“Luck is the most valuable force that society routinely undervalues.”
Ben Cohen: “Winners know how to harness luck”, Wall Street Journal, October 8-9, 2022
In 1995 I left my career as a hospital executive and was trying to start a business and write a book. One day, after having hit one brick wall too many, I was ready to throw in the towel and start a job search. Returning to the gym after a run, I found a dime on the floor in front of my locker. I took it as a sign that I should give it another week
It became almost predictable. Whenever I became overwhelmingly frustrated or discouraged, I would find a coin (or perhaps the coin would find me). I had a plaque made and started gluing on these little reminders to not give up (the plaque doubles as my supplemental retirement plan).
“A lucky coin is what you make of it” became a chapter in the book I’d been working on: Never Fear, Never Quit: A Story of Courage and Perseverance. It’s out of print now but there are usually pre-read copies on Amazon.
They were about 10 coins on the plaque when the CEO of a Fortune 500 insurance company chanced to come into a conference room where I was giving a presentation. That company became my first big client, the CEO and I collaborated on a book, and we remain good friends to this day. A lucky break
At about the same time, a friend I’d asked to read the manuscript for Never Fear, Never Quit told a literary agent about it. The book ended up selling over half a million copies and hit the best-seller list in Japan. Another lucky break
One lucky break after another.
Now, I don’t really believe that there is a little leprechaun dropping coins for me to find when I need them. But I have learned to rely on my luck.
When a young wannabe actor told movie veteran Walter Matthau that he was waiting for his lucky break, Matthau replied, “Kid, you’re going to need about 50 of them.”
Six Rules for Being More Lucky
Lucky Coin Rule #1: You have to pay attention. Sometimes your lucky break comes disguised as something else. As when you go out of your way to help a stranger who turns out to be someone who opens another door for you. But it only works when you help without any expectation of return.
Lucky Coin Rule #2: Lucky breaks often have a short shelf life. When luck breaks, you need to “Proceed Until Apprehended” and pounce on the opportunity quickly. The Roman philosopher Seneca said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Expecting to be lucky will help you be ready for the opportunity when it comes.
Lucky Coin Rule #3: Lucky breaks come with an obligation to create lucky breaks for others. To remind myself of this, whenever I have change in my pocket I drop it on the ground with a prayer that someone will see in that coin the same hope I saw in that first dime at my gym locker.
Lucky Coin Rule #4: Gratitude for lucky breaks you’ve gotten in the past increases the likelihood of more lucky breaks in the future, while resentment about lucky breaks you did not get (or that someone other than you did get) decreases the likelihood of lucky breaks in the future.
Lucky Coin Rule #5: Replace expectation with expectancy. Rather than placing demands upon the universe, be open to what the universe offers you. I previously mentioned the Fortune 500 CEO who chanced upon a presentation I was giving. Actually, he’d come to complain about the noise we were making – he was conducting a meeting in the next room. The natural expectation would have been either an argument or an apology; expectancy created an opportunity.
Lucky Coin Rule #6: Taking action is what turns a random coincidence into real luck. Finding that dime by my locker didn’t make my phone ring or get my book published. All it did was help me believe that if I kept at it, luck would kick in.
In his book How to Make Luck Marc Myers writes that lucky people use six practices to create space for luck: 1) they make life look easy, but don’t flaunt their success; 2) they strive to be likeable; 3) have the insatiable curiosity of Kipling’s Elephant’s Child; 4) they strive to improve the lives of other people; 5) put yourself in debt to those who might help you in the future; and 6) they never burn their bridges.
Focusing on just two of these practices, he says, will enhance your luck. I’ve chosen to focus on #3 and #4. And I consider myself to be a lucky guy.
One more thing: Believing in your own luck will make you more optimistic, but its greatest power comes at those times when there seems to be no reason for optimism. At those times when the light at the end of the tunnel has gone out, when you are in what Seth Godin (in his book of the title) calls the dip, believing in your luck can be the catalyst for the hope and the faith that there is a light, even though you can’t yet see it.
Lucky Coin Postscript
I almost didn’t send out this newsletter. It’s pretty silly, after all, this notion of finding lucky coins. I was thinking about it walking along the sandbar pictured below last evening. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a glimpse in the sand. I leaned over and picked up — are you ready for this? — a quarter, half buried in the sand. Say what you will, but when the universe talks I listen!
Is what you’re doing now working?
If not, perhaps you need to trust more in your luck.