Luck or Serendipity

When you think about the future, where do you see yourself?

For some, it’s retiring in a place you love and enjoy. While for others, it’s building a wonderful business and career that is both challenging and rewarding.

But when we think of these goals we set for ourselves, how do we actually get there? And when we see people ahead of us in life, how did they get there?

It Must Have Been Luck

I was listening to an old interview with Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal as he went into a long discussion on what younger investors should be doing with their time. His advice was to avoid spending a ton of time trying to trade financial markets and reduce time spent on social media sites for fear of massive waves of confirmation bias.

Instead of spending tons of time trying to outsmart the rest of the world, Jason’s recommendation was to put yourself into a position where good things can happen for yourself and your career. If you are able to change up your daily routines and network with new people, you increase your chances for success.

To further explain this, Jason uses the concepts of luck vs. serendipity. With luck, you are hoping something will happen by chance. With serendipity, you are actively putting yourself into situations to make something happen.

This concept made me think of the amazing podcast How I Built This on NPR. Each week, a business owner is interviewed to understand exactly how they got from an idea to a wildly successful enterprise. These entrepreneurs literally kill themselves trying to solve a problem or create a brand. With countless years of dedication, eventually, the reward was found.

You can take the luck/serendipity example from Zweig and apply it to any of these entrepreneurs. Were they completely lucky in building out their empires? Or, were they so diligently working to build their business, it eventually worked? (serendipity)

So think about the goals you have in front of you right now. How are you going achieve them? What can you be doing besides hoping they will come true?

An interesting survey from TD Ameritrade shows some terrifying statistics that I hope for our entire population are untrue (1500 millennials surveyed):

  • 53% of millennials expect to be millionaires
  • The average age to start saving for retirement was 36
  • The average age to start retirement was 56

So to summarize, millennials want to work for 20 years, save at age 36 and have a million dollars or more in the bank by 56. This survey shows that Millennials have a high emphasis on catching a “lucky break”  and a lot less focus on reality.

With a few adjustments in Vanguard’s Retirement Income Calculator, you can see how far off these figures actually are. For an individual making $100k/yr, they would barely have enough saved to live off $2k/mo at age 56, even if they saved 30% of their earnings every year!


Begin by starting to make REALISTIC goals for the future and some ACTIONABLE steps for attaining those goals. Sitting around and expecting something to happen is a fool’s errand. Instead of chasing the lucky option, look for the most serendipitous option.

For Your Career: Have you invested enough time into your biggest asset (YOURSELF) to get the job of your dreams? Or could you be doing something more with your time to better yourself and your job prospects?

Paying Down Debt: Are you actually making a budget to pay down your debts or are you just hoping it disappears? (debt grows, so pay it off)

Planning Retirement: Are you spending enough time actually planning out the road ahead? Or did you arbitrarily choose some magic age to quit work?

In the end, there are two ways to look at it.

  1. You luckily completed your goals
  2. You put yourself into every possible position to achieve your goals (serendipity).
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