I feel guilty about getting a job in my competitive field when others are still struggling

A reader writes:

I recently landed an excellent job in a wildly competitive field, and I am so excited to start.

However, I got the job pretty much by being in the right place at the right time and having a good deal of luck / privilege behind me.

I was lucky to have the resources to get the degrees I needed, lucky to stumble onto an entry-level opening during an off season when few others were looking, and lucky to find a unicorn of a job posting right as I completed my last degree. I was also able to pick up and move cross country to take the job.

This feels like such a smug thing to say, but I’m really not sure how to take my job search success. I know so many people who are smarter and more qualified than me who are still struggling to find a sustainable job in this industry.

I don’t want to start thinking I got here because I’m better than others, or get complacent about addressing serious hiring issues in this field just because I made it in. However, I don’t want to go in feeling incompetent either. Did I really get here just by luck and nothing else? I’m not sure how else to account for all the immensely talented people who are still trying to break in.

This feels like job hunting survivor’s guilt. It’s certainly a better problem to have than constant rejection, but I also don’t think it’s the healthiest mindset to work under. Is there a better framing for this? Or do I just need to get over myself, do my job, and fight for better hiring practices for others along the way?

You’re looking at it as having to be one of two extremes: Either you’re better than others, or you’re incompetent and just got lucky. Why can’t it be that many people trying to break into your field are competent but there aren’t jobs for all of them, so getting hired initially will always involve an element of luck? Assume that you’re both competent and lucky.

And while I do think there’s always some amount of luck involved when breaking into a high competitive field, I suspect you’re putting a little too much weight on luck. Your interviewers didn’t pick your name out of a hat; they interviewed you and considered you relative to other people they were interviewing too, and they decided you were the strongest match with the job.

I’m sure there are other people still looking in your field despite being smarter and more qualified than you — because there are always people smarter and more qualified than us — but that doesn’t mean you somehow got “their” slot. Your particular combination of strengths and weaknesses might have made you a stronger match for this particular role than they would have been, or they might be targeting slightly different types of jobs than you, or they might have been a personality mismatch with the hiring manager, or … who knows what. I’d trust the person who hired you knew what they were looking for and decided you were the best match for a reason.

So, figure this was a combination of strengths, privilege, and luck. And hold all three of those in your mind as you advance in your career, so that you stay mindful of doing what you can to pull others up along with you.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 138 comments… read them below }

  1. Velo Ciperaptor*

    Your hiring sounds like pretty much everyone else’s. Luck in getting an interview. Your preparation (degree, resume, interview) won you the spot. And your success will be a measure of your skill.

    “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity” That preparation wasn’t something you got in a gift bag, or found on a bus. You need both.

    1. designbot*

      +1 to this. Success = Preparation x Opportunity. You were prepared to take the opportunity when it came along. You control half of that, luck controls the other.

      1. Triplestep*

        I agree. I am surprised when I talk to people who think that their experience and/or degree alone will magically result in a job. My kids were lucky because I knew how to mount an organized aggressive job search and I taught them how. (I also advised them to access cover letter examples here. Both also downloaded the guide to prepping for a job interview.) Both have jobs in their fields, my daughter upon graduation and my son a month after.

        At one point my daughter asked “How come none of my friends are working this hard to tailor their resumes and cover letters. How come none of my friends are practicing interview answers?” etc, etc. They just weren’t as “lucky” I guess! (And yes, they have all taken a while to find anything.)

        1. Klo*

          But you admit in the start of your comment that your kids are lucky since you could guide them so much… meaning that yes their classmates are unlucky to not understand how to job search as effectively as you (a person with presumably years or decades order experience).

          I didn’t have a parent who could help me like you could help your kids, and yes looking back my job searches weren’t as effective as they could have been, not that I realised it at the time. People are all trying their best, and there is a lot of bad advice out there for people job searching which doesn’t help (and the longer you search for the more frustrated and hopeless you can feel, making it even worse).

          OP, maybe a bit of luck played a part but your experience, knowledge, preparation and attitude played a much larger part! Be happy you’ve got a great job, I’m sure you are 100% deserving of it!

          1. bwayne*

            My goodness, how things have changed over the years I feel. Used to be someone was happy things worked out. It was the start of working your way up and success. Now people question whether they are “privileged” and do not deserve the break they have received. Odd but I guess part of the times. My suggestion is if one feels guilty or undeserving, quit. Let someone else have it. Barnes & Noble and Starbucks needs assistant managers too.

            1. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

              Imposter Syndrome or simple feelings of guilt for having success that others do not is a feature of empathy, albeit not always a helpful one. Your comment is pretty lacking in empathy and pretty tone deaf to some natural feelings from someone who seems pretty aware of how unkind their field and the larger world can be.

    2. hamstergirl*

      Like OP, I have a job in a sought after niche-industry. When I first got hired and people would comment about how lucky I was, I fully agreed, but the longer I worked in the industry I realized it was a lot more than just luck and I was doing myself and the others who wanted to be in this industry a disservice by simply agreeing.

      Yes – it was luck that when I was looking for an internship a contact of mine knew of a small company on the cusp of growing that was looking to bring someone on, and I was lucky/privileged that I was in a position where taking a short internship was doable for me.

      But I was the person who impressed my initial contact and maintained that relationship for nearly a decade before they introduced me to the company. It was my resume and abilities that got me through the interview and secured the internship. It was my skills and attitude that convinced my boss to cut my internship short by 2 months and just hire me, and it’s my ability to learn, adapt and grow that has helped me rise up within the company and industry as a whole.

      Luck got me the interview – but I was the one who turned the interview into job and subsequent opportunities.

      1. hamstergirl*

        All this to say – when people comment “you’re so lucky” please say “yes I am, but I also worked hard to get here” because you did and you deserve to celebrate that your hard work is leading to success.

        1. Moray*

          I think “I worked hard to get here” is a great way to think, but saying it is indeed going to sound smug.

          1. Gaia*

            I don’t think it is at all smug to acknowledge the work it took to get where OP is. They could have taken that luck and privilege and done absolutely nothing with it. Instead OP went and obtained multiple college degrees, worked in the field and prepared for and aced an interview. That’s not smug, that’s part of the equation.

            1. Anna*

              I think when you’re responding to someone who is struggling to find their way into a really competitive field, saying “I worked really hard” can come across as telling someone if they aren’t finding their way in, it’s because they aren’t working really hard. Especially if you’re coming from privilege, because in our current world, having a lot of privilege means on some level you can bypass a bit of that hard work. It could be as basic as not having to pay back loans or being able to afford an unpaid internship, but it exists and it impacts how people are able to enter into highly competitive fields.

              1. Washed Out Data Analyst*

                Yeah…it’s complicated. I wouldn’t actually feel comfortable saying “I work hard”, because, yeah I work hard, but not any harder than someone who isn’t as privileged as I am. In fact, I work the same amount now as I did 3 years ago, when I was down on my luck and having trouble finding a job. And to be truthful, if you live in the U.S., being rich is more beneficial than being smart and capable.

                That being said, the LW should definitely give themselves credit for their accomplishments, but yes, luck was part of the equation.

              2. Alfonzo Mango*

                Yes, this! It also implies that the other person isn’t working hard. They might be! But luck may not be on their side.

          2. hamstergirl*

            I disagree (but I wrote it so I guess I would haha) – In my opinion it’s important to rebuke the idea that it’s all luck because I don’t think it’s helpful to downplay the work and accomplishments of others, particularly women, in a professional setting.
            I do think the tone in which it’s said can make a great deal of difference though and that’s something to be mindful of.

