“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…
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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