Friday, May 9, 2014

Good Luck? Bad Luck?

Every now and again the role of luck in financial success lifts its ugly little head. I believe this is about the fourth article I have written on the subject. In contracts this concern can appear as a Force Majeure clause that allows for a suspension of the terms of the contract in the case of an act of God. These include events such as earthquakes, tornadoes, riots, or wars. Why God gets blamed for these kinds of events but doesn’t get credit for usually good occurrences, who can say.

Call it luck, the Grace of God, or one of those negative acts of God found in a Force Majeure clause; these kinds of events do play a role in our lives.

However, there is a Swedish saying, "Luck never gives. It only loans."

Events that we choose to describe as lucky or unlucky are by definition rare events. Over time, statistically improbable events tend to balance themselves out both in scientific experiments and in life. The term used in the study of probability for this phenomenon is regression to the mean. In an experiment, a naval architect might make a statement like this, “The drag force on the device at 10 Knots is 155 pounds ± 15 pounds with a confidence of 90%.” That means if you run 100 experiments at 10 Knots you can expect that 90 of them will result in a load between 140 pounds and 170 pounds. Ten of them will fall outside of that range. Good luck? Bad luck? Who can say?

It has been my observation that commitment, hard work, years of preparation, the passionate desire to achieve some goal, and a firm belief in who you are tends to greatly magnify the effects of good luck and minimize the effects of bad luck. If a little spark of good luck hits a pile of the characteristics and behaviors listed above, the results can be as dramatic as a stray cigarette butt flipped into a pile of dry brush soaked in kerosene.

My father was a chemist, a man of great technical integrity. He worked very hard for many years without receiving much attention from his employer. Then one day the laws changed. Paper mills could no longer use chlorine based bleaching agents. My father, now in his mid-sixties, happened to be working on substitute peroxide based bleaching agents. Suddenly, he was a world expert in narrow but highly lucrative technical specialty. His career took off like a rocket. For ten years, at a time when his peers were all retired, he traveled the world. In the process he was presented with a number of prestigious international awards. He was exactly the right man in the right place at the right time. That was luck. However, he was ready for that opportunity. It cost him over 40 years spent in smelly dangerous factories and long unpleasant flights in airplanes solving serious technical problems while frightened managers were screaming at him to hurry up.

There is another dimension to success besides the preparation necessary to take advantage of a “lucky” opportunity. Will you be able to recognize good luck when you see it?

Joseph was his father’s favorite son. He had the gift of prophecy. He was given a coat of many colors. Good luck? Bad luck?

Joseph’s brothers were jealous. They sold him into slavery. Good luck? Bad luck?

Joseph proved himself a hard working honest slave. His master promoted him to management. Good luck? Bad luck?

Now a part of the inner workings of the household Joseph met his master’s dishonest adulterous wife. Because Joseph refused to have sex with this woman, she cried rape. Joseph landed in prison. Good luck? Bad luck?

Because he happened to land in the same prison with some of Pharaoh’s servants, Joseph ultimately was given an opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. On the strength of this prophecy combined with Joseph’s managerial skill, he became the Chief Operational Officer of Egypt, just when his family happened to be starving to death, very good luck for the nation of Israel.

His brothers were feeling a little guilty and uncomfortable about what they had done to Joseph, especially now that they were completely at his mercy, but Joseph, good man that he was, comforted his brothers saying, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result; to preserve many people alive.”

Twice in my life, my career suffered great and unjust harm at the hands of evil men. It happens. On both occasions some fellow believer spoke Joseph into my life, quoting the first part of that verse, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.” Both times those words resonated deep in my soul. I believed then as I believe now that God was speaking those words into my life. Both times I persevered to the best of my ability. Both times I was ultimately blessed with a better quality of life than I could have imagined.

Just keep doing your best. Let God take care of the rest.

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