What the hell is in my co-worker's mind?
November 29, 2011 6:29 PM   Subscribe

What the hell is in my co-worker's mind?

He, my co-worker, will every so often stridently declare that he
Doesn't believe in luck. Yes, he's a booster-type. Now I admit two things: that I may be Biased by not sharing his booster temperament, and that it's possible for luck to be misused, as a scapegoat. Still, allowing for that, his insistence seems lamebrained to me, yet I can't put my finger on exactly why. Does anybody have a clue what his reasoning might be, if there's more there to justify his (dis-)belief, or if it's threadbare, where exactly the fallacy lies? Or failing that, just supply some insight into this type of person's motives: what's going on in their heads that they have to make such a blanket statement out of it?
posted by Rich Smorgasbord to Human Relations (43 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is your issue that you do believe in luck and don't understand why he doesn't, or is it that you don't understand why he bothers to point out something so obvious?
posted by box at 6:31 PM on November 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


Some people just think attributing things to "luck" absolves a person of responsibility.

As long as he is not forcing you to agree, and it's not affecting his performance at work, then who cares why he thinks that, just let him be.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:32 PM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


"I don't believe in luck" = "I believe that every single good thing that has happened to me, and will happen to me, is due to my own awesomeness and hard work and skills etc.", and not due to [luck, the work of others, circumstance, privilege, happenstance, other factors]

blergh. people like that get on my nerves. seems harmless though, unless he's trying to get you to agree with him all the time, or interfering with your work somehow.
posted by zdravo at 6:34 PM on November 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


Sorry, what kind of luck doesn't he believe in? Is he not superstitious? Or is he a 'I've earned everything I have,' 'bootstraps!' type of guy?
posted by Garm at 6:35 PM on November 29, 2011


Some people who don't believe in luck ascribe everything that happens to a Higher Power.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:37 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


It depends on what he means. "Luck" doesn't have to mean some magical force that makes good or bad things happen to you, it can just be a word that describes whether good or bad things happen to you.
posted by cmoj at 6:37 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know what a "booster-type" is but my interpretation is that he's ambitious or hard-driving.
Maybe he's saying he doesn't believe in luck because he believes he's earned everything that's come his way.
As in: He believes in "hard work" and not luck to get what he wants in life.
posted by bebrave! at 6:40 PM on November 29, 2011


It is not impossible that he believes that the world is deterministic. Since we're made up of atoms that obey the laws of physics, we'd be able to predict the future perfectly if we could just measure those atoms accurately enough, etc, etc, etc.
posted by toomuchpete at 6:44 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Luck or fortuity is good fortune which occurs beyond one's control, without regard to one's will, intention, or desired result. There are at least two senses people usually mean when they use the term, the prescriptive sense and the descriptive sense. In the prescriptive sense, luck is the supernatural and deterministic concept that there is a force which prescribes that certain events occur very much the way the laws of physics will prescribe that certain events occur. It is the prescriptive sense that people mean when they state that they "do not believe in luck." In the descriptive sense, luck is merely a name we give to events after they occur which we find to be fortuitous."

Perhaps you have different interpretations of luck?
posted by looli at 6:50 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd like to know more about the context, and if he's using luck as a stand in for random chance, or if he actually intending the more specific usage of effecting random chance through unrelated actions (like doing better at the craps table because somebody wished him "good luck").

That said, I'm reading it like bebrave!, he probably picked up the phrase as an aphorism, and uses it to remind himself and encourage others to be aggressive in pursuing goals. Which doesn't exclude recognizing outside factors that contribute to his success, he's probably got one or two about being thankful as well. It's been my experience that a good chunk of people that live by sayings have several the like to live by, and usually some contradictory ones.

Or he could be a Skeptic and needs to vent every now and then. There's a lot of low grade supernatural attribution that goes on in some societies, and it can be pretty grating if you don't believe in it. In America it's pretty much an assumed subtext of quite a few topics. Sometimes my gut response to being wished good luck is to point out that I worked hard to be good enough that I don't need luck, I can rely on my skill. I don't actually say that say that, but the urge is there. That's not saying I don't recognize all the random events that lead to me getting the chance to even have the skill let alone use it, it's just wanting recognition for my contribution to my success.

