Sunday, December 2, 2012

89. What is Good Luck?

Whenever I talk with people about becoming a famous architect, and I ask "well what do you think it takes to become famous?" The responses are wide and varied. Here are some common responses I get:

  • A a combination of luck, timing and who you know...No matter what, when lady luck comes knocking, you'd better be ready to pounce.
  • Well... you need to be talented, hard working and have some luck
  • You have to be lucky enough to have been born to rich parents. 
  • Do your best work and it will happen or it won't
  • There's an element of randomness to it, but becoming famous doesn't happen at random
  • I suppose you to have to be fortunate enough to be friends with already famous people to begin with. 
  • When reading the history of famous architects a common thread is either that they were [lucky enough to be] born rich (like P. johnson...kurokawa, fumihiko maki, shigeru ban, and I hear rumours about Ando too...), had a good teaching job to live off of, or a combination of both.
  • You have to be lucky; meaning being in the right place at the right time and yeah talent helps too 
 ...and the list goes on and on.

 If you haven't already noticed, the one common denominator in all these statements is the magic ingredient of luck. 

So what is luck anyway? 

Below are some common definitions. 
  • Luck: an unknown and unpredictable phenomenon that causes an event to result one way rather than another. 
  • Luck: the force that seems to operate for good or ill in a person's life, as in shaping circumstances, events, or opportunities

From Wikipedia: 

For a lot of people, Luck is a belief that good or bad fortune in life is caused by accident or chance, and attributed by some to reasons of faith or superstition, which happens beyond a person's control. 
Buddhism teaches about karmma; the idea of moral causality; that all things which happen must have a cause, either material or spiritual, and do not occur due to chance or fate. 
Followers of Christianity and Islam believe in the will of a supreme being directing the universe and the affairs of humankind with wise benevolence, theologily refered to as Divine Providence. It varies greatly from one person to another; however, most acknowledge providence as at least a partial, if not complete influence on luck. The concept of "Divine Grace" as it is described by believers closely resembles what is referred to as "luck" by others. One such activity is prayer, a religious practice in which this belief is particularly strong. 
Others associate luck with a strong sense of superstition, that is, a belief that certain taboo or blessed actions will influence how fortune favors them for the future. 

These are all well and good. You can believe what you want. I am not here to question your faith or tell you what to believe. But I can share with you what I believe is a useful perspective on luck.

There is an old Babylonian saying that goes something like this: 

If a man is lucky, bound his hands and feet together and cast him in the Tigris and he will swim out with a fish in his mouth for supper 

To me luck is largely a matter of perception. What I mean is that the situations that we find ourselves in are not essentially fortunate or unfortunate, but rather just situations with various levels of potentials, opportunities and limitations. Each situation comes with its own unique set of circumstances that either limit or open up potentials for what we want or where we want to go. It is up to us to find the fortune and opportunities and act on them. My good man that was lucky enough to be thrown in the Tigris in such a ghastly fashion simply discovered that his situation presented him with a good opportunity to go fishing for dinner. Rather than accepting his predicament as bad luck, he saw the potential in the it and most importantly he took action. 

Obviously this is just a mythic tale, but like most mythic tales it offers a simple lesson. 

Luck in not just seeing the glass half full, it is also taking action; not just seeing the potential but using it. After all, seeing the glass as half full is ultimately meaningless if you don't drink what's in it at some point. Isn't it?

Being an optimist alone isn’t enough; being able to see all the goodness, potential and opportunities around you and then not taking advantage of them has nothing to do with luck. It has to do with day dreaming. It is not really any different from a pessimist with no imagination or who sees only limitations in his situation and subsequently does nothing. The old Babylonian Houdini would not be considered lucky if he figured out how to escape and catch a fish but just never got around to doing it, would he? 

To be truly lucky one not only has to be optimistic enough to recognize the opportunities but also courageous enough to act on them while they last. Not only that, one has to do this constantly. This is the way of the famous architect. 

I can not count the amount of times where I encounter architects who after seeing the newly published project of a famous architect and saying:  

"oh snaps! I had that very same idea" 

Well then I ask you "why didn't you act?"... 
"why didn't you follow through and realize it?" 

The answer is in the question: "what's the difference between you and the famous architect?" 

Is it because he is lucky and you are not? 
Is it because he was able to see the opportunity and put in the work to realize it while you did not? 
Is it because he has the ability to see the greenness of the grass on his side of the fence while you can only see the weeds on yours? 

It comes in the form of statement like: "Oh of-course they can, they are lucky because they have a team of apprentices slaving away at their office for free and I have none." 
 oh he has connections and I don't. 

The way I see it, the optimist who sees the opportunities and potentials around him and do nothing about it is worse than a pessimist:

He is a coward. 

Conrad Newel 

Liberating Minds Since August 2007


Iwona said...

Nice thoughts in this post. I agree that a man becomes lucky the moment he starts to believe in it.