Luck Of The Draw

Monday, 8:59pm
Reno, NV
“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” Dirty Harry


Did luck have anything to do with how you got where you are today?

Do you consider yourself generally lucky, either in life or circumstance? Or cards, maybe?

I run into the concept of “luck” a lot in business. And since I’ve had such a stormy relationship with luck throughout my life, I perk up whenever I hear anyone talk about it.

I’ll come clean right off the top, though, before going further: I consider “luck” (at least the way people I grew up around think about it) as a form of superstition.

Which almost consumed me in my youth. The idea that unrelated things could influence the outcome of certain events, once it takes hold in your head, can dominate your life. Being in sports didn’t help.

Here’s my example (love to hear yours, too): I played hardball until I was 17, and while I couldn’t hit worth a damn — no peripheral vision — I was considered agile enough with the glove to start at shortshop with my Colt League team.

I still have nightmares about the anxiety. At that level of ball, the left side of the infield handles most of the action… and it’s brutal. (Some of those guys were only a few more years away from pro ball.)

I always considered third basemen as fortunate bastards — you’re so close to the batter, you have no time to think when a shot comes your way. You’re totally into reactive mode. Every play is bam-bam.

Fifteen feet farther back, at short, you’ve get enough time even with a hot grounder for your fevered brain to go through a dozen different ways you could screw this play up before the ball reaches you. The anxiety ate me up. (If I hadn’t gotten a handle on that nervousness, I surely would be crippled with ulcers today.)

Every pitch presented a new opportunity for physical pain (ever had a baseball going 4,000 mph take a wicked hop and careen into your face, groin, or neck?), and the humiliation of letting down your team with an error. The irony is, I had a good fielding percentage… yet, I felt no elation at making a play. That was my job, to make the play. No glory in just doing your job out there.

No glory. But an avalanche of shame and self-loathing if you didn’t perform absolutley perfectly.

Yeah, I was kinda hard on myself. I should have quit, and devoted myself to the band. (For whatever reason, I had zero fear of mounting a stage to play music. No anxiety, and no sense that I had to be perfect, either. It was fun.)

Anyway… isolated out there at short, with vast stretches of infield dirt in every direction, I somehow got the idea that if I smashed all the dirt clods around me before each pitch, I would be protected from errors.

I have no clue how that thought got into my head. The pitchers refused to step on the baseline going in and coming out each inning, and you weren’t supposed to talk to them while they had a no-no going… and other guys had their lucky socks (phew!) and their must-do routines to avoid jinxes… but I have never come across another jock who thought of dirt clods as holding any power over outcomes.

Once the thought took hold, though, it obsessed me. At first, I just had to stomp the clods next to me. But by mid-season, I would spot a clump six feet away, and NEED to scurry over there as the pitcher wound up, crush it, and get back into position before the ball reached the plate. I must have looked like a bugged-out meth addict out there, desperately looking for things to stomp, and dancing left and right when I should have been settling in and getting ready for action.

Finally, the coach grabbed me by the scruff between innings and asked me what the HELL I was doing out there, huh? Was I channeling Fred Astaire, maybe? Or Ginger Rogers?

So I gave it up. The little dirt clods would mock me, and the anxiety ran hot through my gut… but I quit. The horror of riding the bench trumped my fear of fate.

Here’s the Final Jeopardy question, of course: Did not killing the dirt clods affect the outcome of my play at shortshop, once I altered my behavior?

The answer is no, it did not.

However, in the grip of superstitious thinking, empirical evidence like that cannot make a dent. I did not come away from that forced experiment with any new sense of freedom.

Most of the people I knew back then “believed” in superstitions, sometimes to ridiculous extents. So I wasn’t gonna get any sensible advice from them about dealing with my own need to “protect” myself from bad things using unrelated behavior rituals, lucky charms, and magical thinking.

THey were, in fact, all for rituals, charms, and magic.

This paranoia went on for years… and then, one day, I just snapped.

It was soon after I’d discovered the power of setting goals. In a way, setting a goal, and going after it, is the opposite of superstition.

Instead of being at the mercy of “fate”, or mysterious forces that cause things to either go well or go badly for you…

… with goal setting, YOU are in control.

It’s like two opposing models of looking at the world.

When you feel mostly out of control… and you’re not being proactive about regaining control… it’s easy to believe that events are entirely out of your hands. You need luck.

On the other hand… when you’ve done your homework, and visualized outcomes, and put everything you possibly can in your favor… you exert actual control over how things will turn out.

When you’re prepared, you may welcome a lucky break here or there.

But you don’t NEED it. You will succeed or fail from your own exertions.

