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The Paradox of Success: Is success luck or hard work?

— Paradox of Success…

What is the meaning of success

The fact that you have achieved something that you want and have been trying to do or get.” This is what oxford dictionary define as success. But there is a catch in it. have you noticed? Yes… It is the Paradox of Success.


Let’s go back a bit and ask people how to become successful? We asked this question to people without giving them any options so that they could reveal what their subconscious thinks is/are actually the factors for deciding success, and here are the responses:

What does this report actually means?

In another experiment we told participants to mention any event from their past that they would like to change and then explain its background. Almost all the participants mentioned the case driven by the force out of their hands. For example, one participant said that he would like to change himself at the point he got addicted to cricket and tell himself to keep focusing on studies instead. when asked what kind of people his friends were, the one thing that was common in them was that they were cricket playing individuals.

then we asked him if his parents ever told him about cricket and studies the way he wanted himself to change. His reply was “Yes!”

What he was missing was that in order to have brought this change, he had not only to change his habits, but his distance from the playground, friends, schooling, television subscription, and even his country; India-which has the inbuilt hype for cricket.

This can also be understood this way. 5 of the top 10 universities in the world are in USA whereas only 1 is in Switzerland. It is easier for the US resident to land in the top 10 universities of the world as compared to that of Switzerland, Even if in average, the swiss students are more efficient than American students. [2022 DATA]

Take one more example. A doctor in USA makes 31 times more money than a doctor in Zambia for doing the same work.

Therefor luck doesn’t just play a role in success, but it plays a very important role in success.

The chaos theory; the butterfly effect

The butterfly effect |Paradox of Success| Success Paradox
Source Nature

During the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Edward Lorenz posed a question: “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” – What do you think?

If you are a math student then understanding this concept will be smooth for you. pick up any function, for example, Taylor expansion of ex.

Now what we realize is that change in the value of x in a small quantity for small positive numbers might be small, but as we climb higher, we find that even a small change in the domain of the function diverges the function from its old value with a big margin.

For example, e20= 4.85 × 108. Where as e20.01= 4.9 × 108. Note that this change due to 0.01 is of 5 millions. This is what a change of small value can do.

Now answer yourself, can a flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?

Don’t worry if you were not able to understand the above math. What we were actually saying was that even a small step of yours can impact your future in a big manner.

For example, on 20th of June, 2003, Asim ignored his homework and went to a trip with his friend and some other boys who were his friend’s friends. There he smoked his first cigarette with his friend’s friends. This resulted him becoming a chain smoker, and Asim today spends 100s of dollars in treatment of diseases caused to him by smoking. Now let us take Asim back to 20th of June, 2003, where he fights his desires and ignores his friend and starts doing his homework. There are good chances that Asim would not be a smoker and could have saved these 100s of dollars.

Now imagine the 100% same situation for Akhtar. He and his friends have planned a trip on 16th of May, 2005. but that day, weather displayed some thrills. The trip is cancelled and Akhtar never goes to the trip where he could have become a smoker.

Akhtar was able to achieve same results just because nature supported him, whereas Asim had to fight his desires.

 A rich student has a better chances of getting into the Oxford University than a talented and brilliant middle class student. 

This is where our question comes in for ‘the Paradox of Success’. Now what is success? Is success luck or hard work?

A tale of Chinese farmer

(Image taken from

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”

The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.” The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.

— Alan Watts

So you read the story! Now the question is how on earth is this story related to the basic question of this article? Now, let us answer everything.


In the story of a Chinese farmer, Alan Watts writes;

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.

— Alan Watts

We can work very hard. We can push our limits, but this never guarantees us the desirable results. this is the paradox of success.

For example, for 2017 class of NASA astronauts, over 18,300 people applied from which only 11 were selected and went to graduate from the astronaut training program. According to Veritasium, only 1.6% would have been selected from the selected 11 candidates if luck would have played no role.

Up to this point it seams that luck might be dominating factor for becoming successful or having opportunities, but let us ask the last question; What is luck?

According to Oxford Dictionary, luck is the force that causes good or bad things to happen to people. But does it actually mean. If one of these lucky astronauts wouldn’t have been a good mind, would he have been selected at NASA? off course not.

Till this point it should be clear that success acts as a function element to the hard work. like Auxochromes to chromophores.

Hard work is a base of being successful. Without hard work one can’t be successful because there would be nothing luck can play its role upon. At the end success is and also is not a paradox, and maybe this is the paradox of success. We cannot calculate the luck factor for us in any situation, therefore Luck acts as a constant for us. Therefor we can say that Success ∝ Hard work.

The Paradox of Success was originally uploaded to Ganaie

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