04.09.18 | The Roll of Luck in Life
We once discussed the delicious book Night Train To Lisbon (discussion intro 9/26/10, attached below) with the question: given that we can only live a small part of what there is in us — what happens to all the rest?
The simple reality of our lives — the sum total of all our past events — is but that small part. Our Member Monday (4/9) discussion, however, is about “the rest,” the elaborate multiple fantasies of the ifs, the paths not taken.
This journey into the thicket of luck and chance is more than just some empty philosophical exercise. It may, in fact, serve to remind us all (i.e. all of humanity) of our common vulnerability to this invisible, otherwise undetectable, force that can be known only by its works -- from the split second that determined who lived and who perished amidst the recent Miami bridge collapse to the chance overheard comment that plucked Martha Quinn, then a young NYU intern from Albany, out of obscurity and directly into star status with this brand new cable channel concept called MTV.
And so it goes. A certain humility arises upon a true appreciation of the power of the fortuitous — whether it be the obvious examples of one’s DNA, place of birth, parents down to the small everyday happenstances, as each speculative path opens into a thousand new possibilities.
The business world is sometimes said to operate at the intersection of chance, talent and hard work (WSJ Essay, To Be Successful, Make Your Own Luck - WSJ - Wall Street Journal or attached below as Pdf). Make our own luck? Really? We may explore the extent to which luck can be “made” beyond creating the space in which luck is allowed to operate on its own terms. Luck, almost by definition, cannot be domesticated.
May we pay tribute to, or at least acknowledge, the god of contingent outcomes as we reflect on our own individual paths -- or on that of a whole society. Americans sometimes dismiss luck in explaining the country’s greatness. In the old days it was referred to as “manifest destiny.” Now it’s often called American exceptionalism. That somehow sounds like it's tempting fate.
So to speak.
- Steve Smith.