If you want to know what he means, the best person to ask is him. He may turn out to be a Hyper-Calvinist, or he may turn out to just be trying to give himself a mental boost, or he may be some odder fish yet.
posted by Gygesringtone at 7:10 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I tell my sales people that their sales are due to their incredible skill and experience ... any failures are attributed to bad, bad luck! This has the effect of focusing them on their skills and the tools at their disposal. Perhaps he's trying some variation of this.
posted by Allee Katze at 7:12 PM on November 29, 2011


I'm pretty sure he doesn't mean it prescriptively, ie, luck as fate. And he's an ambitious, bootstraps guy.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 7:14 PM on November 29, 2011


It's hard to tell from the OPs description but on my reading, I take it to be something like "I don't believe people are inherently lucky". Which is to say, you can attribute past events to luck (that is, when a low probability event happens to you), but you can't say, because I am lucky, I will experience more than average goodness in the future (or the reverse). Most good professional poker players don't believe in lucky seats, or lucky streaks, etc etc.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:15 PM on November 29, 2011


Thanks so far you guys. I can't keep up... It's arduous typing on this phone...
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 7:17 PM on November 29, 2011


Yeah, it's possible it's a "nothing that's good to me has happened by luck or chance; I deserved everything good that's ever happened to me because I worked for it" mind frame (which helps to justify any disregard or cruelty he might exhibit to people less fortunate than he is, because if he earned everything good that's ever happened in his life, then people who are in any unfortunate circumstances are entirely to blame, and therefore they don't deserve any sympathy, compassion, help, or concern).

It's also possible it's a "there is no luck; there is only a higher power" sort of thing. A good friend of mine who's very strongly Christian will explicitly dismiss it if anyone says "good luck" to her (such as when she starts a new job, etc.) on that basis.
posted by scody at 7:20 PM on November 29, 2011


Could you clarify what you mean by 'booster'?
posted by stray at 7:21 PM on November 29, 2011


This is one if the fundamental differences between the liberal and conservative temperaments, perhaps the fundamental one --- whether one believes that external circumstances have a strong determinative effect on outcomes or whether one believes that one's own efforts are the most important factor in determining such outcomes. If the former, one is apt to favor policies which aim to effect broad societal changes, if the latter, one tends to favor policies which do more to ensure the broadest possible freedoms for and rewards of the individual. Life is a mixed bag and it's always hard to attribute an outcome to any one factor --- if the point guard's sneaker hadn't slipped just that fraction of an inch on the parquet, the forward wouldn't have been able to steal the ball, but neither would he have been able to make the buzzer- beater if he hadn't spent hours of extra practice time working on his three-pointer. Etc., and so it goes.

Each philosophy has advantages. The strength and appeal of an "I don't believe in luck" approach to life is that it empowers the believer and makes him trust in his ability to better his situation --- a little more preparation, a little more hustle, a little more grit, and I can get where I want to be. Paradoxically, it's often most helpful in professions where there's a large degree of risk --- commission sales, for instance.
posted by Diablevert at 7:26 PM on November 29, 2011


He's young and expects to be rich some day...
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 7:26 PM on November 29, 2011


I don't believe in luck either but I do believe in divine providence. If he means he thinks all his good results are from self effort I'd be annoyed myself.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:28 PM on November 29, 2011


"booster" is a slightly old word, it means a think-positive cheerleader type...
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 7:30 PM on November 29, 2011


You might be interested in reading Barbara Ehrenreich's book Bright Sided. It looks at the question of luck, and boosterism, and Christianity, in an eminently readable way. It's a book I had trouble putting down. So even if you're not specifically interested in understanding this guy, or arguing with him, or whatever, it's worth a read. It definitely will give you specific arguments against that super-annoying sort of boosterism, if you want to challenge him (which I know I would do if he were my colleague).
posted by Capri at 7:32 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think people who don't believe in luck have some control issues--they believe that there is a prescribed series of hoops they have to jump through in order to achieve success, and anyone who doesn't achieve that success must, therefore, have failed to jump through a hoop somewhere along the line.

Personally, I think this is mostly confirmation bias: YOU succeeded because YOU did XYZ and therefore this formula must apply to EVERYONE.
posted by elizeh at 7:34 PM on November 29, 2011


The following post might be from a "booster". You are warned.

