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Luck Is More Than Just A Four-Letter Word

Recently, a friend quipped: “Luck is a four-letter word.” I started thinking about writing about luck and chance.  About randomness. About what we control and what we don’t.

What’s Your Belief About Luck?

First, I’d like you to think for a moment about what your attitude is toward luck.  What do you believe about luck.  What do you think luck is?  Or do you even think there is any such thing as luck?  Perhaps you hold with those who say you make your own luck.  Maybe you have a few superstitions about luck.  But one thing is fairly probable — you’ve thought about luck and you have opinions on it.

Attitudes about luck have a wide range, as is proven by the various sayings we have about it.  They seem to vary from “Curse the luck!” to “Bless my lucky stars!”

How about these expressions: “Just lucky, I guess”…”Good luck and God bless”…”Having any luck with that?”…”Of all the luck!”…”Just my luck”…”As luck would have it”…”Luck smiled on me.”

Although I’ve heard it many times before, I particularly was struck by the poignancy of hearing the expression “You can’t beat luck” in an episode of the short-lived TV-show “Dr. Vegas.”

The gambling-addicted physician was doing a masterful job of winning game after game in a poker tournament.   At the end, the odds were so stacked in his favor that even his opponent believed it was impossible to beat him.  It came down to the turn of one card.  And in a millions-to-one shot, the one card that could beat him turned up in his opponent’s hand.  They were both astonished. And that’s when she said, “You can’t beat luck.” (She may have said “just plain luck.”  I don’t remember the exact words, and I’m not going to try to find that episode online and watch it again just to be accurate.)

Defining Luck

I agree that you can’t beat “luck” — if you are defining luck as random chance, an event completely out of your control and almost impossible to predict.  However, some who write about luck and chance from the scientist’s point of view will tell you that you need to use your words more strictly if you want to understand luck and how to control it.  You need to realize that there’s a difference between luck and chance.

Chance is random occurrences.  Luck is “being in the right place at the right time for useful probable occurrences.”  Luck is also “making the most of chance occurrences by being alert to them and their possibilities.

If you are careful about your definition of luck, you’ll appreciate the literature that explains how you control it and how you make your own luck.  You’ll also react better to harmful and disappointing chance events, accepting that they are out of your control.  But your reaction to those chance events is in your control and you can use that control to recover.  You can even use your control to transform unfortunate chance events into opportunities for growth and profit.

Learning To Control Luck And Make Your Own Luck

In my research, I came across an excellent article by Daniel Pink, on the FastCompany website, “How To Make Your Own Luck.”   If you want an outstanding and brief outline of how to change and control your luck, this is the article to read.

In this 2003 article, Pink interviews Richard Wiseman about the ideas in Wiseman’s book “The Luck Factor: Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life: The Four Essential Principles.”  It’s a good, long interview and the four essential principles are revealed.

So much of the article, as well as the name of the book, sounded familiar.  I researched further and found that there was an earlier book called “The Luck Factor” by Max Gunter.  I was sure I had read the book and a search of my bookshelves turned it up.  Re-reading it, I discovered that both books seemed to have many of the same ideas.  Different stories.  Different approaches to studying the ideas.  But pretty similar conclusion and advice.

The Wiseman book is difficult to get in the U.S.  I had to order a used copy and wait about a week.  But Pink’s article intrigued me, so I wanted to know more.  Especially since the writer is a fellow psychologist.  The article tells the basics you need to know, but the book is good reading if you want to go to the trouble of trying to get a copy.

Gunther’s book The Luck Factor: Why Some People Are Luckier Than Others and How You Can Become One of Them is easily available here in new and used editions as well as on Kindle.

I’ll be back in a later article with more on luck and chance.  Meanwhile, take a look at Pink’s article.  (And, by the way, you may have noticed that this article was the result of luck.  A friend made an observation by chance that I recognized as a good topic for an article, and luckily, I had already read and kept a good book on it.  So, my research was made easier.  Funny how that works out.)