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In his commencement address to Princeton University’s 2012 graduating class, Michael Lewis described the series of chance events that helped make him—already privileged by virtue of his birth into a well-heeled family and his education at Princeton—a celebrated author: One night I was invited to a dinner where I sat next to the wife of a big shot of a big Wall Street investment bank, Salomon Brothers.She more or less forced her husband to give me a job. But Salomon Brothers happened to be where Wall Street was being reinvented—into the Wall Street we’ve come to know and love today. This is going to be more closely monitored this year. Political posts and posts insulting other posters will be removed.If that ambulance hadn’t happened to have been nearby, I would be dead.Not all random events lead to favorable outcomes, of course.
Two weeks later, I was playing tennis with Tom again.Other surveys bear this out: Wealthy people overwhelmingly attribute their own success to hard work rather than to factors like luck or being in the right place at the right time.That’s troubling, because a growing body of evidence suggests that seeing ourselves as self-made—rather than as talented, hardworking, and lucky—leads us to be less generous and public-spirited.In particular, many of us seem uncomfortable with the possibility that personal success might depend to any significant extent on chance. But it has motivated me to learn much more about the subject than I otherwise would have.In the process, I have discovered that chance plays a far larger role in life outcomes than most people realize.