I still remember walking toward Luce Hall on a rainy New Haven day, arriving a little ahead of schedule for my 10:30 a.m. lecture. It was the week after spring break and I already missed the first class of the week. But I didn’t think much of it. 

As I fiddled with the assigned reading on my laptop, the professor took a pause and remarked, “I’m not happy with this turnout.” Glancing around the room, I could tell attendance was a little thin. “Can we pass around a sheet of paper to pen down the names of people who have attended today for five extra points in the class?” announced our professor, with a cheeky smile. Bonus points for a class through sheer dumb luck. I didn’t even attend two days ago.

The Yale men’s basketball team’s recent March Madness run was remarkable, and it serves as a reminder of fortune’s consequential role. The underdog Bulldogs scraped a 78-76 win against heavyweights Auburn in the first round, which was heralded across college basketball. Auburn missed eight free throws in the game, including three in the last 30 seconds and four missed shots. On another day, some of those missed shots would have gone in and the Bulldogs’ famed victory would have never come to fruition.

However uncomfortable and unsettling the idea may be, luck plays a more pivotal role in life than we give it credit for. In a world where we rush to take credit for positive outcomes, citing our intellect, drive, determination or hard work, there is a distinct underappreciation of how much our achievements are driven by uncontrollable factors. Think about it, and I’m sure you can point to such instances with ease. 

And fortune playing the most important hand in consequential events isn’t unheard of at all. According to historian David McCullough ’55, the United States would not exist today if the wind was not blowing in the opposite direction on Aug. 28, preventing the British from sailing that night during the Battle of Long Island in 1776. Speed skater underdog Steven Bradbury won gold at the 2002 Olympics after all four skaters in front of him lost their footing, allowing him to finish first with ease. Alexander Flemming discovered penicillin due to a lab mistake. Former U.S. President Andrew Jackson survived two consecutive assassination attempts due to consecutive misfirings of the assailant’s guns. You get the idea.

Does that mean we should pack our bags and bow down to Lady Luck? Absolutely not. But we cannot deny that a lot of what we may believe is down to brilliance or exquisite ability has a chunk of luck attached to it, which ends up making all the difference. The next time you hear someone relentlessly plugging their achievements, remind them of the wind blowing in the other direction the night of Aug. 28.

In the same vein, we tend to fret over every failure, no matter how minuscule. Control what you can control and let the rest take care of itself; you can only drive the process. Have faith that, with enough iterations, things will work out.

In your endeavors at Yale and beyond, enjoy the successes and learn from the failures, but don’t forget the luck propelling you on the way.

HAIDER HASSAN is a senior in Morse College. Contact him at haider.hassan@yale.edu

Sayyed Haider Hassan is a junior in Morse College. Reach out to him at haider.hassan@yale.edu