Another piece of the puzzle?

As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, I have the idea for some sort of story about luck slowly developing. This week, maybe I got another piece of it.
It was during an online discussion about writing in which I observed that luck is an inescapable part of what we do. I’ve had editors who liked my stuff replaced by editors who didn’t, magazines that liked my stuff go belly up (one write before my article became the cover story——though I did get a kill fee for it), fiction I’ve written come too close to something they’ve just accepted; successful writers, however, manage to overcome that kind of luck, make new sales and keep going (the fact I couldn’t seem to overcome the setbacks is what led me to put magazine freelancing on the very back burner).
Her outraged response is that there’s no such thing as luck——it’s just an excuse some people use to explain away their failures. She dismissed my examples on the ground that the magazine that failed failed for logical reasons, not because of some magical force that made it happen——her working definition of luck being that it was some mystical power free from cause and effect.
And of course, a lot of people do see luck as a form of magic or an actual force that influences their lives. But it’s not the only definition.
An equally common definition, as Nicholas Rescher points out in Luck, is that “luck” refers to factors that are either random or unknowable, at least from our point of view. Sure, there’s a cause-and-effect reason the magazine failed, but from my perspective, it’s a random, unpredictable event——so it’s legitimate to call it bad luck for me.
Or suppose TYG and I get hit by a drunk driver while shopping Saturday morning. Again, cause and effect, partly from our own decisions when to go out——but calling it “bad luck” makes more sense than blaming ourselves (assuming we weren’t doing anything stupid) because we didn’t drive to the store 15 minutes earlier or later (this is not meant to say the drunk isn’t at fault, only that luck also plays a part).
Dr. Richard Wiseman, on the other hand, sees luck as a collection of personal traits. Lucky people are alert for opportunities, trust their gut, network a lot, avoid getting stuck in routines and remain optimistic (IIRC, one way they stay optimistic is that believing in luck is one way they keep from blaming themselves for events outside their control).
Nicholas Taleeb, in Fooled by Randomness, argues the opposite from my friend: Success actually serves as an excuse for luck. People make blind picks of stocks, job offers, etc. and if they pan out, other people assume they’re smart rather than lucky (I got into this in my short story Others Must Fail, which is, alas, no longer online).
As Malcolm Gladwell points out in Outliers, Bill Gates acknowledges he was lucky: An after-school computer club in his community enabled him to learn about IT at a time when it was still an exotic field few people were exposed to. He certainly made the most of it, but that lucky break made a big difference in his life.
Luck can be an excuse, sure. But believing that everything is under your control is well, ridiculous, because it’s not. Even if you’re doing everything right in your career, one crippling accident or disease or having to care for a loved one——or an economic collapse wiping out your company of course——can sideline you.
The Bible tells us that the race is not always to the swift nor battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, but time and chance happen to them all.
Medieval Europe invoked the wheel of fortune: Sooner or later, the wheel will spin and take you down.
I’m still not sure where I’m going with this, but my acquaintance’s thoughts (and this response) have brought me a little closer.


Filed under Personal, Writing

2 responses to “Another piece of the puzzle?

  1. Pingback: The race is not always to the swift « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Nor battle to the strong « Fraser Sherman's Blog

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