The Two Types of Luck: Good and Bad
Lady Luck, Machiavelli observed, usually favors aggressive, demanding, and assertive men who demand much of her and are never grateful for her devotion. We have all known a Lucky man. Luck has fallen in love with me, he thinks, and I can demand anything I want from her. I never have to give her anything in return, he believes deep in his heart, because she has fallen in love with me. The Lucky man is impulsive. He flies by the seat of his pants and he always lands safely at the right airport. Somehow his impromptu schemes all turn out to be big successes. He treats Luck as if she was his subservient lover, and he demands much of her. And, Luck always does his bidding.
We have all known a Lucky woman. She expects good things to happen to her, and good things always do. She believes that she is special in a way that only she can understand. She is very smug about her good Luck and feels that she deserves it. This is because she believes that only good things happen to women who are special – and she is very special. Obstacles seem to melt in front of her. She never plans anything; she makes everything up on the spot. Luck continues to present her with expensive jewelry, stylish clothes, and anything else she wants. Women who are smug and demanding, who always feel entitled to the next gift, and who feel that they don’t owe anyone anything are the ones that Luck falls hopelessly in love with. Luck is her whipped dog, cringing and trembling in fear of her anger, yet obediently following her everywhere.
Machiavelli observed that those individuals who boldly rely on their personal good Luck – counting on it as an essential ingredient for their success in life – are the men and women whom Luck serves. Those who are fearful of bad Luck – Machiavelli believed – never get any of Luck’s favors. These individuals have to achieve their life’s success by their own shrewd planning and hard work.
Machiavelli seemed puzzled by this – as are we. But, we – like him – cannot not deny the evidence of our own eyes: some undeserving individuals are incredibly Lucky. Mysteriously, they are maintained in their undeserved and unearned positions in life by the persistent intervention of good Luck. They are even able to overcome competitors who are smarter and who work harder. What is the special relationship that these individuals have with Luck? How can we develop a similar relationship so that we can always be Lucky too? Unfortunately, no one can control Luck.
Luck is simply an ancient name for the way things happen in our Universe. We can define Luck as the sum of all the unpredictable events that can affect our lives but over which we have no influence. The only thing we can say about Luck with certainty is that it will have a profound impact on all our lives. Luck has had a huge impact on your life already.
Statistical and mathematical sciences were relatively undeveloped in the early 1500’s. Machiavelli didn’t know about randomness, distributions, or the normal curve. He did not know that Luck is distributed to all of us purely at random. This does not mean that everyone gets the same amount of good and bad Luck. It means that Luck is dealt out like cards at a poker table. Think about all the poker players who will play at all the big casinos tomorrow night. Will the Universe be fair to those poker players? Is there a Mysterious Invisible Power that gives good hands to the most deserving player – the one who will donate his winnings to cancer research? Will that same Power give the undeserving shoplifter, the card cheat, the embezzling broker, and the serial rapist only bad hands? We know, of course, that the Universe seems indifferent to our inner qualities when we are sitting at a poker table. Luck will not deliver good hands to the most deserving players or bad hands to the undeserving. Instead, the following will be true about the Luck those players will have tomorrow night or any other night. There will be:
- Big losers – A very few of the players will be very unlucky. They will be dealt mostly poor hands all night. They will be dealt a straight when an opponent is dealt a straight flush. They will lose a bundle.
- Small losers – Some of the players will be somewhat unlucky. They will be dealt a few winning hands but mostly bad hands. They will lose a little.
- Players who break even – Most poker players will have average luck – a few winning hands, a few losing hands. They will win or lose an insignificant amount of cash.
- Small winners – Some of the players will be somewhat lucky. They will be dealt several winning hands. They will leave the casino with a little more money than they started with.
- Big winners – A very few of the players will be very lucky. They will win more than anyone else at the table. They will fill inside straights time after time. They will fold when someone is holding a straight flush. They will be dealt a straight flush when someone else has four of a kind. This is the group that Machiavelli described as boldly demanding much from Luck – and receiving it.
Life is like the poker table. The deal is random. Some players get opportunities that others do not, and there is no good reason for it. Some players never get a single break. Some have their nerve broken by the constant advances and retreats of Luck. Some are so lucky so often that they feel entitled to it.
Luck is the shuffle of the cards. Luck is bird shit in your hair. Luck is the Lotto machine picking the numbers that you have been playing every week for five years – making you a millionaire. Luck is the Lotto machine picking your numbers – on the only day in five years that you forgot to buy your ticket. Luck is inadvertently running a stop sign at sixty miles per hour – when there is no cop around to write you a citation. Luck is inadvertently running a stop sign at sixty miles per hour – hitting a school bus filled with fourth-graders broadside. Luck is the difference between dropping a glass and seeing it shatter into a million splinters – or catching it intact and unharmed on the first bounce.
Many successful people do not believe in Luck. “You have to make your own Luck,” they boast. “I am successful because of who I am and how I behave, not because I was just Lucky.” These people never take into account the many others who are just as smart and just as hardworking but who never achieve their goals because of bad Luck. These boastful friends also never recognize their own good Luck in being born healthy, having a good education, having opportunities tossed into their laps, not being caught breaking the law, and never running a stop sign when a school bus is crossing the intersection.
Luck is wonderful to a few. These people are born to prominent families, sent to good universities, placed in excellent entry positions with good employers, socially connected, well-married, given healthy children, and protected from all preventable disasters by their economic resources and social connections. They live well, happily, healthy, and long. Their children are attractive and smart. They usually feel entitled to their good Luck. In fact, they usually believe that they earned or achieved their good fortune by their own ability. They feel that good things happen to good people, and that they have a special inner goodness that they cannot quite describe but which they can sense. Some believe that their Luck is a product of their will-power; that they force the World to shape itself to their requirements by the force of their powerful thoughts or the maniacal purity of their faith.
Luck is brutal to a few. Some people die young. Some are drowned in the bathtub by their insane mothers. Some are born into deformed or unhealthy bodies. Some are born in countries where there is no hope of education, no hope of economic security, no hope of political freedom, no access to modern health care, no hope of even keeping your clitoris, and no hope of immigrating to another country where things are different. Some are born to mothers with AIDS who pass the disease to them as their first birthday present. Some are imprisoned for life for crimes they did not commit. Some are very ugly and are shunned by those they would want for friends. “Why me?” they say. The empty answer is: “For no reason at all.”
Luck runs cold and hot for some. Each Lucky moment is offset by an equally unLucky one. Luck is tepid to most people. Nothing much happens.
Luck can change for the better or for the worse at any moment. You can’t control Luck – because by our definition Luck is the sum total of all things that you cannot control – but there are three things you can do about your Luck.
What Can You Do About Luck?