Quite often people tell me, after hearing about my work or my life "You're so lucky!"

Gads, that gets on my nerves. When I hear that I hear the words "Wow, you don't deserve that, you must have fallen into what you have bass ackwards. I'm completely envious and wish that would happen to me! I'm completely helpless to improve my life unless I win the lottery!"

But I got where I am through my own hard work and good decisions. If I didn't work hard and make good decisions, no amount of being in the right place at the right time would save me.

I do believe that there is luck, that there are things that happen randomly. But successful people are never successful because of luck. They're successful because they worked hard and make the right decisions.*

*Success not guaranteed.
posted by Ookseer at 7:38 PM on November 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


IF it's relevant:

He's not successful yet, in case anyone missed that.
He thinks money is the most important thing in life.
He believes perception of success leads to actual success.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 7:53 PM on November 29, 2011


He means he wants to be prepared for moments in which prepared people score something big. And, he would probably be just as enthusiastically annoying on a Monday morning if he believed in luck because he also believes he knows more about how the world works than his co-workers. That's a problem with rainbow-coalition representation.
posted by michaelh at 7:58 PM on November 29, 2011


I also claim to not believe in luck. What I mean by that is really something like this: good and bad things can both happen randomly, for reasons beyond your control, and I don't mind saying that things like that were lucky or unlucky. BUT having good luck or bad luck in the past or present does not determine your luck in the future.
posted by number9dream at 8:17 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The more I practice, the luckier I get" --Gary Player

He may simply have internalized the "you make your own luck" aphorism, possibly as a means of motivation. Perhaps it's an instance of the Fundamental Attribution Error, with "luck" being a nickname for the external, situational forces of environment, circumstances, and history.
posted by rhizome at 9:28 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I hear it, it tends to mean the same thing as "hope is not a plan." You don't assume someone is going to do something correctly, you tell them what you expect and you follow up to make sure it's happening. Then, when you're successful, it's because you made it that way, not because of luck.

Taken to the extreme, these people are very micromanaging and controlling. The kind of person who would interrupt the firemen to quiz them about their plan for putting his house fire out.
posted by ctmf at 9:43 PM on November 29, 2011


Good luck does not exist. Randomness does. Successful people appear lucky only to people who don't appreciate that "good luck" is simply the intersection of talent, persistence and randomness. Enough talent and persistence and you'll get that good roll of the dice that gets you over the top ... With the provisos that, sad to say, bad luck does exist. The power of randomness is much greater on the downside; there are plenty of single throws of the dice so bad they overcome talent and persistence of any measure.

Any successful person should at once give himself credit for his success, but also be smart enough to know that there but for the grace of god go I.
posted by MattD at 10:28 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sounds like someone smoking some Tony Robbins.

How are his teeth?
posted by ead at 10:48 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think that in some situations, it can be unhelpful to believe in luck.

In order to be successful you need a really strong belief in your own agency. If you believe that your misfortunes are attributable to external forces such as bad luck - no matter how true this may be - you'll struggle to identify things that you yourself could do to be more fortunate later.

If you believe that your good progress so far has been caused by your own hard work, this is a pretty good frame of mind for continuing to work hard and make progress.

So in a context of self-belief and personal drive, I think it is useful not to believe in luck, even if one's privilege and opportunity really are a matter of luck. In a context of minority hiring, or working in the homeless shelter, it's probably much more useful to believe in luck.
posted by emilyw at 1:59 AM on November 30, 2011


Most good professional poker players don't believe in lucky seats, or lucky streaks, etc etc.

Getting into poker did have this unexpected result of changing my perception of "luckiness." Yes, random luck absolutely exists, but no one person or thing is inherently luckier than another. When someone says they'd rather be lucky than good, my thought is that luck runs out. Although I think there is something to the notion of effectively "creating your own luck," good or bad. And while success is dependent on talent and hard work, it takes luck too.

But your kid's birthday is just as likely to be a winning Lotto number as Hitler's. A team doesn't win a game because their fans or players had more effective superstitions than the other. And couples that get married on supposedly lucky(!) dates like 11/11/11? Ugh.

There's an article at "You Are Not So Smart" about the innate human need to shape randomness into a neat orderly pattern. We're all tempted to believe in "signs" or "fate," but really, it's just chance, even if that's no fun.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:20 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Given your recent comments, it seems pretty obvious that he believes that he'll be successful because he works hard and won't need "luck". It also seems pretty obvious that you know this is what's going through his head.

