Monday, December 6, 2010

Better to be Lucky Than Good

I have never purchased a lottery ticket.  Nor have I set foot in a casino.  It's not a moral case against these things, nor a belief that being in the right place at the right time doesn't often change the direction of one life or even that of many, but rather a belief in slow, steady progress over taking a flyer and making it big. 

Friends have suggested I go to Vegas or head to Oklahoma to try my luck.  These friends, kindly, are unaware of just how much of a snob I am---I'd go to a grimy pub to hear a novelist do a reading, but have no interest in hitting a modern day Sin City. Rat Pack Vegas I'd do, although even if I could travel across space and time, I am likely not the right sort of dame for that.  But they insist I would finally understand the thrill of a gamble. My response is that getting married to an entrepreneur was quite enough experience for me in that department. 

But more than that, it's the only child in me.  Although in performance reviews at work I am often called a team player, which thrills me because surely it means I am socialized at least enough to play well in the sandbox, I don't like playing games, especially when other people are watching me.  I'm social, but a lack of Monopoly nights at my house and more than enough sound trouncings by my father at checkers put me off these distractions.  And they're not, the Protestant Work Ethic reminds me, very productive. 

A young man I once worked with at an advertising agency was the son of a Baptist minister.  When others would head out on pitches, he would quote his mother, who didn't believe in luck but was a sweet woman: "Happy Providence!" the young hipster would say with as much irony as he could muster.  His mom believed we all walked a path set out by God.  Timing and bullshit couldn't beat that.  This definitely appealed to my PWE, although it countered that getting to meetings on time and taking good notes surely must count for something.  

I do believe in luck, but it's more along the lines of Woody Allen's notion that we get points for showing up.  When I moved to Cowtown and knew no one, I realized I had the opportunity to reinvent myself through a different career. So while my babies napped I wrote a parenting column for free, a bad column and a few features in a local business rag for almost free, and cold-called every communications director I could look up.  Most turned me down, but one asked me to serve on a volunteer committee at her non-profit.  During my service, I met an up and coming PR director from the city's leading agency.  She gave me a few projects and then a bigger break when a good account exec left.  I worked late at night and early in the mornings and did my best to nail every project.  One day she invited me to meet her boss who said, to my eternal delight, "I love your writing."  This boss was doing work for a local legend and political kingmaker who also had founded the biggest law firm in town, and he was looking for a marketing person. 

So after writing $100 columns for a few years and building up a portfolio, I got a chance to work for the biggest game in town, and I did my best to rise the occasion. Now I work for a world-wide entity, which when I consider it seems like a great leap indeed.  On regular days, it's just work, but probably I've forgotten how much I've learned.  We all, no matter how each of us works to cultivate gratitude, take our happy providence for granted. 

How did I get here?  I'm reasonably bright, but nowhere close to many friends and colleagues.  I work hard, but again, scores of colleagues help me, through their 24/7 drive, recall the Gen-X slacker who lives within me. 

Luck cannot be discounted.  There are lots of people, the PR director and her boss only two among many, who have given me chances.  The same young man at the ad agency, when Anika Sorenson was competing in our local PGA tournament, said of the controversy around a woman being allowed to compete in a man's sport, she's being given an opportunity she didn't earn.  Yes, I said, we all do, if we recognize them, and know what to do with them.  So I guess I'd rather be lucky than good. 

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