            1. Popsicle*

              Especially if someone you work with tells you that you’re lucky you got the position. You would want to shut that one down pronto.
              So ‘lucky’ isn’t the way I would want to approach a new role.
              I know this is about talking to others still searching, but this got me thinking about employers who say you’re lucky they hired you. It’s such a red flag to me.
              I don’t owe you anything except what’s in my contract, and you hired me on merit.
              Or colleagues that say it. Ugh. It can be super condescending.

              1. lasslisa*

                So much depends on who you’re talking to! Yes, if your manager is saying you’re lucky to have the job to try to take advantage of you, they’re an ass. But if a friend who’s been job searching for a year in the same field hears about your success and congratulates you on your good luck, telling them you “worked hard” makes you the ass. People are obviously picturing some very different conversations.

                There is always an element of luck – not just systemic fortune like preparedness and general network, but also personal specific fortune like timing and happening to talk with the right person at the right time in the right mood.

        2. Jana*

          It doesn’t sound like OP is encountering people commenting “you’re so lucky”, instead this seems like a concern OP has internalized.

          OP: sure, there’s luck involved in landing a job; that’s pretty much always going to be the case. However, finding a job and excelling in it are things that require a lot of work, so you certainly shouldn’t feel bad for having success. Try to focus on the job ahead and, yes, if you ever find yourself in a position to make hiring decisions, absolutely fight for better hiring practices where you can.

        3. TootsNYC*

          maybe instead of “worked hard”: It’s a combination of luck and strategy, initiative, and achievement.

          1. T3k*

            This. I wanted to break into a highly competitive field (one of those where most students feel they need to go to a pricey, private university that costs at least 40k a year to even get in deals) but I had gone to a public university in an unrelated field. However, 5 years later I lucked out and got a short term contract in the field. Was it because I worked harder? Not really. I just lucked out with the timing of the job posting, had a great cover letter and interview (thanks so much to this site!), and the interviewers actually liked my skills in unrelated field as it could be used for one of the open positions. It also helped I lived nearby and could start immediately (they did hire from all over the world, but being in their backyard helped immensely). (also I learned from others there that the ones who did go to the pricey colleges didn’t have as much luck: one guy, only him and one other in his class got jobs within the industry).

        4. MCMonkeyBean*

          I do think we should also remember though that a lot of times when people say “you’re so lucky” what they really mean is something along the lines of “wow, I wish I had that” and not “you only got that through luck.”

    3. AMT*

      Exactly. I’ve had a lot of career luck over the years, but I’ve also consistently sowed the seeds of future luck. For example, someone who had seen me speak at a conference recently emailed me out of nowhere asking me to do a large contract job for her employer. That was a stroke of luck, but it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t submitted a proposal for that conference–or, going back further, if I hadn’t gotten the experiences in my field that led me to be qualified to present at the conference in the first place, or if I’d never forced myself to become comfortable with networking and public speaking. I’m guessing that OP’s “luck” has been enhanced by accepting challenges and opportunities that a weaker candidate might have passed up.

    4. TootsNYC*


      You had luck on your side, and other people didn’t. So don’t get cocky. And don’t start denigrating other people’s lack of luck, and blaming them for not overcoming the disadvantages you didn’t have to deal with.

      That’s luck taken care of.

      You had preparation on your side–you didn’t get the grades you got by goofing off in class. You get to take credit for that.

      And this: You had initiative and diligence.

      lucky to stumble onto an entry-level opening during an off season when few others were looking,

      You were out looking, “walking the pavement” (metaphorically), which put you in a position TO stumble over that opening.
      That’s something YOU get credit for, and can feel glad about.

      Basically, it’s important to set down the competition.

      I too had a time when I felt really insecure in having the job I had. I had a top job in my field, and I worked with or hired lots of people who had ALL the credentials they needed to have done my job. I felt guilty, I felt unworthy, I felt like I didn’t have a right to make decisions at my job, etc.

      Then I realized, “Yes, but I HAVE my job right now. And I have the right–no, the responsibility–to DO this job right now. Later, maybe I won’t have this job and they will. That’s fine. But this is now, and I’m entitled to do this job, to enjoy it, and to count the experience I had and am gaining as MY experience.”

      It’s like clothes.
      You buy a shirt, but it isn’t THAT remarkable. You wear it well, and you get credit for that, but it’s just a shirt.

  2. DCompliance*

    Getting the job is ALWAYS about being in the right place the right time. Don’t dwell on it. Just work hard and maybe one day you can mentor somebody looking to break into the field. That’s how you pay it forward.

    1. June First*

      Yes, this. It’s good to recognize privilege, but then also use your situation to help others.

  3. Also lucky*

    I can relate to this. I know I am hugely lucky in many respects, not least my education and family background which laid the groundwork for me to be financially secure in a career I enjoy, and in the amazing position of having recently been able to take a 2-year study break and buy a home in my early 30s without going into debt. (Not to mention, I too recently started in my dream job, which has been my objective for the last 10 years.)

    BUT I have also worked hard for that success. Yes, I was lucky not to have any student debt thanks to my parents, but to generate those savings I also worked very hard in a remote location for several years. I have not taken my privilige for granted. And I pass it on in various ways – voluntary work, monetary donations, and informal support to others who can use it.

    Like you, I have thought long and hard about whether I should feel guilty about my relative good fortune. I’ve concluded that it isn’t worth it – we all get the cards we are dealt, and we make the most of them. As long as you don’t rub it in other people’s faces, don’t assume that others experience the world the same way you do, and take the opportunity to help others out along the way, I think you’ll be doing a great job.

  4. GreenDoor*

    Just remember you didn’t get your job AT other qualified people. It sounds like you’ve got this framed as you having somehow hurt others in your field by getting hired instead of them…or that you’ve somehow unfairly used your privileges in life to game a system. But a hiring decision is full of zillions of variables – most of which are not under your direct control. Don’t overthink this!

    1. Letter Writer*

      Ha, maybe I should make a plaque that says “Don’t Overthink This!”
      You’re right though – I didn’t invest twelve years toward this goal AT anyone. I did it for myself, and it’s okay if I enjoy the results. Thank you.

      1. TootsNYC*

        It’s also good, though, that you’ve got some humility mixed in there.

        You actively did things to position yourself for this success.
        And yet you recognize that a great many of the advantages and tools available to you were not of your own making.

        And that their absence in the lives and career trajectories of others was also not of THEIR making.

        So never lose sight of that. But don’t blame yourself for it either.

        And if you’re in a position to help create those opportunities for others–whether through your personal action, or through the support you provide via your government and any charities, nonprofits, etc.–then do so out of gratitude and humility for the opportunities you were given.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      Agree. It’s not like they were owed that job, until you sneaked up and maliciously stole it from them.

      When there are 50 qualified people and 2 jobs, 48 qualified people will have to go elsewhere, and that is not your fault. You don’t need to feel guilty about not being one of the 48. You did not wrong those 48 people by being one of the 2. It’s not a crime or a bad thing to be a better fit for this opportunity, and it’s not a crime or a bad thing to take an advantage when it comes to you.

      1. TootsNYC*

        it also doesn’t mean you are automatically better at that skill/field than other people.

        It just worked out that, at the time you were applying, they felt you were the best fit (and you may have been choice #2 or #3).

        In college, I wrote a story about the men’s golf team. The coach said, “On any given day, these players could defeat any college golfer in the entire state, even at the big schools who recruit with more money.”

        On any given day. But not always, and not automatically.
        But on the days they win, they deserve all the pride.
        And on the days they lose, they deserve to feel proud in what they can do.
        The pride of the person who wins doesn’t take away the pride of the person who lost.

  5. Clementine*

    Don’t feel bad about being hired. But do see what you can do to help people with lack of access and privilege get hired, in roles similar to yours, or similar in level in other fields.

    1. Clementine*

      I host events, I do mock interviews, I encourage people to self-study certain things, I give personal pep talks, etc. (And I’m not suggesting that I actually do very much at all–but this is where I’m at now.)

