Why do women attribute their success to being lucky?

Illustration by Daiana Ruiz

By Veronica Höglund

When you live in a city like New York there’s no denying how many exceptionally talented women you’ll come across. I feel grateful to call many of these women, whose professions extend throughout various industries — creative and not, friends and collaborators and feel a genuine surge of excitement and empowerment when hearing about their latest triumphs. I’ve spoken to many of these extraordinary women about the success they've achieved and the common thread of these conversations has been this ethereal ingredient of luck, and how it’s contributed. Statements such as: “I was given a chance,” or “I was at the right place at the right time,” and so on and so forth.

When I reflect on my own career and attempt to trace back the steps that brought me to where I am now, I (regrettably) tend to have similar ruminations. Without completely neglecting how luck can play its part, I would, nevertheless, like to put forth the question to why so many women, myself included, appoints this factor of luck as the pivotal cause to the glory of their current standings – designating hard work, enthusiasm and rigor as secondary factors to their notable accomplishments.

What seems to be the real issue here naturally extends much further than the dialogue I’ve started on luck. To me, this is instead a discourse on women, their self-worth within the professional environment and the consequence of guilt. What I’ve experienced and what appears to be what other women have also experienced, is a sense of guilt in relation to professional success. There is a tendency, almost ingrained, to consider all and any success as undeserved, completely discounting the actions that have led us to where we are, and instead assigning luck as the pivotal force behind our achievements – because how could we do it otherwise? In this sense, we can acknowledge luck, success and guilt as being interconnected; exposing our problematic relationship with luck and how it functions within the professional setting.

I treated my first significant industry job as a product of luck. It was my first real job outside of college and while I knew I had translatable experience, I still lacked first-hand experience which sought to question whether or not I would get the job. Once I was hired, I still felt indebted to the company for taking a chance on me. It was luck that had put the odds in my favor; and since it was luck, and nothing but luck, I would often feel concern to the security of my job. Regardless of how much time had passed, the trust I had acquired and the aptitude I had demonstrated, I would still have moments of anxiety when I questioned my ability and worth. Any success I did obtain became that of a burden as it was, in my mind, undeserving. It was luck, after all, that got me here. I could only associate a feeling of guilt to this success and any other success that would come my way. 

When speaking to male counterparts on their careers, guilt is a seemingly foreign sentiment. While it’s safe to assume that many of these individuals had a similar experience as mine – one where inexperience didn’t interfere with landing the job, their response is one that is entirely different. Instead of feelings of doubt, they took ownership of the accomplishment. They rewarded themselves. They praised themselves. This was not to be considered a product of luck but a product of their intelligence, of their wit, of their talent, of their hard work. 

The difference is clear. We’re raised differently. We’re conditioned differently. Guilt is a feeling I believe most women are undeservedly familiar with – whether in relation to their careers or not. And this is something we need to purge from our psyche. 

Now when thinking about that first job, I try my best to remove luck from the scenario and to remember the real reasons why I was considered for the position and eventually given the job. I remember going to school full-time and the 19 credits I would take each semester – eventually graduating with honors; the three jobs I had on the side so I could pay for my courses since my scholarship didn’t cover everything; the various freelance creative gigs I readily accepted – at little to no money, just to get my name out there; and the internships I found so I could get real industry exposure. I may not have had all the experience that they were looking for but I still had a lot to offer. Luck had nothing to do with getting the job. It was my hard work that got me there. 

 

In short:

I think it’s important for us to remember the weight of all of our accomplishments and to recognize the value in them. To abolish the sensation of guilt when it comes to these successes. To bask in them. To feel empowered. To reflect on these times of success when we find ourselves heading down that awful road of self-doubt. And of course, to remember that luck is getting a good hand in poker and not a serendipitous force in charge of your career. 


Veronica Hoglund is a creative producer and project manager with a passion for storytelling.  In her free time she makes zines + writes children books. Follow her on Instagram at @_vthh.