Who needs luck? Why hard work trumps good fortune

If there's one key takeaway message from the Telstra Women's Business Awards last night it's this: success isn't easy, it doesn't just happen and the road it takes to get there isn't necessarily enjoyable.

Not one of the women who stood up to share their personal success story at the ceremony in Sydney said luck had played a part.

Keynote speaker, Olympic cyclist Anna Meares, went so far as to describe herself as "unlucky". She suffered a broken neck in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, but pushed herself through training to take home a silver medal. This year, she won gold in London.

"It was not fortune, luck or chance that has put me in the position I'm in today. It's hard work," she said. "It's been through meticulous planning, structure and discipline." Meares added that she learnt from coaches the courage she needed in order to "back herself" could only come from putting in the hours, explaining at one point that meant waking at 4am for training, going to school and then working in her parents' chicken shop in the afternoon.

Carolyn Creswell, who was named the Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year, said she too could not credit luck with getting her to where she is today – at the helm of healthy snackfood company Carman's. "Why me? Because I could be you," she said, explaining that having good fortune isn't a necessary a prerequisite to success. "I came from the checkout at Coles. You can do what you want if you set your mind to it."

Maureen Clifford, winner of the Nokia Business Innovation Award, used her story of terrible luck to prove that even at the lowest of points, it's possible to bounce back and find success. Married at 17, Clifford was widowed at 25 following a car accident. Poor and unable to support her two children, she pursued higher education in order to change her luck.

"When you're ready to move on, it's how you plan to fix your situation that counts," she said. Clifford started IT consultancy Ndevr in 1998, and two years ago developed an innovative environmental accounting and reporting system to build on the existing business and help companies to better monitor their environmental footprints.

Other women at the event explained how, like Meares, they weren't "lucky" or "fortunate" or even necessarily in the right place at the right time. These are women who, had they not taken on a particular part-time job at university (as Creswell did making muesli – the catalyst for her healthfood empire) would simply have worked hard on something else.

Good luck's great to have, but thankfully it's not always necessary in the pursuit of our ambitions. Hard work, on the other hand, is something anyone can do.

And given hard work's an individual pursuit, it was refreshing last night to hear those on stage using the word "I" while describing their achievements.

While these women credited mentors, family members and support networks, they also made it clear they knew exactly how hard they'd worked and how deserving they were of their awards. It's not always the case: in a poll of the 104 state and territory finalists in the Telstra business awards, 92% preferred to say "we" rather than "me" while discussing their achievements.

Perhaps the women speaking last night were part of the 8% who could credit themselves, or perhaps it took a national award for them to get up and confidently say, "I did this."

Either way, their success must be all the more satisfying having never relied on anything but their own hard work.

Angela Priestley

Angela Priestley is the Publisher and founding editor of Women's Agenda. She's an author, journalist and passionate advocate for workplace gender equality and diversity. Her first book is Women Who Seize the Moment.

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