I’m not a fan of luck. That doesn’t mean I haven’t happily acknowledged good fortune when it came my way. Decades ago, as a teenage passenger in a car that went over a canyon cliff, I and my fellow-passengers thanked whoever / whatever is in charge of the distribution of luck as we literally dusted ourselves off and walked away without a scratch. Point being, I may not be a fan but I can’t complain since I’ve had my share of the good stuff and so have my friends and acquaintances, sometimes in ways that proved life changing.
I once worked for an entrepreneur who had a fortuitous life-altering experience on a plane trip from NY to L.A. He had the good luck to sit next to a Wall Street player who enjoyed investing in start-ups. By the time the plane landed at LAX, a handshake agreement had been made and a million dollar deal was in the works. Luck turns, through. Shortly after my entrepreneurial former boss got the million dollar deal and was enjoying his new fun bachelor L.A. life, his new Porsche, which he had lent to his girlfriend, was carjacked outside an ATM and she was briefly held captive by the thief. Fortunately, she managed a drama-free escape, making her even more appealing to my commitment-shy boss. Just when he started to think she might be the love of his life... she dumped him. No car. No girl.
Of course, like everyone else, I have also had my share of bad luck. I once turned in a screenplay that could have taken my career to a whole new level. Unfortunately, the head of the studio, a fan of my work, was fired the very day the script reached his desk and his replacement replaced me on the project that would become the mega-hit “Charlie’s Angels.” But it wasn’t bad luck that made me a non-fan. It was the fact that be it good luck or bad, we are all subject to a force that can’t be seen or challenged. If I think about it too long I start to feel as if I’m being held hostage, engaged in an endless struggle to keep my cool while the sword of Damocles hangs over my head. Five years ago I found a way to deal with the panic of living with that dangling sword in the wisdom of an old fable.
As the story goes, a poor farmer’s only horse escapes. His neighbors express condolences at his bad luck. “Bad luck,” he says. “Maybe, maybe not” answered the farmer. Five days later his horse returns, five wild horses following, which he and his son manage to corral. The poor farmer’s net worth just got a noteworthy jump. Now his neighbors congratulate him on his good luck. “Maybe, maybe not,” he says. A week later his son breaks a leg trying to tame one of the wild horses. Bad luck? A few days later a conflict breaks out and all young men in the village are ordered to war...an exception made for the guy with a broken leg. Good luck? And so it goes. The farmer understood that the perception of what is good and bad is more complex than one might think. This was a mini epiphany for me. I realized shortsightedness is what makes us feel passive and helpless.
Truth is there is always a glimmer of good news in any bad luck scenario. Taking it one step beyond the fable, I realized it’s not enough to know that forces of light and dark are comingled, we have to realize we have the ability to mitigate our bad luck. We do this by actively seeking the upside of a spell of bad luck and not wallowing in our troubles. Wallowing is not only unattractive it will diminish your chances for a (relatively) quick turn around. In other words passivity is like brakes on your luck-mobile. Waiting for your luck to change is like being stuck in gridlock traffic with no radio or CD player - frustration and boredom your only companions. Once you see that luck (good or bad) is an inter-active sport and your point of view and reaction to circumstances impacts the results, the game of luck becomes a little less scary and a whole lot more fun.
I’m still not a fan because, yes I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a control freak. Yet, I’ve managed to become much better at handling whatever kind of luck gets thrown my way. Incidentally, the upside of being axed from the Charlie’s Angels project was it motivated me to write a novel that became a best seller. Unfortunately that success led to over-confidence triggering new misfortune. Good luck / bad luck. Maybe / maybe not. And so it goes.
Photos credits: Yellow sign in field John Churchman/Getty Images Illustration Mark Airs/Getty Images