    2. boo bot*

      Yes! You are now on the inside of that wildly competitive field, and as you move forward in your career, you can lift others up.

      Don’t worry if right now you don’t see obvious ways to help other people get where you are – you’re brand new to the field, so of course you’re not hiring people, for example. For now you can just share the things you’re learning about the field, or share with the people who are hiring what might make it easier for all those talented people you know to rise up. Information is currency, and you have that from both sides.

      You had capability and luck – look for opportunities to create luck for someone else!

  6. Bend & Snap*

    First of all, congratulations!

    Second, this all sounds really standard for hiring. And you were the best person for the job, so you got the job.

    I think the best thing you can do as part of your career is pay it forward. Mentor people if you can. Go speak at your high school to try to catch kids who might not be thinking about degrees. The privilege piece is irksome (I graduated with no debt thanks to my parents so I get it) but it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the job, nor does it mean you can’t help others.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*


      And let me point out that this goes for people whose careers took trade school not advanced degrees — if you’ve got a “dirty job” that is lucrative and appealing to you, go speak at schools too! Help the kids who aren’t academics-oriented see that there are well-paying productive career options that they will enjoy.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I listened to a “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” episode in which rocket scientist Tiera Fletcher tells that she wanted to be a rocket engineer since she was 11–when they had a program at her small-town Georgia elementary school about this field, this job.

        OP, you know first-hand how your early advantages positioned you for all the success you’ve had since.

        When you get a chance to make something similar happen for people who don’t automatically get similar advantages, speak up–see what you can do.


    2. TootsNYC*

      And you were the best person for the job, so you got the job.

      Or you were the best person for the job at the time that they needed someone to competently fill that job.

      That’s OK. You still have the right to have that job, and to feel good about being qualified for it.

      In fact, you have the responsibility to have that job, and to do that job.

  7. DukeOfPearl*

    I struggle with something similar to this. My field is desperate for people with my skills, so there’s always at least one job out there waiting for me. But I only developed these skills by being in the right place at the right time: my company happened to purchase the software and decided to train me. It’s impossible to get training in the software unless you work for a company or partner that is using it, so it’s not like you can just decide to get into the field by going to classes or getting certified.

    I’m super lucky to have the opportunity to develop the skills and have recruiters knocking on my door. I know plenty of very bright, hard-working people that would be great at the job, but it’s near impossible to break into it.

    I assuage my guilt by showering my less-fortunately friends and family in gifts. I’m not sure it helps people there’s still the occasional snide remark about how much money I make and how lucky I am to have gotten into this field. But it’s all I can do.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I can relate to your struggle, I actually had to have a talk with a close friend recently about something similar to this. I have times when I start to fight myself because I know so many other people who came from similar backgrounds as myself are struggling to live while I’ve thrived for so long. So it’s different in terms of I have survivors guilt from “breaking out” of the lower middle class, while others are still back in the trailer park dealing with a lot of life’s bad things.

    What really helped me was when my friend to me that yes, it may have been luck that got me in the door in some aspect. However getting in is only the first battle you fought and won, the next one is how you’re going to stay within the competitive field. It’s the “stay power” now and you have to keep fighting to keep that spot going forward. You’re going to still have to put work in and stay in the game.

    1. OysterMan*

      Yes this is perfectly put! Survivor’s guilt for “breaking out” of the lower class (I’ve gone from a childhood of the lights being turned off because of non-payment to being able to buy my mom a car for Christmas). I end of overspending on people around me (and myself, I won’t lie) to try to assuage my guilt.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I lucked out even more so because my parents were phenomenal at budgets and had no vices, aside from my dad’s enjoyment for a [literally one] beer with his pizza. So I don’t know what it’s like going without food or electricity. However I vividly remember the days that friends had their phone lines turned off and a few times one of my friend’s mom took us to the “free lunch” our church used to have for kids in the summer [I told my mom about it and she lost her GD mind, not in an angry way, she was just distraught over the idea of kids without food, you know. She then upped the usual mom-game of “Are you hungry? Eat the food, eat the food, eat all this food!”]

        Now as an adult, I don’t spend that frivolously but I always pick up tabs and have sent money to old friends when their parents have passed for funeral arrangements :( I also setup pizza deliveries for special occasions because I know they can’t afford it and they have kids.

  9. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    Alison is right- the hiring manager knew what they were doing. Sure, there may have been an element of luck in there, and it always helps to be in the right place at the right time, but that is just part of it. The company interviewed you and made the decision to hire you. That was due to you and your ability to demonstrate your skill set and fit for the job. Just do your best and show them they made the right decision. And there will always be miserable people in the world who try to make you feel bad for getting the job you have. Don’t listen to them.

  10. hermit crab*

    Oh, I totally feel you. I’ve more or less breezed through my career so far, being in the right place at the right time on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, my close friend and sometimes-coworker, who is one of the smartest and hardest-working people I know, has just had one rough break after another. There was a period recently where Friend was laid off from the company where we both worked and was unemployed for a year; in the meantime, I got a great new job, with a huge salary increase, almost without trying. And that’s just at the individual level, not getting into the systemic barriers preventing folks from getting into our field in the first place.

    I think it’s natural to feel a bit guilty (though to be fair, I was raised by one Jewish parent and one Catholic parent so we’ve really got the perfect storm of Guilt Culture going on), or imposter-y, or whatever — all of your emotions are valid. The key is to recognize those emotions, understand where they are coming from, and use that to inform your actions. You & me sitting around feeling guilty isn’t going to help anyone else succeed.

    1. Letter Writer*

      “Feeling guilty isn’t going to help anyone else succeed.”

      Well. That’s an excellent point. My dramatic feelings might tangle me up, but they certainly won’t improve anyone else’s situation. Time to acknowledge the role of luck / privilege and then move forward to something actionable in my job.

      1. Gaia*

        Yes that’s exactly right! Acknowledge that luck/privilege and use that privilege to help others.

      2. Observer*

        Time to acknowledge the role of luck / privilege and then move forward to something actionable in my job.

        Perfectly put.

      3. Shiny Swampert*

        Also, Alison’s last sentence made me come over all emotional. Absolutely that, too.

    2. LazyMillenial*

      I know many folks in my generation who despite “doing the right things the right way” are still stuck in retail unable to make headway on their financial goals.

      I think for us lucky ones a healthy dose of privelage checking looks like realizing our luck and privelage paid a part, and never falling into the trap of thinking everyone failing to reach their career goals are just lazy/unmotivated/insert generalization. We can pay that luck forward when we can by being conscientous about hiring and taking steps to improve diversity of opportunities. Not by feeling guilty and anxious that we “won” all the time.

      1. JM in England*

        Playing Devil’s advocate here.

        My career to date has had periods of both good & bad luck. One way of keeping my sanity during the bad times was to take an analogy from the Olympics ” You can do everything right but still not get the gold!”…….

  11. T. Boone Pickens*

    I wouldn’t sweat it too much honestly as it sounds like the breaks of life went your way. I echo the other posters who have said the same, mentor the less fortunate/pay it forward when you can. The good news is most highly competitive fields have a certain element of a meritocracy to them so as you get established in your job you’ll be able to see that you landed the job due to your merits and not luck. This cuts both ways too of course.

  12. Matilda Jefferies*

    One thing for you to consider – does it actually matter, one way or another? Let’s say you know for sure that it was either 100% luck, or 100% skill and hard work. How would that change your day to day life? What would you do differently, if you could pin down the exact ratio?

    This might sound a bit harsh, but I don’t mean it that way. AAM is all about actionable results – now that you have X bit of information, what will you *do* with it? And I think in grad school especially, we’re trained to analyze everything to death, and try to figure out root causes and explanations for absolutely everything. Which is great, to a point, but it’s hard to get out of that mindset once you get out of academia and into the working world. It’s an interesting thought exercise for sure, but try not to dwell on it too much. Whatever combination of luck and skill it was – you got the job! That’s the important thing here, and where you should be spending most of your energy.

