Thursday, August 03, 2006

Maybe There is Something to "Luck"

An old vignette:

Napoleon's aides came to him to recommend a man to promote to general. They went into detail extolling the man's virtues and why he would make an excellent addition to Napoleon's staff. Napoleon cut them off half way through their speech. "Yes, yes, I understand he's brave, he's smart, he knows tactics, he is loved by the men. But I only need to know one thing."

His aides nervously looked at each other. "Yes, Emperor?"

"Is he lucky?"

I always liked this story, which is why I remembered it when recently hearing about an acquaintance of mine.

This acquaintance just never seems to catch a break. She caught her first fiance in bed with her best friend. The man she ended up marrying left her, leaving her with a ton of debt. She sold her house to buy a smaller, cheaper one, but she keeps getting outbid so had to move in with her mother while she keeps unsuccessfully bidding on more houses. She has constant health problems. She was recently "t-boned" by a car that swerved out of its lane, totaling her car and giving her even more health problems. I mean it is just one thing after another. She's a nice person and everything, but she sort of reminds me of that old bit on "Hee Haw": If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all.

On the other side of the coin, I know people that live what my wife calls "charmed lives". These are people that catch the lucky break at work, fall back-asswards into stock options, make millions, then invest it with a friend of theirs who IPOs, making them even more millions. The lines they get into at the grocery store move the fastest. They always find a parking spot closest to the door. They aren't smarter or harder working than my unlucky friend. Things just work out for them.

But most people I find are not permanently lucky or not lucky. I have noticed that luck seems to run in streaks. For example, one of Mrs. Director's friends had her dog die. Then her mother. Then her father. All within a couple of months. This person is otherwise successful, but just has an unlucky number of things happening all at the same time.

On the flip side of the coin I can point to a personal example of a good luck streak. I was out of work for six months (pretty damn unlucky). Then in a single day I got not one, but two job offers. That same day I opened up a Starbucks bottled Frappucino and won $20 in a promotional giveaway - the first time I ever won anything like that in my life.

Now I know all of this is just coincidence or the human mind's attempt to find patterns in everything. But it is also a matter of perspective. I don't consider myself terribly lucky, but when I zip along the back roads of China in an air conditioned chauffeured car, business suit and full stomach, I know the peasants looking up from the rice fields are thinking to themselves "Look at that lucky gweilo..."

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