When I was twenty years old and living in Sweden, I ran across of copy of Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. As it did for many others, it changed my view of the world. As an ambitious young man from a working class family, I felt that it offered me a road map to success. From that starting point, I read all I could on the subject of the power of a positive mental attitude and took a bunch of seminars to hone my skills.
Along the road, I have had many successes and my fair share of failures but have yet to make that one giant leap to being what I would describe as ‘rich’.
I have recently been thinking a lot about success and what makes people successful and I am pretty sure that it is not a positive thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I have a positive mental attitude most of the time and it certainly contributes to my general feeling of happiness but it certainly does not guarantee success. There seems to have crept into society the idea that if you believe you can achieve something, then you will. Well I just don’t buy it and here’s why. (If at this point you feel that maybe this post is attacking something that you hold dear, stay with me for a bit and read on.)
In 1997, I started acting lessons. I did pretty well and soon was out auditioning for theater roles. To my amazement, in my very first audition, I landed a leading role in a production of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite. During my eight or so years of acting—before writing took over and possessed me—I met and worked with many amazing actors, most of whom wanted , and most still do want, to break into the world of TV and movies. Most of them were well trained, experienced, hard working and positive yet their chances of success are close to zero. It is frustrating because when I watch TV and movies, especially those produced here in Vancouver, I see many successful actors in these productions who are a lot less skilled and talented than most of the struggling actors whom I know.
I was talking about this to a very good friend of mine who is a successful, multi-millionaire, businessman. He shrugged and said, “It’s luck.” When I questioned him on this, he told me that he was convinced that the reason he was successful was that he had some amazing luck along the way. When I asked him if a positive mental attitude was an ingredient to his success, his answer floored me. “No.” he said. “Quite the opposite. It got in the way.” His premise is that a big part of the positive thinking philosophy is to block out negative thoughts but, if we don’t allow ourselves to dwell on the negatives, how can we prepare contingency plans for the times when negative events (inevitably) occur.
This conversation bothered me. A lot. So I had lunch with another very successful, even richer, friend and I asked him, “Why do you think you are so successful as an investor when so many others are losing their shirts?” Déjà vu. “It’s luck,” he said. Now this is a very bright guy we are taking about and I thought he was just being self-deprecating but when I questioned him he insisted that he was “the luckiest guy in the world” who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. “There are a lot of guys much cleverer than me who lost their shirts in 2008. I was lucky enough to be out of the market at the time.”
So, if success, however you may judge it, is largely a matter of luck, how do I get me some of that? Well you don’t. Because, well… it’s luck, which is inherently random. Both of my friends who have been very successful financially have suffered personal tragedies. This is interesting because when bad things or failures occur for people we tend to put the blame firmly at the the door of bad luck, but when success occurs or good things happen we tend to ignore the part that luck played in their success and heap praises on the recipient or on their positive mental attitude.
It took me a long while but when I initially came to this conclusion—that success is largely a matter of luck—I must admit to feeling more than just a little depressed. But this cleared—in large part thanks to my wife, whom I met through shear dumb luck and who has always believed in me—and became remarkably freeing. I no longer need to think positively or agonize over set backs. Because, let’s face it, we don’t have control of the world and as soon as we think that we do, it proves us wrong.
BUT… there are two things that I can do.
- One. I will do everything in my power to ensure that the work that I do is the very best that I can achieve.
- Two. I will persist. Persistence will not guarantee success… but lack of it guarantees failure.
So here is the one resolution I will absolutely keep:
“I will persist and give luck every opportunity to strike.”
One of the things I love about Cal Rogan, the protagonist of Junkie, is that despite almost overwhelming obstacles, he persists in his relationship with his daughter and in hunting down the killer of his best friend.
That’s the kind of persistence I am going for.
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