“Good luck” and other everyday words that keep us from hitting our goals

I was talking to an acquaintance in Toronto when she told me she had just moved from Sydney and was trying to find a job. She bemoaned how difficult it was to find work and I nodded along symmetrically. Then she said:

“It’s hard. I wish that something would just fall into my lap.”

Whoa, hold on.

I noticed that she specifically used “fall into my lap” to underline this wistful expectation or hope that things would “just happen” to her. That eventually good fortune will find her and give her exactly what she wants, without the requisite work. changed my perception of how she was approaching her job hunt: There was probably more she could actively do. Fair? Maybe not, but it’s where my mind went when she said that.

This is the power of language.

The words we choose to include in our natural vocabulary carry certain meanings, hopes, and dreams that don’t need to be said outright. They open a window into our thought process and worldview. Dr. Jack Schafer, an assistant professor at Western Illinois University, wrote:

“Certain words reflect the behavioral characteristics of the person who spoke or wrote them. I labeled these words, Word Clues. Word Clues increase the probability of predicting the behavioral characteristics of people by analyzing the words they choose when they speak or write.”

Phrases like “fall into my lap” reveal a pervasive, underlying belief that things will somehow work themselves out with a little can-do attitude and luck; hard effort on your part optional.

And since that time, I’ve made it a point to pick up on these words, and I hear it in everyday conversations with friends:

  • any luck finding what you’re looking for?”
  • “When opportunity knocks on your dooryou should open it, duh.”
  • “Wow, you’ve really struck gold!”
  • Fingers crossed.”
  • “I just got lucky.”
  • Everything will work out in the end.”
  • “A good-paying job doesn’t fall from the sky.”

I call these…

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