    There probably are some lessons to be learned from your job search, so you can replicate the experience and avoid certain mistakes for next time. So it might help to make some notes about that, and then file them away with your resume and whatever else you need for your next job search. But other than that, feel free to bask in your success in getting a job in a competitive field that you love!

    1. LilyP*

      This is such a good point! Don’t let yourself get caught forever in the feelingsmarsh

  13. NQ*

    I really relate to this. All my colleagues got laid off, and not long afterwards I landed what I consider a great job. This was partly due to my skills, but a lot due to luck, and a little bit due to a combination of luck and skills (ie: being lucky to have worked on niche skills that happen to be desirable right now).

    Some of them were very kind about it, but one did his best to make me feel guilty. I don’t know why. Me not taking the job wouldn’t make his lot any better, as he doesn’t want to relocate like I just did.

  14. Susana*

    LW, I was working on a magazine piece in a still-developing country and was worried I wouldn’t be able to navigate it, get what I needed. I “stumbled” onto good sources and the right people to talk to. And I mentioned to a colleague that I “got lucky.” He said, “lucky things happen to good reporters.” It’s not that your friends aren’t competent or able – we all know people still struggling to find good work. But it’s also true you make your own luck, sometimes. You may be doing “right” things you’re not even conscious of doing.

    1. TootsNYC*

      (including being alert to job openings during a period when other people in the field weren’t bothering to look)

  15. Jen*

    This sounds like my industry – jobs are scarce and many are fearful they may be privileged.

    But…but…you can’t let it get to you in a professional context. It will drive you crazy and take away from your work. Use your privilege to help those that might not have it – those that are still looking or have circumstances that make it hard (ie cannot move).

    After being in my career nearly 20 years now and being on the other side of the hiring process as well as working with graduate students in my field, there are many people who want to break into my field that simply do not have the right motivations, personality, or skills. Some chalk this up to the idea that they are not privileged – but maybe because of that, it just isn’t the best career path for them. For example, someone may have crippling anxiety when talking to strangers; that person is not suited for a customer service job. You wouldn’t want to be a doctor because you’re scared of blood.

    So, if I was OP, I would minimize the fact they may feel privileged and consider both themselves lucky that the right opportunity came at the right time and that they had a strong skillset that helped them break into that first job.

    1. Lucy Montrose*

      [T]here are many people who want to break into my field that simply do not have the right motivations, personality, or skills.

      No one wants to tell themselves that only a narrow range of personality types can succeed in any given job. Some may want to break into X field because they’re not the typical personality that succeeds in it; they want to demonstrate to others that “you don’t have to be like that to succeed at X”.

  16. Falling Diphthong*

    Either you’re better than others, or you’re incompetent and just got lucky.

    Where you are now is a combination of skill and luck. This will be really evident when you are 50 and looking back, but it’s true for young people too.

    What you did up ’til now, I’m guessing, is position yourself to take advantage of an opportunity when one suddenly popped into view. Got the relevant training, made connections, kept an ear out. It’s not like you’d never heard of llamas before but someone hired you to be the chief llama braider after spotting you in a coffee shop. And yeah, some of your friends will have done those things and a relevant opportunity hasn’t yet popped out for them to tackle, and randomness plays a role here.

  17. Artemesia*

    One thing that has always annoyed me is how little most people realize that their privilege and success is luck. I worked hard all my life and now enjoy a comfortable retirement. I deserve all this because I both worked hard and lived well within my means to prepare for my future. BUT I was born smart, to parents who were nurturing, who made sure I had a college education at a time when it was very affordable so I had no debt, and I lucked into a job in my field partly by my own efforts but also because I literally heard about the opening the day it was to be awarded and managed an interview. And I am white in a country that is prosperous and offered my generation a lot of opportunity. Almost all of those things have nothing to do with anything I chose to do, but happenstance. So yeah, I am deserving but 90% of my success is very good luck. The obligation for those of us who have been lucky is to realize that luck is a big part of it and to live our lives in ways that are helpful to those less lucky. Feeling guilty helps no one. But there are probably 10 things you could do with your time or money to make the lives of those less lucky better.

    1. sacados*

      I really like this!
      Acknowledging/understanding all the ways that you were lucky and/or privileged in life does not negate your accomplishments or mean that you didn’t work hard or don’t deserve what you have.
      But it does mean that you should try and give back/help others in whatever ways you are able.

      1. TootsNYC*

        and it means you should be aware of how the lack of those things affects others, and not get yourself all puffed up and judgmental.

    2. Le Sigh*

      +1 I paid for college with multiple jobs and loans. I always had jobs as a kid and the financial insecurity of my youth stays with me. But I did have a lot of critical things people don’t think about = parents who had been to college and knew that system, access to good schools with extracurriculars, the ability to access medical care and have enough food to eat, teachers and community members looking out for me — writing me recommendations and helping me get scholarships. And I lived in a state with affordable, good public universities.

      And I think it’s helpful to remind ourselves that hard work = success. My aunt and uncle have worked so hard their whole lives, did everything society told them they needed to do: get degrees, take certain jobs, etc. And life has hit them hard financially no matter which way they turn (medical issues, recession, etc.). They still work hard and they still get by, but it’s not a one for one.

    3. Lucy Montrose*

      Luck also is inherent to relationships, the foundation of the workplace. Every single successful relationship involves people saying yes to each other, over and over again. A single “no” can break that cycle and end the relationship. It’s crazy to think of this kind of serendipity of everyone choosing each other, every day, being essential for a successful job to occur. But that’s exactly what happens.

  18. Bryeny*

    LW, you’re the opposite of smug! You’re approaching this thoughtfully and with humility. It might not help to tell you not to feel guilty — you feel what you feel — but I don’t thinks it’s justified. Good luck with your new job!

  19. Person from the Resume*

    You are not alone. I freely acknowledge I am where I am in my professional life through luck and privilege. But I also acknowledge that I work hard and have had more than one friend tell me I’m too hard on myself setting unrealistically high standards anyone would find hard meet. Maybe you’re on the same boat with me.

    I do think you need to try to remember that you found a job posting, interviewed well, and were selected as the top choice of the people they did interview. You say you were lucky to find the job posting at the right time, but it sounds like you were job hunting i.e. putting in the work. When you consider how hard it is for non-local people to find jobs, there must be something about your field AND YOU that made them choose to interview someone living across the country and then select them. If you had blown the interview, you wouldn’t have gotten the job so you did earn it.

    1. Lucy Montrose*

      [T]here must be something about your field AND YOU that made them choose to interview someone living across the country and then select them.

      This is what hurts about job rejections. If I’m not chosen, that means the employer saw nothing in me. That I lacked that certain je-ne-sais-quoi. Unlike some people, I do see “not having the right personality” or not being the best fit as a personal failing, and it makes me re-examine what went wrong with my life to make me this wrong person.
      Was choosing not to play team sports in high school a critical choice that left me without team-oriented intangibles? Was something as simple and dumb as not having enough sleepovers as a kid enough to taint my personality and make it “insufficiently sociable”? Will an employer indeed find me more likeable if I’m married and a churchgoer– never mind that I don’t want either thing, am I just the kind of person who needs marriage and religion to make me more relatable, despite my personal preferences; and I just don’t realize it?

      Sometimes you just don’t know what kind of butterfly effect the choices you make will have on your life down the road– particularly the choices that go into making you who you are. So yes: being rejected, especially for reasons of fit, makes me feel unwanted by any employer and like my whole personhood is wrong for any job, at least any job that pays well and uses my education.

