Do you feel lucky? I avoid the word luck. I equally avoid phrases such as fortunate and hopeful. Recently, I sat drinking a lovely instant coffee with Lex, a retired neighbour. It was a bright sunny day, and from his garden, we had an uninterrupted view of an airstrip where a 1940s Douglas DC3 was taking off. The red and silver paintwork glimmers in the sunlight. We sat in easy silence, admiring the view. We reflected on luck and indeed being fortunate with a positive, hopeful outlook.
Lex has started many businesses. And like many serial entrepreneurs, he sold businesses and created new ones. I love sitting with people with different experiences from myself. It’s a gateway to a different world. Whether it is a different age, culture, or expertise – sitting and listening to them is like reading an autobiography. And you can interrupt the author with the questions that only you could ask.
We reflected that we both enjoyed relative fortunate circumstances. But then Lex snapped out of this hazy comfort. “What has luck got to do with it?” he asked. I laughed. We had now exposed our actual positions. He explained that whatever you want to achieve, you must first find the courage to do it. It will be something that others may or may not think of, but certainly, few will have the courage to do. Do your homework, yes but appreciate that there will be unexpected turns, and you will need to quickly adapt to them. Broadly speaking, if you sincerely try, you will achieve your goals. Sometimes sooner. Sometimes later.
But then he went on to the gem of his insight. It is often imagined that those of us that do succeed only succeed. For him, great success is closely tied to not being afraid to fail. He was always conscious of failing, and he was prepared to fail. Looking around his well-manicured garden, you can see he is a perfectionist. But a perfectionist that is prepared to fail. Sounds like a contradiction. But think about it. Above-average returns mean higher levels of risk. A higher level of risk exposes us more to failure. Failure and fortune are inextricably linked. And so, his belief that we make our own luck.
I believe this too, but I’m not an entrepreneur. I have failed a lot, just like any good entrepreneur. That doesn’t make me lucky. Through failure, like many, we make our own luck.
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