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Success Is 99% Good Luck

15/12/2014 7:44 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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Being a bestselling author is terrific. My publishers love me. My contracts get signed off on my terms. My royalties allow me to live rather comfortably. In that sense, I am an extremely lucky person.

But life wasn't always like that. I started writing my first novel at age thirty-six. Prior to that, I had not written anything longer than a couple of pages. Three years later, when I was a bestselling author, many asked: 'Was it good luck or hard work?'

'I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have,' wrote Coleman Cox, a business author. I have always wondered whether Mr Cox was right. What if there is no such thing as good luck? What if one's success is purely related to hard work?

Looking back at my journey, it would be wonderful to attribute my success as a writer to hard work. Who wouldn't like to take personal credit for success? Observing the world around me though, I have come to the conclusion that Cox's theory is elegant but wrong. My own success as an author has little to do with hard work or talent. Many individuals I have met work much harder than most of us, yet they sadly remain unsuccessful. I also know people who have achieved great heights with significantly less effort.

We see this phenomenon repeated in almost all fields of life: industry, technology, banking, creative arts and even politics. One finds numerous examples of individuals who manage to attract much more than their 'fair' share of good luck. What explains it?

After completing my first novel The Rozabal Line, I was in the process of making submissions to literary agents and publishers. After sending over a hundred letters, I was sorely disappointed when polite and not-so-polite rejections arrived. A year later, it was evident to me that no one was really interested in my work.

I described my situation to a close family friend. Taking a generous gulp of his third peg of Johnnie Walker Black Label, the gregarious Punjabi gentleman responded, 'In life, ninety-nine per cent is about good luck! Just remember that, son.'

In a slightly argumentative tone I asked, 'But uncle, what about the balance one per cent? Surely that must be hard work or talent?'

Laughing loudly, he declared triumphantly, 'The final one per cent? That's called bloody good luck, my boy! Simply keep at it and wait for your bloody good luck to kick in!'

Down the ages, humans have tried everything possible to improve their luck. Romans sacrificed animals before battles; Hindus used numerology, astrology and gems to improve their equation with the gods; parts of Africa used magic, witch doctors and spells to drive away bad luck; Europe used exorcisms, papal blessings and good luck charms; much of the world still resorts to prayer and rituals. The list is endless.

And that's precisely the problem.

Luck is associated with a variety of incomprehensible objects, superstitions and rituals, but is rarely analysed rationally. This gives good luck a bad rap. Thus, the world usually looks down on people who rely on luck.

Consider an event from the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. During a meeting, his subordinates informed Napoleon of a new general who was turning out to be extremely capable. The new man's bravery, skill, determination and organisational capabilities were outlined for Napoleon in great detail.

Napoleon waved his hand impatiently. 'That's all very well,' said Napoleon. 'But tell me: Is he lucky?'

Napoleon's question may sound strange in our times, but he saw luck as a personal trait rather than an extraneous factor. A lucky person would succeed, even under adverse conditions. On the other hand, a capable and qualified general could prove to be disastrous on the battlefield if he wasn't inherently lucky.

We know that it's possible to train oneself to be a good communicator, to be more organised, sociable or efficient. Many traits and personal attributes that may not be part of our nature can be developed through nurture. Can one train oneself to be lucky?

A conversation with an architect friend led me to a fresh insight. My friend was supervising the construction of a 'green' building in Mumbai. One of its main features was an advanced rainwater harvesting system.

'Mumbai's water requirement is around 4,200 million litres per day (mld). Of this, the Municipal Corporation supplies only 3,400 mld. That's a shortfall of 800 mld each day,' he explained.

'What's your point?' I asked, taking a sip of my favourite single malt -- neat. (I avoided adding water in deference to my friend's concern about water scarcity.)

'Well, Mumbai receives around 2,200 millimetres of rainfall each year. If we could simply catch seventy per cent of this rainfall before it flows into drains, we could eliminate our water deficit entirely,' he continued.

'What's your point?' you may well ask. Why on earth am I discussing Mumbai's water woes?

The idea that struck me when my friend spoke was this: Rainfall, a free and universal resource, is available to the whole of Mumbai. Unfortunately, only some houses have rainwater-harvesting systems installed. These houses are able to catch, store and use the free rainwater; but houses without such systems are unable to do so.

Now consider this: What if life's opportunities are like rainfall, and we human beings are like houses? What if some of us have the ability to 'catch' opportunities as they fall, but others do not have the required 'infrastructure' to trap opportunities?

Isn't it possible that what my father's friend called 'one per cent bloody good luck' is simply the ability to catch the ninety-nine per cent when it presents itself?

Think about it! And here's wishing you bloody good luck!

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