  20. MissDisplaced*

    Oh OP, it’s not luck! Ok, well maybe some part is, such as happening upon that job post at JUST the right time, but then again, others could’ve also been looking and weren’t, so it wasn’t “luck” alone that led you there, YOU were looking!

    As for privilege, well, you cannot choose who you’re born to, but be grateful and humble you were able to freely pursue your dreams and interests and acknowledge you had that luxury and support in in your young life to do so. Consider paying it forward if and when you can to those maybe not so fortunate. But realize YOU also worked and studied hard to get to this point. It wasn’t handed to you.

    So don’t let imposter syndrome get you down!
    Be hard working, be kind, be humble.

  21. LilyP*

    You could actually reframe all those things you listed as luck as things you did–
    You worked hard for years to get the degrees (plural!) you needed, you were thorough enough to be still checking for opportunities during the off season, you developed a set of skills that made you a good match for relevant job postings, you’re dedicated enough to move across the country for an opportunity.

    I’m not saying luck and privilege had no role in these things, but none of them was *pure* luck or privilege either.

    1. LilyP*

      Also — just a guess, but I bet you don’t write off the *bad* things that happen in your life as “just luck” right? If you had applied and been rejected you would’ve put that down to a skill you were missing or a messing up the interview or not being the best candidate, if you missed an off-season job posting you would’ve berated yourself for not checking more often? That pattern of “good things = luck/circumstances/other people, bad things = my personal failures” is super common, but it can be really destructive to your mental health and self-esteem. The boring truth is both good and bad things tend to be a combination of your actions and your luck/circumstances in roughly the same measure.

  22. Mainely Professional*

    You make your own luck in this life, is what I say, which is maybe another angle or phrasing of the first comment “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” I “lucked” into every job I’ve gotten, as has everyone else because there being an opening at all is luck!

    1. Artemesia*

      When I was in a rural area of Cambodia and saw people living in a 10 by 10 foot banana leaf hut with their kids and working from dawn to dusk to subsist, it became clear to me that ‘hard work’ and ‘making your own luck’ are just part of it. I have never worked as hard as those mothers worked to provide for their kids. Being born in a particular time and place and circumstance has more to do with life outcomes than anything else.

      1. Anna*

        Thank you for pointing this out. “Making your own luck” always seems to be the case for a specific socio-economic group living in particular parts of the world.

        1. Mainely Professional*

          Yes, we are talking about people like the OP, who aren’t living in abject poverty. I’m aware of the difference.

  23. Anon for This*

    I completely know this feeling! In my case, a lot of my luck has come through connections — because of the graduate school I went to and people I met through that, I’ve had multiple job opportunities open up to me (including one major opportunity that was not even advertised publicly — they were looking for someone very last minute and my advisor happened to know the hiring manager). I try to keep the perspective that yes, in a tough-to-break-into field luck and connections may always play a large role, but that also doesn’t mean the process is totally random or I am not a high-quality candidate/employee. Like in the example of the job I got through my advisor, he wouldn’t even have recommended me if he didn’t think I would do a good job, since that would put his reputation on the line. And in other cases, my connections may have gotten my resume a closer look, but if that resume or my interview were terrible, I still wouldn’t have gotten hired. So it’s always a combination of luck PLUS actually being a good candidate/good fit for a particular job.

  24. mark132*

    Part of the problem with the someone else is “smarter, better, faster” than you, is it is often very subjective.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Exactly. And “smarter” isn’t enough in most situations when employment is involved. It still boils down to being able to apply that intelligence and knowledge, being a team player and having the right energy and same vision as the team you’re going to be joining, etc.

      You also tend to hold yourself up to higher standards than you hold others to I’ve learned, so of course everyone else seems smarter, better and faster than you. They make it look so easy [since you’re not living in their head and hearing their wheels screeching the entire way].

    2. TootsNYC*

      and it’s timing. At the point the job is open, you are the smartest/fastest/best candidate.

      And that’s fine–you deserve that job.

      You don’t HAVE to be THE smartest–be YOUR smartest. And let the rest fall where it may

  25. Colleen*

    LW just because luck played a part in you getting the job doesn’t mean you aren’t deserving of it. Is there someone out there more deserving? Possibly, but it would be very difficult to line up every person who could have potentially applied for this job and rate them in such a way that you can figure out the exact person among them who is *Most Deserving* of the job. Because it’s not just a matter of being smart and qualified; it’s also a matter of having the right temperament for the job, being a good fit for the culture of the office, being able to understand the goals of the position, even not being so over-qualified that you end up being bored by the job. The people who interviewed you saw something in you that impressed them above all other applicants in what you say is a competitive field. Don’t let anyone – especially yourself – take that away from you.

  26. Bridget*

    I’ve felt this! Especially when initially looking for jobs for after graduation, and I managed to find one before I graduated (2011) and there were still SO many people struggling, many of them friends of mine. Like, for YEARS. And my dad would talk about how everyone’s so lazy and how he was so proud I had a job and yadda yadda. Meanwhile—if I hadn’t had the same Stephen King obsession as my boss, it’s possible I might not have even been hired! (Seriously, I’m pretty sure our mutual love of King novels played a big role in getting me hired.)

    You know that you’re competent, AND you know that you’ve gotten lucky. You can be both! Be proud of your accomplishments but be humble and learn a lot, too. You may not ever entirely shake off the imposter syndrome (I haven’t yet) but it gets easier to live with and easier to remind yourself, hey, they picked me for a reason. :)

    Good luck!!

    1. TootsNYC*

      And my dad would talk about how everyone’s so lazy and how he was so proud I had a job and yadda yadda.

      OP, this is the trap you are NOT going to fall into, and it is a FAR BIGGER accomplishment.

      You aren’t going to be the person denigrating other people who didn’t get the “breaks” you did (either from way back in your stable and advantageous childhood, or in the coincidence of having overheard a conversation about an opening).

      Now go forth and don’t let others be that person around you.

      1. Letter Writer*

        That’s a good idea. I can tell others what I did “right,” but I can also use my story to point out advantages I had that not everyone gets.

  27. Lolo*

    OP, please stop overthinking things and move on.

    I graduated from a selective college in a state university in the mid-70’s when inflation was rampant and the economy in the state was pretty bad. Jobs were hard to come by. A couple of people I knew from my class had tentative offers for teaching jobs in the fall if vacancies opened and a lot of folks opted for grad school. I went out for a couple of jobs through the campus placement office and was hired for one. To this day, I was the only person I knew of, at graduation, among 600+ in my college graduating class who had a professional job with a start date. It was entry level, I learned a lot, and the job formed the basis for my professional career.

    What happens to other people in your field should not be taking up so much space in your head. Wondering about “what ifs” does not make you appear in a positive light. Do you job, learn from it, and, if there’s a chance to help someone else down the road, reach out.

  28. Phil*

    There are many sayings around the idea that luck is the residue of preparation and design. I was in a very competitive business for my 40 year career-music recording. You’ve been entertained by my recordings and by TV shows I recorded. And while I was “lucky” to get that first job decades ago I’d been preparing for it since I was a child. I learned music, had a tape recorder when I was about 10, and I had been a roadie. So while I was lucky too get my foot in the door luck didn’t keep it for me or allow me to grow in it.
    So while you may have been lucky to get the interview your skills and attitude will keep the job for you.
    Good luck!

  29. Not your average millennial*

    I do want to applaud the OP for recognizing how their own privilege might have played a role in this. Privilege plays a huge role in education and the job market. I worked at a college that had a high first generation and underrepresented populations and the questions weren’t just how do you write a resume, but what is a resume.
    I don’t think you should have “survivor’s guilt,” but I think it’s important to recognize when our own privilege helps our circumstances rather than hinders.

