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Would You Rather Be Lucky or Good?

Gender at Work |

I vividly remember one day talking to my parents, well, actually talking to my mother while my father watched TV, about some recent career achievement. My mother said, “aren’t you lucky to have this opportunity,” and my father looked up from the TV, interrupted and said, “she’s not lucky, she worked hard.”

My father usually didn’t engage in the blow-by-blow reporting of my work life, much less respond emphatically. The exchange has stayed with me all these years.

I often hear women characterize themselves as lucky, not always, but often enough. What is more interesting is that I never have heard a man characterize any of his accomplishments as the product of luck – even when they were.

In fact, I’ve had men explain to me in great detail how each step in their rise to fame and power was the result of a carefully laid plan and supernatural insights. Luck played no part.

I assumed I was rational about what was the result of luck and what was the result of hard work or insight when it came to my own life. But when I think about it, I probably ascribe too much to luck.

For example, I often tell a story about how I was meeting with a banking consultant late on a Friday afternoon. In the course of the conversation, I said it was only a matter of time before NationsBank bought Bank of America. He seemed surprised. That Sunday, NationsBank announce the acquisition of BofA. The crux of my story is that the consultant must have thought I had much greater insight to banking than I did. In fact, it was just a matter of luck.

But it wasn’t. I didn’t just pull that statement out of thin air. I wasn’t hearing voices in my head or even overhearing conversations in an elevator. It was an assessment made on the basis of trends I had observed in the industry.

I have said I’m lucky to have ended up living on the water and working from home, but as one of my male friends pointed out, I worked damn hard when I was in corporate! I happily worked through the night and through the weekend and wherever and whenever it pleased my higher ups.

I guess my default is to assume luck over hard work. I have always thought I was pretty conscious of all of those little cues and foibles that differentiate men from women at work. But I suppose there were many times that I characterized myself as ‘lucky’ when I should have said ‘good’ to my male colleagues.

So to all of you hard working women out there, next time you are inclined to say you were lucky, stop yourself and remember, you are damn good!