Anyway, one of my early and most fundamental goals was to become “comfortable in my own skin”. I sensed that most anxiety and low self-esteem came from not taking control.

And, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that superstition sucked.

It was a negative force. It came from weakness, and fear, and a refusal to face life square on. (I was studying Carl Jung at that time, too… and one thing he said about nightmares leaped out at me: “When you are chased by a monster, stop and confront it. You will see that the monster’s strength comes from your fear. He has no power when you face him down.” That hit me hard — I’d spent most of my life believing I had to run faster in my nightmares.) (I don’t have nightmares much anymore, and while I miss the adventure, I don’t miss the anxiety.)

So I made a simple vow: No more superstition.

No matter how much I felt I “needed” to obey the demands of the superstitious monsters deep inside… and no matter how much they threatened me with horror and humiliation and pain if I refused their burnt offerings… I just stopped engaging.

And years of pent-up fear fell away, instantly. I was no longer a prisoner to irrationality.

Even better… I started keeping track of results.

And guess what?

Things are going to happen, or not happen, or happen in odd ways, regardless of any superstitious thinking involved.

The ONLY thing that affects the outcome… is preparation. Being aware, awake, and alert to the odds. Hip and ready to rumble.

And, especially, hyper-alert to opportunity.

Hey — for all I know, “luck” actually exists. I know I’ve been a pretty lucky guy for most of my life… starting with having the good sense to be born to good parents in a good generation, in a good little town in a good country that offered all kinds of basic freedoms and opportunities.

However… the opportunities in life didn’t “change” around me when I got hip to going after them.

No. What changed was my attitude about opportunity. When you allow notions of luck and superstitious belief to dominate, you have little incentive to grab onto opportunity… because, hey, if I’m in a lucky streak, I can be picky.

But when you have a set of goals to measure any incoming opportunity against, you know exactly what to do. If the opportunity moves you closer to your goal, then you jump on it. If it doesn’t… well, you’re allowed to reconsider your fundamental goals, but when you’re dead set on something specific (like being an entrepreneur) then it’s easy to let even hot opportunities go (like taking another job with The Man, regardless of how attractive the salary is).

I’ve been very lucky with the way things have turned out in my life. And yet, despite the fortunate series of events that allowed me to grow up near the center of the cultural maelstrom on the west coast, soaking up the peak experiences of my generation (I was 13 — the perfect age — when the Beatles hit US shores, and went through college with what became “classic rock” as the soundtrack behind the sexual, social and consciousness revolutions we enjoyed) and somehow staying safe in spite of all the factors sending me toward danger (the draft ended my last year in college — I was set to go, too) (and all those car wrecks… jeez, I should’ve been diced, sliced and minced a dozen times over, and yet never broke a bone) — despite all that cool, fascinating action…

… I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin.

In fact, I was miserable. I was having a damn good time… but the lack of having a “place” in the world left me feeling like an exile in the culture. I was bereft of any anchor, or purpose, or direction.

It may well have been lucky that a woman I was dating had just been fired from her job with the ad agency, and was reading the Want Ads when I stopped by one afternoon… and she pointed out this “weird” little ad by a guy named Jay Abraham talking about Claude Hopkins or some other such nonsense. Wasn’t that a funny ad? What freelancer in their right mind would answer such a goofy ad?

But it was focused goal-attainment that got me to jump on that opportunity, regardless of whether “luck” put it in my lap or not. (That woman lost all respect for me by going to see Jay, by the way… and Jay at first told me I didn’t have what it took to work with him, which would have crushed me a year earlier… but I suspected he hadn’t actually read my submitted pieces, which was true, and because I also suspected this was a guy on my path to where I wanted to go… I burst into his offices unannounced and nearly got in a fight. We made nice, though, and I ended up working with him for a couple of years — writing for free, in exchange for being able to sit in on meetings and have free run of his offices — which led to that “fateful” party where I was introduced to Gary Halbert, recently out of the clink and raring to go, and so on…)

Luck is for pussies.

Goals are what gets things done.

The point of all this: My youthful obsession with luck and superstition and the idea that I was essentially NOT in control of my life was aiming me in a direction where… at my current age… I would still be uncomfortable in my own skin.

I think about this all the time. Especially as I watch my colleagues and friends and neighbors go about their day. Many still believe that money will buy them happiness. Or a new car will do the trick, or a new spouse, or moving to a new city, or whatever.

I’d have to guess that 90% of the people I know are squirming in their own skin. Not comfy at all.

I never get jealous when I hear about some dude scoring big bucks in a launch, or a new biz venture, or even from an inheritance. I USED to, before I realized what my own main goal in life was.