    OP if you want to look at ways to give back, check out the local community colleges and universities in the area and see if they need young professionals. Many places are always looking for mentors, panelists, or people to do informational interviews.

  30. Overeducated*

    I think recognizing that in competitive fields luck plays a huge role doesn’t take anything away from your work and skills. People without the preparation can’t take advantage of the luck – it’s like getting into Harvard for college, you have to be highly qualified to even play in that lottery.

    But I think the point of recognizing the luck element isn’t to put yourself down, it’s to lift others up – recognizing that friends and colleagues who are struggling may not be less deserving or less competent and treating them accordingly, and pointing out when possible any barriers to access and equity that make it harder for marginalized people to be “in the right place at the right time.” For example, fields with lots of unpaid internships or expectations that people move for jobs every 6-12 months do require more of a safety net and make it much harder for people with more responsibilities to their families to even compete (pulling in experiences from my former industry here, obviously). Using your growing career to advocate for better workplaces and more inclusive early career opportunities is a way to try to grow the our rather than feeling guilty about your piece.

  31. Justin*

    The problem with privilege and luck is when it’s not acknowledged and not shared (much as it can be). Help others up the ladder however you can, and I bet that you will because feeling this way is often a precursor to doing so.

    You seem like a kind person. Use that and it will serve you well. Congrats.

  32. AnotherLibrarian*

    This resonated so much with me. I felt this way with my first job out of school in my insanely competitive field. Yes, privilege probably helped to get where you are, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t work at it or be willing to sacrifice for it. Another way to think about this is- you were willing to move, willing to keep looking and had something the people hiring you wanted. You are no less worthy of this job than anyone else. So, embrace that and good luck!

  33. Observer*

    Feeling guilty is, at best, a pointless exercise in this kind of situation.

    Yes, definitely recognize the role that both luck and privilege may have played in your success. But also recognize the role that hard work and discipline played. Because it does no one any good to pretend that “Luck and privilege” is all you need.

    Also, pay it forward by helping people as much as you can and try to help change the system so that luck and privilege play less of a role in success. Don’t expect to create a 180degree change all by yourself. But every step in the right direction is a step in the right direction and something worth trying for.

  34. nnn*

    Thinking long-term, once you’ve established yourself as a respected professional in your field, you can use your good fortune to lift up others who are currently on the wrong side of luck.

    Currently, the hiring in your field does not serve everyone well, since skilled, talented, worthy candidates aren’t getting hired.

    How could these structures and systems be modified so they better serve everyone, and reliably match skilled, talented, worthy candidates with jobs without those candidates being at the mercy of luck?

    You probably don’t have the answer right this second, but as you gain experience in your field you may well see opportunities to improve the structures and systems, and will eventually gain the credibility to propose those changes.

  35. Letter Writer*

    Thank you Alison and all the commenters! This has been very helpful for me.
    I definitely tend to overthink things and get dramatic. My job isn’t an either/or situation, and I don’t need to view my success as an undeserved gift from the universe. As many of the commenters have posted out, my FEELINGS won’t do anyone else any good.

    I did work hard to get here, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. I also got lucky, and it’s okay to acknowledge that too. This is a field where mentorships and collaborations can really help people, so I should have lots of opportunities to pay it forward.

    1. Justin*

      You should only feel bad if you have had many chances to help people over ten years or whatever and don’t do it. But no one who feels like they should help people and can just… doesn’t, I feel. You’ll do great. Keep kicking much butt.

  36. I usually lurk*

    I have a good job that is admired by many people I went to school with. Our school didn’t do a great job at professionalizing us for anything other than a career in academia (my degree is in English), so I think a lot of my classmates just didn’t know how to hustle when it came to job-searching for something other an academic job. Or maybe they truly wanted to stay in academia, even if it meant adjuncting? I’m not entirely sure.

    That said … while I was in the program, I took a lot of opportunities (working at our lit mag) that other people turned down because they were too busy with coursework and/or their own writing, and that definitely helped me land the career I have now.

    1. I usually lurk*

      All that is to say that success looks different to different people. Someone might be a brilliant theorist but bad at operating a copy machine (and/or interviewing). Don’t downplay what you did to land a job! Go you!

  37. Buttons*

    Acknowledging the privilege of education, mental and physical abilities, and family support, etc. prevents people from looking down on others by expressing things like “If they worked hard they too could have this…” because it isn’t always the case. We all have different abilities and potential and circumstances. Having that awareness makes us more empathetic towards those that don’t have all we have. “Pull yourself up from your bootstraps” is so condescending because not all people have put straps, are able to use them, or know how to use them.
    Having this awareness and empathy towards others will help you be a better employee, boss, citizen, and human, don’t lose that :)
    Congratulations on working so hard to get such a highly sought after position. I wish you all the best!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Thanks for this too! So, so many rich and privileged insist on perpetuating this American Dream myth that “ANYONE” can become successful “IF” they work or try hard enough. And it’s some sort of moral failing if they can’t.
      But the lower income strata in America is horribly unbalanced and poor kids start out at a huge disadvantage. So often working hard isn’t ever gonna be enough. Not to mention racial biases too!

  38. glitter writer*

    I also have a very rare well-paid, full-time job in a very competitive and hard to access field, and I, too, felt like I got it through blind luck. It was a lightning strike: I got my first full-time position in the field when someone recommended me right as an employer that almost never hired happened to have a position that needed filling, and the employer came to me.

    But the boss at the job I left wisely pointed out to me that it wasn’t just luck – that I had done the work and laid the ground to be ready for that kind of opportunity to strike. Maybe the positions were (and are) rare, but I deserved it as much as anyone else and she felt sure I would prove that.

    That was almost a decade ago, and I am still successful in the competitive field. My boss was right.

    Most good careers are a mix of luck and skill. Sure, there’s almost always someone as good at what you do, out there in the world. (Maybe an exception to that rule for professional athletes and so on lol). But that doesn’t mean you aren’t great too and don’t deserve the position.

    1. Artemesia*

      I am the ‘guy with the red stapler’ in Office Space. 41 people in my organization lost their jobs in a big merger where the cuts were made by whole department and my department was riffed and somehow I just stayed on and then found a niche here and then a niche there and spent another 35 years at that organization. I am the only one of the 41 who finished their career there and was promoted regularly. Luck and some gifted broken field running and maybe denial. No illusions.

  39. Working Mom Having It All*

    Assuming this is an extremely competitive field (entertainment, publishing, academia, maybe certain types of libraries or museums), the reality is that, well, it’s very competitive.

    As someone pursuing this career, you can take one of two stances if you want to move forward and not break your brain over it.

    One: yes, there’s a lot of luck involved. And it’s true that people with privilege tend to be “luckier” in this regard than some others. But there are a certain number of openings, and someone has to get the job, so it might as well be you. You keep the job, show up every day, try your hardest, do the work, and enjoy having a job you enjoy in a field that you are passionate about.

    Two: you decide that others are more deserving and go work in a different field. This could be your decision because the entire field is toxic due to the privilege issues, or because you know there are other voices out there that are more important than yours. Or just because your feelings about this problem outweigh your passion for the field. All of this is completely OK. Deciding that a certain field isn’t for you because of job issues created by the level of demand is not “selling out” or “giving up your dreams”. People grow and change and learn things about themselves as they start their careers, and this is one of them.

    If it’s not actually that competitive of a field, honestly, this sounds like impostor syndrome. Which is a problem a lot of people have! But it’s also fairly easy to get over.

    1. Dan*

      “Deciding that a certain field isn’t for you because of job issues created by the level of demand is not “selling out” or “giving up your dreams”.”

