I Need a Lucky Break!

I expect at some point in your life – perhaps more than once – you’ve said this. When you’ve said it, you most probably meant something like “I wish some significant good fortune will come my way soon!”

Reading the Daily Express on my flight to Spain on 25 June, I came across a small article on a poll carried out by the children’s literacy charity, ‘Volunteer Reading Help’.  In their study of 500 Chief Executives, Managers and other high earners, they found that hard work, charm, persistence, warmth, intelligence and a sense of humour were high amongst the ingredients for success. It also revealed that luck, fate and good timing also help.

As a diversion on the plane from endeavouring to avoid the air stewardesses trying to sell me and everyone else tea, coffee, sandwiches, Mars bars, the latest perfumes etc, I sat and thought about what I had just read and how funny it is that, yes, most people do equate luck with ‘fate’ and ‘good fortune’ – some mystical spiritual force which favours us now and then (usually then rather than now) and bestows upon us something that is to our benefit – or detriment, for that matter. How many times have we uttered to ourselves when something has gone amiss (like we’ve missed the last train home or something) “Just my luck!” – as if some malignant spirit has suddenly decided that it’s about time it made life unpleasant for us for awhile – perhaps it thinks it’s a practical joke and laughs about it?

But is ‘luck’ this ethereal substance (can substance be ethereal – perhaps not, but you know what I mean) over which we have no control? Off my mind wandered to all those times in my life when something had happened around the time that I wanted such a thing to happen, and I was surprised at how many times this had been. Perhaps, I thought, I was born ‘lucky’, touched by this mystical force in my mother’s womb. No of course not, not me! What about all the times when nothing had happened around the time that I had wanted it to happen. So perhaps the good things that happened were mere coincidences? But do coincidences only favour good things? Are coincidences nothing more than chance? This was all getting too heavy for me, especially on a flight to Spain with the sunshine beckoning, so I concentrated my mind on finishing my reading of the newspaper.
However, I did tear out the small article and put it in my pocket. I came across it a few days ago and thought that my mind could do with some more serious thinking, so I started delving into the subject of ‘coincidence’ again. What interesting stuff you can find on the Internet! Here are some examples:  “The lives of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, two of America’s founders – Jefferson crafted the Declaration of Independence, showing drafts of it to Adams, who (with Benjamin Franklin) helped to edit and hone it. The document was approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. Surprisingly, both Jefferson and Adams died on the same day, July 4, 1826 – exactly 50 years from the signing of the Declaration of Independence.” Here’s another: “In the 19th century, the famous horror writer, Edgar Allan Poe, wrote a book called ‘The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.’ It was about four survivors of a shipwreck who were in an open boat for many days before they decided to kill and eat the cabin boy, whose name was Richard Parker. Some years later, in 1884, the yawl Mignonette actually foundered, with only four survivors, who were in an open boat for many days. Eventually the three senior members of the crew killed and ate the cabin boy.” This example is interesting for lawyers or quasi-lawyers, for in the subject of Criminal Law you would learn whether ‘necessity’ was a defence to a crime. The authority for the fact that it isn’t is the case of Dudley and Stephens (R-v-Dudley & Stephens (1884) 14 QBD 273).

On 5 July 1884, a yacht crew were cast away in a storm 1,600 miles from the Cape of Good Hope. Thomas Dudley, Edward Stephens, a man known as Brooks, and teenager Richard Parker managed to escape on a smaller boat. They had no food and virtually no water for 20 days, and on the 21st day (apart from Brooks who would have nothing to do with it), they decided to kill and eat the cabin boy, which they did. Four days later they were rescued by a passing ship. On their return to England they were charged with murder. At their trial they pleaded ‘necessity’ (i.e. it was necessary that the cabin boy be killed and eaten so that the others could survive) as a defence, but it was rejected and they were found guilty. The death sentence was imposed, but the presiding judges entered a plea for clemency by the Crown; such was public opinion that the sentence was subsequently commuted to six months’ imprisonment. (There is, today, a defence of ‘Duress of Circumstances’ to certain crimes which is very similar to ‘necessity’, but this is beyond the scope of this article.)

John Allen Paulos, a Professor of Mathematics at Temple University (America), wrote, “The most incredible coincidence imaginable would be the complete absence of all coincidences.” He mentioned the coincidence that occurs in Psalm 46 in the King James Bible. This translation of the Bible was published in the year that William Shakespeare turned 46, and the 46th word from the beginning of the Psalm is “shake” and the 46th word from the end is “spear”?! How about that for a coincidence?!

However, I decided that coincidences had nothing really in common with ‘luck’ (other than by way of coincidence!) and so shifted my thoughts over to that. I remember a saying attributed to Oprah Winfrey, the American media proprietor, talk-show host, actress and producer, which went something like “Luck is where preparation and groundwork meet.” I thought this was a very shrewd saying, but I suppose I didn’t take it aboard at the time, as I’m not a fan of Oprah Winfrey, especially as a purveyor of shrewd sayings. I wonder where she got it from – did it actually emanate from her? No, it didn’t, I found out. It was actually coined by the first-century Roman philosopher Seneca, who said, “Luck is where the crossroads of opportunity and preparation meet.” Well actually he said, “Fortuna est ubi compita facultatem et praeparatio occursum” because, being a Roman, Latin was the language he spoke.

Well, Roman philosophers, as purveyors of shrewd sayings, are much higher in my estimate than Oprah Winfrey, so logging on to my computer’s thesaurus, I found that that ‘preparation’ embraces such things as planning, training, homework, research, groundwork, organisation and tuition. Now we’re getting somewhere, and the more I thought about it, the more I became excited about what ‘luck’ really means. The ‘lucky ones’, i.e. the ones who found that the things that they wanted to happen actually happened, had not been visited by some mystical outside force; they had prepared for what they wanted to happen. They had achieved a goal by working towards it. 

Now in Management studies this is called ‘Strategic Management’, or ‘Management by Objectives’, i.e. “Where is the business now and where does it want to be in, say, five years’ time, and how does the business set about achieving this goal?” Imagine applying this concept to yourself – what do you want to achieve (career or personal life), and by when do you want to achieve it? What do you need to do, along the way, to ensure that at that time you are in the best possible position to reach this goal? How do you need to prepare for it? I am a firm believer that everything is possible if you fully prepare for it. It is going to cost you, though, in terms of commitment – if you make your studying a priority, you may have to cut down on your social life, for example, but it will be worth it. In this life you get nothing for nothing! It’s like in the Law of Contract – do you remember what ‘consideration’ is? It’s one element of a valid contract – without it a simple contract is void. It means that in order to be able to contractually gain something you have to contractually give or promise something in return. It’s something for something – something for nothing does not a valid contract make! It’s the same with life; to gain more you have to offer more. You have to be the best to get the top prizes and you can do it; but don’t rely on the ethereal concept of luck – instead look to that old first-century philosopher, Seneca, and work towards your goal with diligence so that when the opportunity arises you are as fully prepared as you possibly can be to embrace it, and when you achieve what you want, you can truthfully say to yourself, “Lucky me!”