Am I qualified to talk about luck? Am I lucky? Is anyone lucky? Do we make our own luck?
Here’s a story.
I sold my share of my business two and a half years ago and left the business I’d been working in for 17 years. I’d researched how much money Eve and I would need to have in order to retire, and we didn’t have nearly enough. I told friends that we were in great shape. We had all the money we needed so long as we organised to die within about 8 years. We moved to the country anyway without knowing how we were going to make things work.
It’s working fine. I knew Eve would be able to earn something because she’s been teaching yoga for over 30 years, is beloved by her students and would find a way to teach wherever she was. I don’t know if luck ever came into it; Eve discovered what she loves doing and has been doing for a long time. I don’t think that many people ever discover what they really want to do. It might have been luck that had her stumble into her first yoga class, but everything that has gone into becoming the teacher she is was all her own doing. At least it looks that way to me.
“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”
― Thomas Jefferson
However, I don’t think either of us had any illusions that yoga teaching in the country was going to make up the shortfall in our saving. Yoga isn’t the most reliable method around for making big bucks. So I had to work out what to do to contribute to our finances.
In 1984 I was the owner and M.D. of a small graphic arts company that wasn’t doing very well. Personal computers were starting to appear and I became convinced that getting a computer would give me the ability to streamline my systems, get more work done with fewer people and generally get the business moving again. I don’t know where I got that idea, but I was convinced enough to go out and purchase a Macintosh computer. At the very least it would do my accounting, right? It didn’t take me long to realise that it not only wouldn’t do my accounting (there was no such thing as accounting software on a Macintosh computer in 1984) it wouldn’t do much of anything else either. There were less than 10 different software products available on the Macintosh and none of them did much of anything that would help a struggling company.
But I persisted and tried to get some value out of the computer. I ended up spending a lot of my time on the computer. Then, because it wasn’t working the way I wanted, I spent even more time. I ended up spending so much time on the computer that things in the company got worse.
“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”
― Dalai Lama XIV
But I learned a thing or two. I learned that I needed a database to help me keep track of everything, and I heard that I needed something called a relational database. Coincidentally the very first relational database on the Macintosh came to Australia in 1985. It was call Omnis 3. I bought it. And it had a built-in programming language. I started to learn it. I spent even more time on my computer. Day and night. I couldn’t sleep thinking about how to get the computer to do something useful. I tried so hard to create a program that would actually help my company, that the company eventually died. That’s a story for another day.
As I recovered from the death of my business, I kept trying to make that computer do something useful. I figured that it was too late for my company, but somebody might need what I was creating. My obsession continued for quite a while. Over time that obsession served me well. I got very good at Omnis. I learned how to write programs. The company I recently sold developed and marketed the program that I started writing for my dying company in 1985. It’s still going – the company and the program – with other, younger and more talented programmers than I ever wast developing and marketing that same program.
“And I always found that the harder I worked, the better my luck was, because I was prepared for that.”
― Ed Bradley
Somehow all of that never felt like luck. It was happenstance that had me buy a copy of Omnis, and there have been a number of steps along the way that could be called luck, but mostly they were just the way things worked out. It didn’t feel like I was the beneficiary of luck beyond growing up with the kind of attitude that would lead me to be good at Omnis.
“It’s hard to detect good luck – it looks so much like something you’ve earned.”
― Frank Howard Clark
But here’s the piece. Here’s what feels like luck, what feels like unmitigated good fortune.
I’m semi-retired. I live in the country where there are no jobs. And I work at home as a consultant on Omnis for a different company getting paid pretty much the same as I would earn in the city. I started working with Omnis in 1985, 27 years ago, in the early years of personal computers. I cannot think of another piece of software that existed in 1985 that is still around today. I am not a computer expert. I am an Omnis expert. Any other program that I’d stumbled into using 27 years ago would have abandoned me – it would no longer exist. But because I’m good at an obscure software program that happens to still be around and viable after all this time, I can be financially independent. I’ve “lucked” into having what I want. I can’t think of anything else but luck to explain how easy it’s been to make this transition.
Of course this is a little story in a big life. There are many things I am grateful for and I feel blessed for having in my life. I guess it’s because this story is about money, and the idea of luck tends to be tied up with money, that this story is one of the first things I think of when I wonder about luck.
“Life is not so bad if you have plenty of luck, a good physique, and not too much imagination.”
― Christopher Isherwood