My son has a Snoopy the Dog book that says this on page one: "Just like Snoopy, what you can achieve is limited only by your imagination. You can be anything!" As a parent, this message - that our kids can do anything if they dream big and work hard - is deeply alluring.
But as a psychologist, I find this well-intentioned message distressing. Why?
Telling kids that they can do anything obscures the critical role of chance in success. As Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman puts it: "Success = Talent + Luck. Great success = A little more talent + A Lot of Luck."
So skill, and the hard work needed to cultivate a skill, is a key part of success, but luck plays a critical role, too. By luck, I mean all of the varieties of random chance, including opportunity, genetics and circumstances of birth, like poverty.
Despite this hard truth, society often ignores the influence of random chance on success. And herein lies the problem.
When some kids don't achieve their dreams, those who don't recognize the role of chance in determining life's outcomes may blame themselves or stop trying. On the other hand, those who do succeed may overestimate their own role in it, and see those who have average resumes as inferior or less deserving.