Wednesday, March 17, 2010
What's Luck Got To Do With It?
One theme that I see in science blogs, particularly among those who are struggling with their science career (both moderators and respondents) is the idea that successful scientists are somehow luckier than everyone else. This is rarely true, and to believe that luck has anything to do with success (or lack of it) is self-defeating. The “golden child” types have been mentioned on some blogs as people who lucked into their wonderful situations (by knowing the right person, by accident of birth, etc.).
But perhaps they only seem to be “golden”. Maybe they’ve figured out how to work the system or maybe they just work really hard without letting on. I’ve heard people refer to me as being successful because I’m luckier than they are or have been “given” extra help or resources. My response was, “Whaaat?” I worked extremely hard for everything I’ve achieved—nothing came easy. My scientist husband has worked hard, too (although he did not face the same obstacles that I did). We stuck to it and are now a successful professional couple.
We didn’t start out that way, though. I faced some really negative situations (discrimination, vindictive bosses, harassment), and my husband was affected by my problems. So for someone to suggest that we’ve been “lucky” in our careers or been given special treatment is just naive.
There always will be challenges, especially in such a competitive field as science. If the challenges (both technical and political) are too much for you, it’s best to figure this out early and go into something more compatible and rewarding. But be forewarned. Those “issues” that you blame on your boss, your obnoxious co-workers, or The System, may follow you to your new endeavor.
The reason, of course, is that problems often result from an inability to handle challenges well or a failure to understand other’s expectations of us. Some people learn early, some late, and some never. If you consistently seem to have problems when everyone around you seems to be enjoying much better “luck”, then it’s time to reassess your approach.