      This is very much true. I’m all for following ones dreams, but I’m also for acknowledging reality. What really drives me nuts is the academic side of things where going “alt-ac” is looked upon as selling out. Um no. When there is far more labor supply than there is available jobs, you get the current system where people are working for peanuts (e.g., adjuncting). There is no shame in pursuing more financially rewarding employment, and yet somehow this cult has form to keep sucking people into a dysfunctional system.

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        In general I’m more of a “there are some jobs, and someone has to get them, and it might as well be you” type, but yeah. As an undergrad I decided not to pursue the academic career I always assumed I would after seeing how impossible it was to get almost any job. And I left that track to work in the entertainment industry!

        I have more friends who are professional TV writers or working actors than I have friends with tenure track academic jobs in a non-STEM field.

      2. TootsNYC*

        oh yes on the “it’s not selling out” thing

        I had a friend who studied concert piano in Boston in the master’s program.

        About a year in, he looked around and said, “I really only want to be a concert pianist playing with an orchestra. There there are only about 24* jobs like that in the entire country, and not very many of them will come open every year. I am at school with 14 people who are much better than I am–and that’s just MY program. This is not a viable career path.
        “I am doing really well at my day job, and I enjoy doing it I can move into some other aspect that I’ll like more and will provide upward mobility.”
        So he dropped out of the master’s program, leaned in to the job at the bank, and played Rachmaninoff at home.
        Any other method of earning money via the piano, he decided, would have destroyed the enjoyment he got from playing.

        That’s not selling out.

        *I don’t know how many it really is, but it was lower double digits.

  40. Dan*

    Simon Cowell of the “Got Talent/Idols” fame has an excellent quote that mirrors AAM’s advice: “This business is hard if you’re good, and impossible if you’re not.”

    I originally wanted to be a pilot, but I gave up on that career because I realized that my career success came down to one thing: Luck. In the pilot world, everything about your life is based on your seniority. If you get hired in the front of a big hiring boom, life will be very good to you. But if you get hired at the tail end of a big boom, you’re always, relatively speaking, going to be last on the list and your life quality of life is going to suck: Last for captain upgrade, last for fleet choice, last for domicile assignment, last for vacation approval. If you’re top of the list, you get to be captain on whatever plane you want, at whatever domicile you want, get whatever days off you want as part of your regular bid, get whatever vacation days you want approved… it’s really night and day.

    And one day, when I got to give it a good hard look, I realized I didn’t want luck to be the only thing determining my career success so I picked something else.

  41. West Coast Reader*

    Luck and connections play a part in everyone’s success. It’s part of life and being human. This means that you too, will have this experience, and there’s nothing wrong with it.

    I’ve been doing a series on imposter syndrome in my membership, and this was one of the topics – talking about how we all have “Oh we just got lucky” or “I had connection” excuses that make us feel undeserving of our successes.

    One exercise you can do is to list out all the things that you had to do to end up getting this job – you went to school, finished your degree, applied for X number of jobs, interviewed X times, prepared for each interview, etc. Yes, we have privileges, and it’s important to acknowledge them. However, it’s also important to recognize your agency in your success.

    1. TootsNYC*

      and the prevalent of luck means, OP, that one day you will not get a job because you didn’t get lucky enough to hear about it at the right time.

      It’ll come around–you’ll get yours one day. ;)

  42. PerformanceAttributionBias*

    There is a type of bias called Performance Attribution Bias. This bias means some people are perceived as “naturally talented,” whereas others are presumed to have “gotten lucky.” This shows up when people talk about Affirmative Action, or Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives, or when people say things like “she slept her way to the top.”
    If you were building a team, who would you want to put in your team consistently? The person who got where they are because of luck, or help, or affirmative action, or a diversity initiative, or the person who got there because they are brilliant? Honestly? Why wouldn’t you go for innate brilliance every time?
    The dominate “in group” is judged on skill…. What about those who have double “out group” characteristics- woman and black, race and religion? The impact begins to compound – and even less credit is given….
    Success in males is attributed
    to their own skills, success in women
    is attributed to help from others,
    getting lucky and working hard
    • This is true of attribution by
    others and by the individual
    • The assumption that “affirmative
    action” is helping minorities or
    women adds to this – another
    reason women/minorities are
    perceived as not succeeding on
    their own
    Don’t @me with your arguments, this is my area of expertise, I research it, I teach it, I am an expert in this type of bias…

    1. Washed Out Data Analyst*

      Ah, I love it when people assume minorities got to where they are “just because of their race/whatever”, when no one questions how a company ever got to be 99% white and male./s

    2. TootsNYC*

      and, I think, this is the point behind those blacks who are opposed to affirmative action–they see that it has been quickly used to denigrate any of their achievements.

      Even if it is a reasonable attempt to level the playing field and make up for the outright discrimination and exclusion that occurs.

      1. Artemesia*

        Ah but white males have been disadvantaged by the equal rights laws and policies. If you always get to go to the head of the line and then everybody gets to get in line according to their qualifications, you suddenly are disadvantaged. When I applied for and was admitted to law school (I chose to go elsewhere) the average LSAT at the school (this was in the 60s) was 545 for the males accepted on the old 800 scale then used similar to the SATs. A handful of women were admitted and the average LSAT was 750 for that group. Of course when half the applicants are women the bar is going to be higher for men; by the mid 70s men who had previously been easily admitted no longer were competitive. My husband graduated law school in 1972. In his class of 200 there were 20 women; 10 of them were on Law Review which took 20 new people his year. i.e. 50% of the women made law review and about 6 or 7% of the men because at this point only very well qualified women were being accepted — And 10 men who would have been on law review decades earlier, didn’t get chosen. Fairness hurts those who have received preference and no longer do.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      This is fascinating and not my area of expertise, but I wonder how much of this can also be a form of impostor syndrome. Because I’ve certainly felt like my success came from “luck” and assumed that others got to where they are through skill or talent.

  43. Master Bean Counter*

    Things I’ve learned in my career:

    No amount of luck will actually get you the job. Skills, experience, and personality will. Luck may be the thing that get’s your resume picked out of the piles, but chances are that you wrote something in a cover letter that a hiring manager say, “I want to know more.” Once you are at the interview table–it’s your talent that gets you in the door.

    Nobody has the same exact set of talents as you. What sets you apart will be the thing that gets you hired or passed over.

    Everybody takes their own journey. Some people will look like they have it easy–maybe they do, but maybe they’ve got struggles you know nothing about and have learned how to make it look easy. Your journey is just as valid as theirs.

    Different people will have different innate talents. What seems easy for you may be a huge struggle for others. What you struggle with, some one else will do easily. Learn to embrace and use this to your advantage.

    Never ever think that you don’t deserve to be where you are. There will always people who will try to convince you you don’t belong, people who think they could do the job better than you, people who will step on you to get above you. Don’t be one of those people to others or yourself.

    I’ve earned where I am. I made choices along the way that have brought me here. People will tell me I don’t belong. I will not listen to them. People will tell me that I don’t deserve it, I do. I will keep doing the things that got me where I am. That’s what I get paid to do. I am f-ing fantastic at my job.

    1. Washed Out Data Analyst*

      I remember in a video he did, John Green said something along the lines of “luck doesn’t negate talent, but talent doesn’t negate luck either”, which I think is very true. Both work together to get you to where you want to be.

    2. TootsNYC*

      “No amount of luck will actually get you the job.”

      Likewise, at least in my field, you don’t get a job because someone spoke for you. You get an OPPORTUNITY.

      I can get almost anyone an interview in my field, on the strength of my personal recommendation alone. They have to get the job themselves–I don’t have the power to do that AT ALL.
      My endorsement might be a factor, sure (but my endorsement is going to be based on their actual ability, so that’s not actually about me–I’m only going to go out on a limb for people I totally admire, which is, again, not about ME.).

      But the candidate does the interview; the candidate takes the test.

