"With my luck..." "I'll need all the luck I can get."
"I was lucky to get hired."
We've all heard people use these phrases and many of us have used them ourselves. We wish other people "good luck" when they start a new job or when they get married. "Best of luck" is a sentiment expressed when people move into a new home. When someone is going through a string of unfortunate events, we say he's "down on his luck."
So what is this "luck" thing about? With few exceptions, life isn't about luck; it's about how well you play the cards you're dealt. Like the bumper sticker says, "s*** happens." That's true. Seemingly healthy people get terrible, unavoidable diseases, natural disasters strike and kill people and leave others in dire straits, a drunk driver comes out of nowhere and hits a car. I think we can agree these events are bad luck.
For most of us, however, our lives are what we make of them. Just because a situation is imperfect (see 1/12/07 posting on "Perfection") doesn't mean we're unlucky. Didn't get the job you thought fit you to a T? Keep searching. Broke your ankle skiing? Do what the doctor prescribes and you'll be mobile again. Got a flat tire when you were already in a time crunch? Oh well.
Rather than stating "s*** happens," a more accurate bumper sticker might read "life happens." Not getting the job isn't necessarily bad luck. Sure, it's upsetting and disappointing, but it's anyone's guess why you didn't get the job: another candidate was more qualified, the interviewer just didn't click with you, the company president backed his nephew's college roommate, etc. It's not bad luck--it just is.
I've known people who truly suffered from bad luck--those random events that serially deteriorated their quality of life. I want to tell you about one such person. In the 1950's, this man, Herb, built up a small neighborhood grocery store in Hartford, CT into a solid business that successfully supported his family of six. The state of Connecticut then decided to build a highway, and through the powers of eminent domain, forced Herb to abandon his store. (The highway was never built.) Being a hard worker, Herb then opened a grocery store in another neighborhood in the city and, over time, turned the new store into a well-run operation. Herb worked about 90 hours a week and was, once again, successfully supporting his family. The neighborhood loved him and he often delivered groceries to the infirm and allowed people struggling financially to pay him at a later date, knowing full well not to count on it.
Herb's life was on track when the urban riots of the late 1960's hit and his store got caught in the chaos. Again, he had to abandon his livelihood. Determined this time not to risk building a business from scratch in the city, he purchased a small, well-established suburban fish market from the retiring owner. The hours were far fewer than what he was used to and all seemed peachy for the first six months. Then bad luck hit: mercury was found in some fish and business dried up. Not long after, Herb, who had worked day and night his whole life, couldn't hold onto the fish market and went out of business. Financial ruin overtook his life and he never fully recovered financially or emotionally. He died in 1989, weeks before his 69th birthday. He did everything right, but external events happened, ones that he couldn't have anticipated. Three bouts of truly bad luck did Herb in.
I know this story well because Herb was my dad.
Like bad luck, good luck is often an overused term. Winning the lottery is all about luck and nothing about skill or ability. Inheriting great genes is good luck. Heck, inheriting great anything, including money, is good luck. Good luck happens when good things happen to you that had nothing to do with your efforts or skill.
Many of my clients think their personal and professional successes are due to good luck. Sure, it was fortunate that the dinner host seated you next to what became your new boss. But you had to be knowledgable with excellent experience to take advantage of this seating opportunity. Luck? I think not. Your boss wouldn't have hired just anyone sitting next to him--it was about you, not the chair.
Understanding what luck is and isn't allows us to think more clearly about what is and isn't within our control. Even if you didn't get the dream job, it is within your power to obtain another job. Getting a good job is less about good or bad luck than it is about being prepared for opportunities as they arise. Herb's story is an example of bad luck. Being born into a beautiful, wealthy family is good luck. Everything in between is just life.