This one really grinds my gears. I’ve heard it all my life, and from people who should know better. I remember my dad saying this when I was younger, and I heard Jocko Willink say it on a recent podcast. Am I missing something?
Let’s look at this critically: “I’d rather be lucky than good.” The speaker is saying that they would willingly give up skill, something over which they exert complete control, for luck, something over which they have absolutely zero control. That completely goes against everything I am.
If I’m good at something, then I usually do well. If I have an unlucky break, I’ll do mediocre. If I get a little bit of good luck, I’ll do great.
If I rely on luck instead of skill, I will usually do mediocre. With some bad luck I’ll drop to poor performance, and good luck only lifts me to doing well.
Let’s look at it visually:
No matter what luck throws your way, you’re always better off being skilled. No matter what. More skill allows you to make up for bad luck and pick up the slack of others. More skill allows you to capitalize on good luck. Unskilled practitioners have a harder time making up for bad luck and cannot adequately compensate for the deficiencies of others. Lack of skill keeps you from capitalizing on good luck when it comes your way. In fact, lack of skill makes things that would be opportunities for a skilled individual completely unusable. Not only does lack of skill keep you from capitalizing on opportunities that come your way, it also keeps opportunities from presenting themselves at all.
Here’s a quote for you:
“‘Luck’ is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” -Seneca
That’s more like it. The mindset that luck is somehow better than or trade-able for skill is both wrong and fatalistic. The fact is that skill is really a necessary prerequisite for luck. I’ll take skill over luck 11 times out of 10.
I’ll leave you with this little gem:
“The harder I work, the more lucky I get.” -Thomas Jefferson
See you next Friday.
5 thoughts on “Stupid Sayings: “I’d Rather be Lucky Than Good””
This is a case where analysis ruins the charm of the phrase. There is a humility that is really endearing, you are supplicating your own egotistic association with skill to the fates or luck, for you know that without the help of this elusive, ethereal luck, you could be screwed before you even start.
I agree the quotes from Seneca and Jefferson are equally if not more witty, however they work better in different contexts. If you are speaking to somebody who perhaps is building you up you can modestly say, well personally I would prefer to be lucky than good. However if somebody is trying to belittle you by saying “you had all the luck in the world today”, the more appropriate retort might be, “well as a matter of fact the more I practice the luckier I get”.
I will leave you with a quote, “wisdom is timing”. Context is key to any phrase and every phrase can be made to look foolish without it. Especially when outlined in a logic grid with biased parameters.
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Good argument. However, I think that what you are missing are 2 key points. But before let’s define luck as “some result that benefits you.”
Now, the first point you are missing is that there are more things out of your control than in your control. And luck has an effect in both; things that you can control and things that you can’t control. On the other hand, skills only work on the things that you can’t control. So, just with that, it’s better to be lucky than good (or skillful).
The second point you’re missing, is that you may be really good, or let’s say, the best at something. Which means that you’re mediocre or really bad at infinite other things (which is true). In this scenario (which is life), you’re better off being lucky.
That’s why wise men like that saying. Once you understand that you can’t control most things in life, then, you will understand and like this saying.
I think, it’s better (and more humble) to categorize this saying as “sayings that I don’t get” Instead of “stupid sayings”
Because the fact that you don’t get it, doesn’t mean they are stupid.
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To your first point, I agree with the setup. There are infinitely more things I don’t have control of. So, I’d rather have better control of the few that are under my influence. It gives me a greater window of operation and accounts for more chaos before I can’t succeed.
To the second, opportunity cost is real. The likelihood that the one or two things I try to be really good at will actually work in my favor is low. You have a point there that I will concede.
To your third point I say “fair”. There are lots of wiser men than I out there, and I don’t even know what I don’t know. Hopefully I soon figure some of those things out so that I can grow as well.
And finally, your last point. I’m going to keep the name because some of the sayings really are dumb. This one less so, but others in this series really are. Also, it’s a little more click-baity this way. I can’t argue with what works, even if it doesn’t always present the more nuanced approach.
Anyway, thanks for reading! You’ve given me something to think about and that’s always appreciated.
It wasn’t Jefferson that said that, it’s most commonly attributed to the South African golfer Gary Player in the 1960s, but even he used it as a quote from earlier golfers. First known use (1896) was some 80 years after Jefferson died, “The more you know, the more luck you have.”
But I agree with the previous posters, it’s a wry comment from someone who knows they are good and that they’ve worked hard to achieve but is then accused of being lucky.