LUCK: And the Hard, Effective Work that Makes it Happen
One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Jefferson:
“I am a great believer in luck. And I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
Growing up, I learned this lesson through the context of soccer. The more accurate my shots on goal were, the more likely they were to go in; while a skilled player might hit five of 10 penalty kicks, someone less skilled might hit three. Luck is always involved — for example, the weather conditions vary, but ultimately, the most successful players aren’t lucky. They’re good at what they do, and for that reason, luck favors them.
Going into my term as president of the Panhellenic Association (PHA) at the University of Missouri, I felt grateful to have this knowledge in my back pocket. As a soccer player, the incentive to be hardworking translated to championships. As a leader, having a strong work ethic has the potential to win something more important than trophies; if you apply yourself to your role, you can win the respect of the people you serve. When you win that respect, you clear a path to implementing real change. Add some luck into the mix, and you are well on your way to creating a wonderful legacy.
There is an important dichotomy at play here, though. Students who opt for high- intensity leadership positions (especially those in fraternity/sorority life) are the kind of students who put 100 percent of themselves into everything they do — which is why I would be remised to write about being a hard worker. The problem in student leadership is not a lack of hard work; in fact, we’ve got person-power in spades. The
problem is that many student leaders, myself included, use that precious, hard-working energy inefficiently.
After spending a year as PHA president, I learned a lot about using my time in a balanced way. The temptation to spend every waking moment in our Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life was constant; I often felt glued to my email inbox and GroupMe notifications. While I strived for stability in my life, my desire to see my council succeed often trumped any intentions I had of working efficiently. Sometimes, we can mistake long hours and fatigue as productivity.
Slowly, I learned how to curtail my hard work into hard effective work. I gained much from my time in sorority leadership, but my new perspective on luck and hard work is one of my biggest takeaways. Now, I’m armed with these tips for working more effectively (while still being lucky):
1. Compartmentalize. In an age where work can follow us everywhere, it is so important to be able to “turn it off.” In the beginning of my term, I responded to emails within minutes — and while timeliness is still a wonderful trait, I learned to designate time specifically for my email, once a day. After taking the time to respond to messages, I was free from hitting the “refresh” button incessantly.
2. Make new friends and keep the old. Like the old Girl Scout song tells us, making new friends is a wonderful thing — and it is a wonderful part of leadership. However, maintaining friendships with people outside your leadership group will keep you socially and mentally balanced and ensures your energy is evenly dispersed throughout the people who matter to you.
3. Have a proactive de-stress strategy. Stressful moments are an inevitable part of leadership. Sometimes, the stress is associated with exerting so much of yourself for such a long period of time. In the calm before the storm, come up with a strategy that will allow you to de-stress: do yoga, hang out with friends, journal. Allow yourself to exercise self-care in the moments when times get tough.
Leadership is demanding, and student-leaders demand a lot of themselves in their roles. In a world that glorifies business, it is more important than ever that students balance their hardworking nature with true productivity. I’ve by no means mastered this skill, but learning how to balance my life with my dedication to my position is a skill I’ll use in the working world and beyond—and while I still believe that luck favors the hardworking, I’ve come to re-define what “hardworking” really means.