"On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does luck play a part in your life?" the CEO asked my 21-year-old daughter Rebecca. This was the only question asked in the final Skype interview for a job that Rebecca desperately wanted in
Without missing a beat, she answered, "Zero."
"Bold, but different than what I would say," I thought. In essence, my view: Effort is critical, but luck can't be discounted.
Shortly after I read in William Stegner's novel, Angle of Repose, an elaboration of my own beliefs, "What if our parents had been undernourished villagers in Uttar Pradesh and we faced the problem of commanding the attention of the world on a diet of 500 calories a day, and in Urdu?"
Rebecca wasn't born in Uttar Pradesh. She comes from a middle-class family, was educated in a top suburban public school system, Council Rock; attended a private university, Northeastern; has no serious health problems and throughout her young life all her basic needs have been met. Yet, she felt that luck had no...nada...zero influence on her life and achievements--not even a tiny bit.
In the end, what counts is that she got the job. Yet I can't help thinking that she is too young to understand the fickleness and the cruelty of fate, a life-threatening illness or a terrible accident; and the wonders of serendipity, a winning lottery ticket or an unexpected windfall.
Ironically, one of her favorite movies is Run Lola Run in which Lola has 20 minutes to find and bring 100,000 Deutschmarks to her boyfriend before he is forced to rob a supermarket to pay a debt. In the film, the same scene plays out three times, each time with a vastly different outcome from redemption to death, changed by little more than a two-second delay.
In my own life--Run Lisa Run--I've had numerous gains and losses that clearly have had very little to do with my own abilities or efforts. Take the confluence of disparate circumstances outlined below.
My mother was a packrat: In the last years of her life, my mother, Sally, could have been on A&E's Hoarders. Everything was worth saving, little worth tossing. When my mother moved to a nursing home, she asked me to keep more than 10 unidentified boxes in my attic. To comfort her, without even opening one, I stored them all.
I forgot my book: As a marketing consultant for
Wealth nears, but also an impediment: So I called to claim my riches and was told that a long-lost cousin, who I met once when I was five, was about to be awarded the unclaimed property. At that early encounter she mumbled so much that it sounded like her mouth was filled with gum so I secretly nicknamed her, "BubbleGumBooBoo." Now, her message was all too clear and she was in my way. According to the will, my cousin was only to inherit money if my mother, uncle, sister and I were all dead. We were all alive though my cousin, who was angry that she didn't get to inherit the money to begin with, had told officials otherwise and no one had checked.
The boxes hold the key: That gave me the motivation to look through all those boxes, which I had placed in my attic just a few weeks earlier. There randomly within reams of papers--lesson plans for my mother's beloved Hebrew School teaching, worthless manuals for appliances no longer owned, and yellowed and highlighted newspaper clippings--I found the will I needed to stake my claim.
If I had remembered my book, didn't find the Unclaimed Property section, didn't call on the last possible day to stop my cousin's false claim or didn't store those boxes I would never have discovered this good fortune and become an heiress. Well, an heiress is a bit of an exaggeration. I inherited a couple thousand dollars, not life-changing, but certainly more than the usual penny one finds in the street.
So what role does luck play in my life? I'd have to answer about a "5."