as hard as you can.

Further Recommended Reading on Luck

There are some great books on how people underestimate the factor of luck that I recommend you reading. These include:

If you purchase these books or any others through the Amazon links provided, I will get a commission at no extra cost to you.

Grab a Free Cheatsheet

Do you want a PDF version of all these resources for free? Grab it now by clicking the button below.

Yes, I want to become successful with this free cheatsheet

Now, I have a question for you: What was your favorite lesson from this episode? Leave a comment below letting me know.

I Spend 20+ Hours A Week Studying Successful People
I share my insights every week in my free newsletter.
I agree to have my personal information transfered to ConvertKit ( more information )
We respect your privacy

By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.


  1. Great article, Will!

    I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of being able to control whatever you can. In your career or personal life, you will always be able to control how hard you work.

    The caveat is how effective the work really is. This will take a more strategic approach to yield the desired results. By establishing the right strategy, your efforts can exponentially impact your brand!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *