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Is the Key to Financial Success, Hard Work, Risk or Luck?
Is the Key to Financial Success, Hard Work, Risk or Luck?
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Is the Key to Financial Success, Hard Work, Risk or Luck?

Money254
Njenga Hakeenah
June 9, 2021

Abundance of money, or the lack thereof, can possibly be related to our personal money psychology - how we think and approach anything finance related. 

Hard work has been taught extensively in our public education system, but even more through our family, friends and literally just anyone who cares to give success advice. 

On the flip side, there is luck. That - some believe that financial success has a huge element of luck as compared to hard work, strategy and risk appetite. 

Part of this conviction is based on the generational wealth debate that Kenyans often reference, but also in the numerous success stories that can be attributed, in part, to a stroke of luck. 

While there are several schools of thought - where we probably will never find consensus - the question of whether luck or hard work is the bigger factor in financial success still remains. 

On the face of it, it would be quite obvious to dismiss the element of luck in success, especially when you think about luck in its most basic sense - that outcome which you had absolutely no input in. 

Financial Success

For some, financial success may be amassing a billion-dollar fortune. For others, it may be affording a few of life’s luxuries, and for many others, it may be as good as just breaking even. 

On May 31, 2021, the world’s highest paid female athlete Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open just a day after tennis organisations that run the Grand Slam tournaments fined her $15,000 (Ksh1.6 million) for what they said was contractual breach in refusing to speak with reporters during the tournament for the sake of mental health.

Forbes records that Osaka earned some US$60 million (Ksh6.5 billion) over the past 12 months under the sponsorship of companies like Nike, Mastercard, Nissan and TAG Heuer.

Whichever standards you choose, Osaka could be said to be well accomplished not only as an athlete but also financially.

There are many lessons to be drawn from looking at how things have played out in Osaka’s case. Money, in its absolute terms, is not everything - is one of these lessons. We could rightly say that financial success is much more than simply having a high net worth.

In fact, financial success is actually very personal - never mind the stereotypes or archetypes that the society and/or environment around you try to paint of what success is supposed to be. 

Many people in public may want to show they are working towards societal expectations of financial success, but in private they truly want to purchase their own definitions of success.

This personal definition of financial success is best demonstrated in the setting of financial goals that ideally guide one’s actions - and when fulfilled someone can say they indeed have achieved financial success. 

But indeed, there are intervening factors that come into play in the journey between setting financial goals and actually achieving them. 

Luck and privilege

Luck is what many would refer to as one’s share of the world’s offering without cost, while privilege can be said to be an unearned advantage

American billionaire, Warren Buffett, attributes his success to being born white - and male - in the US.  In addition, his father was a successful businessman and a congressman who could afford the young Buffet the best in life.

Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, happens to be the seventh richest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $109 billion (Ksh11.8 trillion) according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index as of June 2021.

While indeed Buffett's business acumen and risk-taking experience has a lot to do with his financial success, as he admits, the privilege of being born white, male and in a prosperous well-to-do family equally contributed to his success. 

Hard work

On the other hand, hard work is seemingly more understandable by most people - after all, it probably has been stressed as one of the most important values to own from a very young age. 

Hard work, however, also has the negative connotation best expressed in the ‘work hard vs work smart’ dichotomy - and sometimes - for whatever reason, some people look down on the spirit of hard work. The argument often contrasts dedication to efficiency. 

Now, that is a discussion for another day, but in this context, it is important to note that such conversations, however important, can take away what the denotative meaning of hard work is. And may, potentially discourage some from what we could call putting their best foot forward every day. 

Hard work is associated with diligence, dedication, sacrifice, vision, persistence, determination and foresight. For others, however, the default association is back-breaking work, drudgery, tough grind or long haul. 

While indeed hard work will be hard for anyone, it doesn’t have to be painful. With an exciting vision to work towards and the foresight to anticipate difficult situations before they happen, hard work can be blissful and totally rewarding. 

And here is where hard work and luck intersect. With a structure and picture of the future you are working towards, hard work best prepares you to take advantage of events that come your way without your direct influence being a factor. 

While Buffet was born in privilege, he is still an outlier when compared to many others who had the same upbringing and encountered similar opportunities - yes, we can broadly say hard work, in all its forms, played a big role in his ability to turn that luck into success. 

Risk taking

Success and risk taking are joined at the hip. Some of the most successful business ventures have involved a high degree of risk - succeed incredibly or fail spectacularly. 

But risk-taking doesn’t have to be that extreme for everyone or in every scenario. Nevertheless, progress will always involve a risk factor. In fact, when you think about risk in a broader sense, every event in life has its own risks including everyday conversations, to career and investment choices. 

What one needs to figure out is their risk tolerance level and make choices that do not significantly disrupt their current financial situation. 

Some of us are too risk averse that it would take a lot of convincing to put their money on the line even in a tried and tested market.

Others have such a high risk appetite that they would jump at the very next opportunity that promises career and/or financial advancement. 

Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but the truth is there is probably nothing like a ‘risk-free life’ - actually, it can be said that life in itself is a risk!

When we think about financial success, the ability not to just take a risk, but also employ prudent risk management processes is very important.

Here then, the intersection between luck and hard work features again. Is the ability to take risks and management the decision process towards risk taking, hard work? Or is the gut feeling to buy some hitherto unpopular stock that soon skyrockets, luck?

Strategy

Now, we have luck, hard work and risk-taking ability as some of the possible ingredients of financial success. But a familiar buzzword  around business is ‘strategy’ - and with good reason. 

Simply defined, strategy is understood as the set of decisions or course of action that assists one achieve their set goals and objectives. 

Without attempting to make this article a crash course in strategic management, we can identify that while luck may knock on anyone’s door, hard work as a choice available to everyone and the nuances of the risk-taking spectrum, strategy seems to stand out as the more decisive factor in financial success. 

It could be married with hard work in the sense that working hard towards your financial goals should lead you to coming up with the best investment etc. strategies to employ and overcome prevailing challenges. 

Risk management as a key ingredient, would as well have to be broken down into different strategies for different scenarios, markets and goals. 

WRAPPING UP

Back to the big question. Is it luck or hard work? As we have found out there is no easy answer to this. 

But it is also very clear that financial success is a combination of many factors that are biased more towards what one can do rather than being largely determined by external forces. 

Luck is manifested in many ways - and when we move beyond the surely undeterminable factor of privilege by birth, luck associated with the market forces is there to be ‘discovered’ by literally anyone. 

Hard work, then in its broader sense, appears to be what brings together these factors into a possibly perfect menu for financial success. 

As it has been said before, if you do not work hard enough, you will never know how lucky you are. 

But first, think of hard work as more of a progressive, smart approach to life rather than a backbreaking, painful, exhausting exercise. Innovation, creativity, research, accepting failure and learning and flexibility is hard work too.

They say successful people create their own good luck by being prepared to work hard. In contrast, a section of people are often fatalistic, believing that no matter how much hard work they put in, they will always be unlucky. 

What do you think is the most important ingredient for financial success?

Njenga has over 8 years experience in multimedia and business journalism both as a writer, editor and producer. He has over 5 years of experience in radio broadcasting as a news reader, reporter and presenter. He is also a 2012 Earth Journalism Network-EJN Fellow.

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