It sounds like you're just looking for people to say "Yeah, that guy is totally crazy! Luck really does exist!"
posted by toomuchpete at 7:15 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


successful people are never successful because of luck. They're successful because they worked hard and make the right decisions.

This is a pleasant and motivationally-useful philosophy, and it's probably pretty close to what the OP's friend is thinking, but I don't think it's true.

I'm a successful person by any financial measure, and I have to say pretty much all of it is from "luck" as in happening to be in the right place at the right time when my career got started, happening to work for a boss who was a great mentor and an even greater entrepreneur (and the way I found that job in the first place was, I promise you, unplanned, unplannable, and entirely unlikely.) Sure, I work hard, but not nearly as hard as the carpenter currently working in my basement for one fifth of my hourly rate. I can think of at least three terrible business decisions I've made that would've ruined me if I hadn't the financial cushion and contacts that first random job got me.

I don't see any reason to believe in "luck" in the superstitious "some people are inherently lucky" sense, but it seems pretty obvious that random happenstance exists, and that some people will randomly benefit from it.
posted by ook at 8:30 AM on November 30, 2011


"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past." Thanks, Karl Marx.

Whether you want to explain where you emerge into those pre-existing circumstances, and what you do then, in terms of 'luck' is, partially, a question of semantics, but I think only a lunatic would claim that every aspect of their lives is down to their individual choices and gumption. (NB: I think a lot of people are lunatics).
posted by robself at 10:09 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


There isn't any such thing as luck. Every event has antecedents. There's no trickster god out there fucking with us and making things happen randomly. Anything else is superstitious nonsense.

Or if he's talking about the "good fortune" kind of luck, I'd go with the Seneca quote, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity".

Either way, I agree with your co-worker.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:15 PM on November 30, 2011


There isn't any such thing as luck. Every event has antecedents. There's no trickster god out there fucking with us and making things happen randomly.

Understanding that many things can happen randomly does not necessitate the belief in "trickster gods."
posted by scody at 12:27 PM on November 30, 2011


Nothing is random. Things appear to be random because, as finite beings, we have limited scope.

Then again, I'm also an atheist, so I'm sure some of that informs my opinion.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:18 PM on November 30, 2011


Then again, I'm also an atheist, so I'm sure some of that informs my opinion.

Wait, so it requires belief in a god (or gods) to accept that there is randomness in the universe?

I'm an atheist, too (well, hard agnostic, if you want to get technical), and -- to me -- part and parcel of what comes along with understanding that the universe is not governed by supernatural forces/gods/whatever is the understanding that randomness exists.
posted by scody at 1:43 PM on November 30, 2011


Maybe he doesn't believe in free will.
posted by Flamingo at 1:49 PM on November 30, 2011


The idea of free will is pretty abstract and I don't have much of an opinion on it. But I refuse to accept the idea that something can happen without any previous cause. If you do believe such a thing is possible, I'd certainly be interested in what you have to say, although I don't know how you could justify belief in such a thing without some kind of metaphysics.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:19 PM on November 30, 2011


The idea of free will is pretty abstract and I don't have much of an opinion on it. But I refuse to accept the idea that something can happen without any previous cause. If you do believe such a thing is possible, I'd certainly be interested in what you have to say, although I don't know how you could justify belief in such a thing without some kind of metaphysics.

I think you're conflating the ideas of "spontaneously" and "randomly."
posted by scody at 6:45 PM on November 30, 2011


I think we're working from different definitions then. To my mind, things can certainly APPEAR to be random. However nothing can be truly random, because if you had enough knowledge, you could trace the causes of any given event. And of course, in a lot of situations, something might as well be random, since our knowledge is finite and limited, but that doesn't make it actually random.

Nonetheless, we've drifted pretty far from the actual question in this thread. I'd say the OP's coworker probably equates a belief in luck with helplessness and superstition -- and I'm inclined to agree. However, the fact that they feel the need to assert this again and again might hint at control issues, or at very least an overly optimistic viewpoint. That's my diagnosis as Some Guy On The Internet who doesn't know either of the involved parties.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:14 AM on December 1, 2011


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