Now, I have a simple test: Whenever I meet someone new, or meet up with someone who’s the toast of the town… I gauge their inner comfort.

And I wonder: Would I want to spend a single minute inside their skin? BE them for any length of time?

In my earlier days of angst and cluelessness, I quickly assigned massive levels of happiness and contentment to anyone with a better basic set-up than I had. My default position was that everyone else was having a better time than I was.

Now, though, I guess I’ve attained a sort of Zen ease.

I haven’t met anyone who isn’t riven with inner turmoil in a long time.

And I don’t know anyone I’d like to trade places with, even for a short time.

I worked hard to get comfy in this battle-scarred, weathered, grizzled body of mine.

I kinda like it in here, now. A lot.

And luck had nothing to do with me getting to this lovely point.


What do you think about luck, superstition, and envy?

Love to hear your thoughts…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

PS: Don’t forget that I’m speaking at Ron LeGrand’s “Info and Internet Marketing Bootcamp” the last weekend of June. In South Carolina.

I consider Ron the most consumate salesman I’ve ever met, period. I have NEVER spent more than a minute with him, either on the phone or in person, without learning several killer Master’s Level lessons in classic salesmanship.

And my guess is, this event may be one of the last times you’ll get to see him live like this. He’s one of those guys who isn’t working because he needs the money — instead, he just loves teaching. Still, I know this is a rare event where he will BE there, speaking and interacting with the audience. We’re talking history here.

If you — like me — value the lessons of masters, you’ll want to check out the opportunity here:

I’m really looking forward to this event. Never been to SC…

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  • Greg says:

    John, some of your posts are kinda hitting close to home lately. This time you wrote:

    “I never get jealous when I hear about some dude scoring big bucks in a launch, or a new biz venture, or even from an inheritance. I USED to, before I realized what my own main goal in life was.”

    One of my questions is… so how do you determine what your main goal in life is? Since we are in complete control, it is up to each of us to assign some sort of meaning to it all, so… how do you find this meaning?

    I’ve been trying to do that lately. I’ve moved to a new city, new girl, more travel, more money… yet I still keep asking myself “What does it all mean?”

    I’m not happy. I thought I would be, but I’m not.

    No one I talk to can relate to my problems. Everyone says to me “I wish I had your problems”… I guess they say that because money rolls in whether I do any work or not, and I live in a nice place (especially for a 26 yr old), etc etc… but everything still feels cold and lifeless.

    I can tell by the way you write that you’ve been through all this before, so… I’m not sure exactly what to ask, but I know I need some kind of info to point to some answers.

  • Rezbi says:

    This is uncanny… your post seems to tie in very well with my post today.

    Check it out:

  • Garrett says:

    I just have to comment on this post because it IS that important.

    I suspect many of these “superstitious and pseudo-scientific beliefs” stem closely from childhood. Many of us were brought up in some organized form of Christianity, which is heavy on symbolism, magic spells, and vapor.

    This breeds superstition into the malleable mind of a child. Moreover, the power of our “social environment” equally buying into this all at once, the repetition, and the accompanied fear, further solidifies these processes into the child’s psyche.

    Apply. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

    Then, sprinkle on dad’s need for his son/daughter to compete by playing ball (which I think is healthy to a degree) and you are further exposed to the very same archetypes who are at church practicing the same superstitions over and over again. Reaffirmed and cemented further.

    Apply. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

    Now, as adults, we are awash in the psychic friends network, horoscopes, republicans, doomsday nay-sayers, and pro athletes praising god every time they hit a single (by the way, is this the same god who lets children starve all over the world? I guess HE just loves baseball, huh? I guess I can’t blame him.)

    Point being, the same people who were taught these false belief “systems” now teach their children the same ones, and the cycle continues onward. Has been for centuries.

    I have had to do much reconstruction over the past 3 years to “peel away” these calcified layers of a counterfeit reality. A reality that isn’t likely there. And it’s tough! It creeps back in when you are weak and tired. Or not paying attention. Kind of like that old girlfriend or that pesky nicotine addiction.

    The good news is that there is plenty of literature available to help those interested in learning more about reality, and many are in your local library at no cost to you either.

    I’d like to recommend a few here that have been instrumental in helping me see the world less from a “nebulous” place to more of a “connect the dots” place. I do agree with you John that once you see that you have more control, you are able to control more.

    We cannot control events, but we can control our “responses” to these events, and that, in turn, affects outcomes. That is how you gain more control and reduce anxiety. And that, to me, is a very healthy and responsible adult position.

