Being Lucky is when Preparation meets Opportunity

Is being lucky just a matter of, well, luck. Or is it fate? Destiny? Providence?

being lucky is catching a falling star

Thomas Jefferson is credited as saying ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get,’ but that’s far too simplistic. Men work hard hours in mines and women in paddy fields through long lifetimes without being lucky once. Likewise, in the age of the philosopher Seneca, who coined the phrase ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,’ there must have been a few galley slaves whose only luck was a day without feeling the lash of the whip.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s first desire was to be a writer. He was so unlucky in his literary endeavours, he joined the military and wrote secretly at night, forty long dreadful novels. When criticised for winning battles simply by being lucky, he responded: ‘I’d rather have lucky generals than good ones.’ He also said something that seems particular apt today: ‘In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.’ 

The Scottish physician Alexander Fleming was working in his lab in 1928, when he noticed mould developing on a sandwich he’d left beside a culture dish being used to grow the staphylococci germ. The mould had created a bacteria-free circle around itself. Fleming experimented further and created the bacteria-killer he called penicillin, the antibiotic that has saved countless millions of lives.

Lucky Luciano

Salvatore Luciano (1897 – 1962) was a Sicilian-born American mobster who controlled the Genovese crime family and is considered the father of modern organized crime in the United States.

Becoming known as Charles Luciano, as a young man he refused to work for another mob boss and earned his nickname from being lucky enough to survive numerous severe beatings as well as a throat slashing in the 1920s. He was arrested twenty-five times between 1916 to 1936 on charges including assault, illegal gambling, blackmail and robbery. He never went to prison.

His last stroke of luck was on 26 January 1962. He flew into Naples International Airport to meet the American producer Martin Gosch, who planned to make a film on his life. What Lucky Luciano didn’t know was that after years of investigation, the authorities had the evidence to bring him down on drug smuggling charges. After a good dinner and a bottle of Sicilian wine, as the police agents moved in, he keeled over with a heart attack and died.

Being lucky is something you have to work on. Lucky people develop a way of seeing, creating and acting on opportunities. They nurture their instincts for making decisions that bring about lucky breaks and know when to persevere and when it’s time to stop. Gamblers say ride your luck and cut your losses.

Feng shui is a Chinese system of orientating buildings, tombs and interiors to harmonize the energy forces and let in good luck. Feng shui in English means ‘wind-water’ and specialists show how by placing windows in ways that catch the wind and through the use of running water in tanks and ponds, the individual feels more at ease in his environment and more likely to be lucky. Of course, you do need to be fortunate enough to own a house where such changes can be made.

Being Lucky Guide

British psychologist Richard Wiseman has shown that lucky people are often extroverts. They smile more and engage in more eye contact. Being social, they meet more people, connect better, maintain relationships and spot opportunities. Lucky people, he says, are open to new experiences. They talk to strangers, travel and try new things.

Wiseman conducted an experiment where he gave people a newspaper and asked them to count the number of photographs inside. On the second page, there was a message that read: ‘Stop counting. There are 43 photographs.’ Unlucky people missed it. The more observant lucky people spotted it right away.

Richard Wiseman’s 3 Step Guide to Being Lucky 

  • Keep an open mind and open eyes. Endlessly worrying about obtaining a goal can unknowingly close you off to other possibilities. Having an open attitude and looking around for new opportunities can open you up to lucky chances.
  • Look on the positive side. Focusing only on the negatives dampens your spirits and future expectations. When you go from complaining about scraping your knee to being grateful that it wasn’t any worse, it becomes easier to try new things.
  • Do something out of the ordinary this week. Routines can lead to ruts, whether it’s talking to the same people, eating the same food, or doing the same type of work. Stepping outside your boundaries increases the likelihood of a lucky break.

Try WRITING BY HAND and you’ll find things rising from your subconscious you didn’t know existed.

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  1. Luck v Probability.
    Toss a coin and over time it will be 50/50 Heads/Tails.
    There is no ‘reason’ it can’t come down Heads 50 times in a row.