  44. Washed Out Data Analyst*

    What you described is how…getting jobs work. It sucks that there isn’t always enough available jobs for people who want them (I work in one of those competitive fields), but idk…it’s now the world works. If you want to pay it forward, you can always volunteer to mentor people who are trying to get in, like informational interviews, etc. I try to do that now. I had bad luck getting a job until one day, I finally did. I like to teach other people what I have learned about my field. I especially try to help people who are unlikely to have built in networks in white collar jobs (minorities, immigrants, etc), because they tend to have the most trouble being noticed by employers no matter how talented they are.

  45. DaffyDuck*

    Congrats on getting the job!
    So now you work hard and do a good job, gain experience in the field, and have a good rep with your boss/company. Keep your eye out for friends/acquaintances who have a good work ethic/skills and if you see an opening they might do well in let them know. That is one of the best ways to pay it forward.

  46. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    My current job has everything I wanted; 1o minute commute, set hours with no overtime, respectful co-workers, regular feedback, and merit raises. I look at it is a reward for years of slugging it out in under-paid toxic workplaces.

  47. Rust1783*

    Immediately after college, I got a plum job at a leading organization in my field, in NYC. It was totally a king-of-the-world moment for me. When the HR person called me to check into my references, she asked me to keep it a little bit quiet because they had another candidate who they are pretty sure I knew, but he wasn’t moving forward.

    I later learned that the other candidate was a friend of mine from college. We were heavily involved in many of the same extracurriculars and even had related work-study positions. The HR woman assumed (correctly) that we ran in the same circles. In fact, the previous summer I had applied for and gotten a very competitive internship that he had also applied for. Now, I had gotten this very competitive job that he had also applied for.

    This was a decade ago but I still get this sort of icky feeling knowing that he and I had been compared very directly with one another and I had come out on top in two consecutive, consequential head-to-head match-ups. (Not to be melodramatic or anything.)

    A couple months after this all happened, he up and moved to Alaska on a wing and a prayer. He has had some interesting career experiences and eventually moved back to the lower 48 and everything is going great for him; so it’s not as though this ruined his life or anything. But it was a vivid example of two people on similar paths that just diverged from each other so suddenly, seemingly because I got this particular job and he didn’t.

  48. Grand Mouse*

    I have a really nice job in an “unskilled” field and I have never felt like I earned it. Sure, I had years of experience in my previous job, but I felt like I was always failing there (happy coworkers, critical boss). I didn’t have good luck job searching before but I happened to get the best job possible. Idk it kinda bugs me every day.

  49. I woke up like this*

    I can so relate to this. I got a tenure-track job at a good state university immediately after earning my PhD in a Humanities field. Anyone in academia can tell you that my story is rare. Many of my friends, who are much smarter than I am, were not so lucky.

    I want to add to Alison’s response by emphasizing that guilt is a natural but also kinda futile emotion. It doesn’t create change, and it doesn’t offer solace to those who are still looking for jobs. So I try to focus my energy on using my institutional privilege to advocate for equitable labor conditions (esp. for contingent faculty and grad students), transparent hiring processes, and diversity in hiring. The problem with guilt is its so inward-facing. I can’t give my job to someone else in need (it would likely be a lateral hire); it’s not that straight-forward. But if I move beyond guilt and outside of myself, I can better see the places where the system is broken and how I can leverage my power to fix them.

  50. FairPayFullBenefits*

    I agree that OP shouldn’t feel bad about this success, but I also commend them for recognizing the privilege that helped get them there. We need more of that! But recognizing privilege doesn’t have to mean feeling guilty or unworthy.

  51. Sun Tzu*

    OP, you said:

    “I was lucky to have the resources to get the degrees I needed, lucky to stumble onto an entry-level opening during an off season when few others were looking, and lucky to find a unicorn of a job posting right as I completed my last degree. I was also able to pick up and move cross country to take the job.”

    So, you:
    – got a degree
    – kept looking for a job during off-season (while others didn’t!)
    – moved across the country

    It looks to me that you worked hard for this job. Sure, there’s always the luck factor; but, as others said, luck favors the prepared.
    Stop worrying and feeling guilty, and congrats for your new job!

  52. londonedit*

    I totally understand where you’re coming from. When I graduated from uni I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, I just knew I wanted to live in a particular place and hoped to do something vaguely related to my English degree. I started temping and ended up landing a reception job with a small publishing company. And there you go. Now, I see people getting themselves into huge debt and doing extra qualifications and struggling and struggling to break into publishing, while I just swanned into a job that led to a promotion that kick-started my editorial career. It’s easy to think ‘wow, I was so lucky’. Yes, I was fortunate to have graduated in 2003 and not 2008, but there’s not a lot I can do about that. And it’s not as if I really did just swan in and have everything handed to me on a plate – it was hard work, the money was awful, and it was an incredibly steep learning curve. I like to think I’ve paid it forward in recent years by speaking on a few panels at events aimed at people trying to get into the industry; I don’t know that I’ve helped anyone directly, but people do seem appreciative.

    With any job, there’s a certain amount of luck involved – I got the job before my current one because I happened to log on to an industry job site on a whim and saw the advert. The recruitment agency handling the job had to ask the company for an extension to the deadline for me, so I could get my CV and cover letter together super-quick. But I still had to make sure my application was really good, and I still had to turn up and interview well and impress them. Otherwise it would have been ‘Ugh, we extended the deadline for her and everything, and she was crap’. So yes, there’s a bit of luck involved, but you’ve got to make it count when it does come your way.

  53. Perpal*

    I kind of hate how the concept of “privilege” has been weaponized in some social circles / turned into a negative, when it’s usually referring to nice things we want for everyone. Someone always has it better, someone always has it worse. It’s useful as a concept to remind yourself that someone in a different situation might be there though no “fault” of their own (and even the origin of negative behaviors can be dissected at length; to a degree I’m not sure it really matters all that much if it’s because of a genetic predisposition, or social conditioning, or originated de novo with no provoking context). Just be kind and generous (mentally) to those around you, and try to make the most of the opportunities you are given. I think that’s the most anyone can do.

  54. BethDH*

    I would also remember that everyone working with you got where they are by a combination of intelligence, work, and luck. As a new person in the field, it’s easy to compare yourself primarily to your recent peers on the job market since you still kind of think of yourself as one of them. But I bet you won’t think that most of your coworkers don’t deserve their roles and they had to have some degree of luck in a competitive field too.

  55. Anon for this*

    I’m curious whether the OP is male of female. I think it is more likely that the OP is female. This is not sexist, but realistically, women experience more impostor syndrome and are less likely to believe they deserve what they’ve earned (or more!).

  56. Enginear*

    I can relate. I’m working in a field that I didn’t go to school for and have no experience in but they still ended up picking me out of all the other candidates they interviewed. These other candidates had the specific degree they preferred and maybe had a leg up on me in terms of experience but at the end of the day, the employer chose you. That’s what should really resonate with you. YOU were the best candidate that’s why you were chosen. I wasn’t top of the class in college but I bet I make more moolah than most of those smart guys that never wanted to help me when we had class together.

  57. CanCan*

    “lucky to stumble onto an entry-level opening during an off season when few others were looking” – That’s not lucky, that’s persistent. If some of the candidates weren’t looking because it’s an off season, they lost out and it’s their fault.

    Sure, you’re luckier than some (were in a position to get a degree, had sufficient intelligence, as well as various external factors). But there are others luckier than you – including people with more external resources (money, connections, family know-how, etc.) and internal resources (intelligence, grit, etc. that one is born with). No need to feel guilty for either your circumstances your your luck. And getting your first job (or first “real” job) isn’t the be all and end all. You’ll need luck as you go. Besides, some of the “unlucky” ones that didn’t get your job may instead go on to do bigger and better things.

    Luck has nothing and everything to do with it – all depends how you look at it.

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