    “Superstition” is widely known by intellects as “an excuse” for taking accountability for ones actions. With some effort, yes effort, you can break the chains of superstition once and for all, and see the world for what it truly is…which ain’t half bad!


    “Struck by Lightning”
    “God is Not Great”
    “The God Delusion”
    “The End of Faith”
    and any book by Dr. Michael Shermer

    Kind Regards to Everyone,

    Garrett Todd

    P.S. – The “source” of the issue of superstition is the real key to overcoming its malfeasance. Much of this false programming has religious undertones, so you’ll find a lot of help in the agnostic and atheist sections in bookstores and libraries. Best wishes!

  • Rezbi says:

    What do you think about

    luck – no such thing… everything happens as a consequence of our actions.

    superstition – again, rubbish. Too many people blame this on religion but, look at religion properly and you’ll find there’s no room for superstition there. This is just something people have invented in order to satisfy their whims and desires.

    and envy? – one of the most destructive of the deadly sins. The only only envy can truly hurt is the one who feels this emotion.

    Look around — when you see someone less fortunate, be glad you’re not in his position for that could easily have been you. When you see someone better off, strive to do and be better.

    All of these traits are for whimps and wussies.

  • Paul says:

    Hello John,

    I always enjoy reading your posts. We come from the same generation and your life experiences really resonate a lot with my own. While I believe we really make our own luck by paying attention to and recognizing opportunities and then having the foresite to take action on them, I also believe that pure random chance does also play a part in our lives as well. As for superstition, I have never really bought into that brand of thinking. I feel superstition is born out of lack of knowledge. It is created out of a lack of a way to explain things that happen which we can’t readily quantify.

  • Ken Calhoun says:

    The concept of “luck” is used by people who have an external locus-of-control, eg those who blame government, ask for help from others without working for it, and generally consign themselves to superstition and other foolishness.

    The word and thinking behind “luck” is antithesis to hard working self made millionaire entrepreneurs, imho. Everything I got I worked damned hard for — and I’m proud of my 18 hour days and network of business sites and and resultant wealth and confidence. Luck as you said is for pussies and has nothing to do with success or lack thereof.

    Self-fulfilling prophecy changes behavior, as your example illustrates… The key to success is service, as Earl Nightingale taught… “one’s rewards in life are in direct proportion to one’s service”, give or take a bit .. as it should be. Luck has nothing to do with success. Hard work in service of specific hungry target markets does, though… and goals help get the job done.

    to profits,


  • Joe D'Agostino says:

    Love the baseball stuff. I used to play center field in my teens. The games were played after dinner, and by the last 2 innings when the sun would start to set the ball was impossible to see.The bile in my stomach would start to come up waiting for the next fly to come my way knowing I could blow the game. It brought back old times.
    Thanks Joe
    P.S. took your advice and just finished ” On The Road”. Never read anything like that.

  • Joe D'Agostino says:

    Love the baseball stuff. I used to play center field in my teens. The games were played after dinner, and by the last 2 innings when the sun would start to set the ball was impossible to see.The bile in my stomach would start to come up waiting for the next fly to come my way knowing I could blow the game. It brought back old times.
    Thanks Joe
    P.S. took your advice and just finished ” On The Road”. Never read anything like that.

  • Joe D'Agostino says:

    Love the baseball stuff. I used to play center field in my teens. The games were played after dinner, and by the last 2 innings when the sun would start to set the ball was impossible to see.The bile in my stomach would start to come up waiting for the next fly to come my way knowing I could blow the game. It brought back old times.
    Thanks Joe
    P.S. took your advice and just finished ” On The Road”. Never read anything like that.

  • lorenzo luiz says:

    one of the things that i consider lucky as a interpreneur, is to have a hit in a free ads site. to post something to sell and actually have a really to life inquiry. but luckily just like in life there a tricks of the trade that increases your odds of succeeding. tools like the glyphius 2008 that actually increases your chances of getting hits. somethimes people are lucky. but sometime they are just good

  • Thomas says:

    “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
    ― Seneca (2000 years ago…)

    Seriously, luck don’t exist. It’s one of the most stupid beliefs ever. I believe in causality and probabilities. Luck is just a way to rationalise for people who never do anything.

    For envy, I haven’t had it for a long time.
    I can’t really imagine what it is to live with it. It just seems a good recipe to be unhappy and not content for me. That’s for people with low self esteem I guess. It seems a good way to make limits for yourself (and a good excuse to never do anything).

    I think you are on key differentiators between guys who achieve something, and guys who are doomed to spend the rest of their days complaining.

    “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”
    Abraham Maslow

    I love quotes..


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