  2. Wish this philosophy would work. I talk to strangers, travel and try new things. Is it lucky that both my children moved to USA and have not tasted the icing on the cake as do not see them very much or my grandchildren. Maybe this is the negativity in me and I should rejoice seeing them from time to . Count our blessings and Yes we should but sometimes it is hard. I am afraid one should be realistic and be thankful as so many people are worse off and their problems are bigger than mine. Can’t do something out of the ordinary this week, much as I would like to, as am in Lockdown. Be thankful that I haven’t caught Covid and then I add the negativity “so far”.

    Keep well and keep writing.

  3. Routines can lead to ruts, whether it’s talking to the same people, eating the same food ….. I once knew a man who went to same arts club with the same people and ate and drank the same thing each week. … all his hair fell out.

  4., which ought to be authoritative, says there’s no evidence to support the attribution of the Jefferson quote, but perhaps he played golf (read on).

    Then I wondered about Napoleon. Who knows what he said?

    Well, he wrote a lot of orders and letters, and so did the people close to him. A collection of his “maximes et pensées” was published in 1912 — nearly a century after his death, but still within the lifetime of people who knew his contemporaries — and soon translated into English as “Napoleon in his own words”. It doesn’t have the one about Stupidity.

    Here [] we find that according to a more recent collection “Ce que Napoléon a vraiment dit” (1969) he did (vraiment) say this:

    En politique, une absurdité n’est pas un obstacle.

    This goes into English almost word-for-word and it’s clearly about absurd or meaningless ideas, “2025 net zero”, “abolition of poverty”, etc, and not about personal stupidity or pig-headedness. Perhaps the popularity of the wording that Clifford quotes can be ascribed to the quoters’ desired meaning: almost every recent use targets a well-known builder, TV star and US President emeritus (whose Nobel award for reconciling the Gulf and North African Arab states and Israel must be pending, no?).

    Also from across the Channel (Louis Pasteur, lecture at U Lille, 1854):

    Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés.

    (In the fields of observation chance favours only the prepared mind.)

    And so it was for Fleming in Pasteur’s very champ. The critical problem of penicillin production was solved by Florey and Chain just in time for the Pacific phase of WW2, Nobel prizes all round.

    Pretty close to the Jefferson quote is the traditional golfing maxim, popularised, though not originated, by Gary Player:

    The harder I practice, the luckier I get.

    I find both of these last vexing in the extreme, typical swot stuff. But the study/practice you do that no-one knows about doesn’t count towards swotting, like the calories in food that no-one sees you eat, or white chocolate!

  5. I must draw your attention to Andy Martin’s 2001 book Napoleon the Novelist – “This brilliantly original study uncovers a side to Napoleon Bonaparte which has hitherto been ignored by biographers – that of the aspiring novelist and man of letters. In this illuminating, witty and elegantly written book, Andy Martin reveals how this neglected aspect of Napoleon’s remarkable life actually provides the key to understanding it.”

  6. Of course, there’s good luck and bad luck. I would argue, to paraphrase and redact Tolstoy a bit, that all lucky people are lucky in a similar way, while the unlucky are uniquely unlucky each in her or his own way.

    But even among the lucky, there seems to me to be at least a two-tiered stratification: those extroverted souls that seek out and engage experience, challenging chance and making the most of it; while some who are more introverted at least manage to be lucky enough to avoid misfortune.

  7. I’ve always been lucky, but neither expected it, nor took it for granted. After my mother’s death (1993) I prayed to be shown the connections between us, rather than the differences. Through a series of messages, which is what I call coincidences, or better still, synchronicity, a word which Jung coined, I began to see connections which were very meaningful to my life and pointed the way forward. And I’m lucky enough to be a lucid dreamer, which I was from 6 years old. In 2000, I dreamt of returning to Ethiopia to help provide water and a temporary failure (a redundancy) led to the funds to realise my dream. I was lucky to be extrovert and positive enough to share this dream which most people in 10 countries believed. I travelled 25,000 miles to find the whereabouts of 9 classmates. The quest became a book “An Ethiopian Odyssey” published in 2006. The journey was rich in connections, just as my prayer had asked for. The deeper my faith, the more the luck. I know we’re all worthy, just as last year, I survived a very serious stroke. The same one killed my father in 1982. Health, sobriety but most of all faith. Gratitude is a very positive emotion too, as well as being patient!

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