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Luck

Some of the critics do not believe that the pinnacle of success stands only on the three pillars of Judgment, Industry, and Health. They point out that I have omitted one vital factor—Luck. So widespread is this belief, largely pagan in its origin, that mere fortune either makes or unmakes men, that it seems worth while to discuss and refute this dangerous delusion.

Of course, if the doctrine merely means that men are the victims of circumstances and surroundings, it is a truism. It is luckier to be born heir to a peerage and £100,000 than to be born in Whitechapel. Past and present Chancellors of the Exchequer have gone far in removing much of this discrepancy in fortune. Again, a disaster which destroys a single individual may alter the whole course of a survivor's career. But the devotees of the Goddess of Luck do not mean this at all. They hold that some men are born lucky and others unlucky, as though some Fortune presided at their birth; and that, irrespective of all merits, success goes to those on whom Fortune smiles and defeat to those on whom she frowns. Or at least luck is regarded as a kind of attribute of a man like a capacity for arithmetic or games.

This view is in essence the belief of the true gambler—not the man who backs his skill at cards, or his knowledge of racing against his rival—but who goes to the tables at Monte Carlo backing runs of good or ill luck. It has been defined as a belief in the imagined tendencies of chance to produce events continuously favourable or continuously unfavourable.

The whole conception is a nightmare of the mind, peculiarly unfavourable to success in business. The laws of games of chance are as inexorable as those of the universe. A skilful player will, in the long run, defeat a less skilful one; the bank at Monte Carlo will always beat the individual if he stays long enough. I presume that the bank there is managed honestly, although I neither know nor care whether it is. But this at least is certain—the cagnotte gains 3 per cent. on every spin. Mathematically, a man is bound to lose the capital he invests in every thirty throws when his luck is neither good nor bad. In the long run his luck will leave him with a balanced book—minus the cagnotte. My advice to any man would be, "Never play roulette at all; but if you must play, hold the cagnotte." The Press, of course, often publishes stories of great fortunes made at Monte Carlo. The proprietors there understand publicity. Such statements bring them new patrons.

It is necessary to dwell on this gambling side of the question, because every man who believes in luck has a touch of the gambler in him, though he may never have played a stake. And from the point of view of real success in affairs the gambler is doomed in advance. It is a frame of mind which a man should discourage severely when he finds it within the citadel of his mind. It is a view which too frequently infects young men with more ambition than industry.

The view of Fortune as some shining goddess sweeping down from heaven and touching the lucky recipient with her pinions of gold dazzles the mind of youth.

Men think that with a single stroke they will either be made rich for life or impoverished for ever.

The more usual view is less ambitious. It is the complaint that Fortune has never looked a man's way. Failure due to lack of industry is excused on the ground that the goddess has proved adverse. There is a third form of this mental disease. A young man spoke to me in Monte Carlo the other day, and said, "I could do anything if only I had the chance, but that chance never comes my way." On that same evening I saw the aspirant throwing away whatever chance he may have had at the tables.

A similar type of character is to be found in the young man who consistently refuses good offers or even small chances of work because they are not good enough for him. He expects that Luck will suddenly bestow on him a readymade position or a gorgeous chance suitable to the high opinions he holds of his own capacities. After a time people tire of giving him any openings at all. In wooing the Goddess of Luck he has neglected the Goddess of Opportunity.

These men in middle age fall into a well-known class. They can be seen haunting the Temple, and explaining to their more industrious and successful associates that they would have been Lord Chancellor if a big brief had ever come their way. They develop that terrible disease known as "the genius of the untried." Their case is almost as pitiful or ludicrous as that of the man of very moderate abilities whom drink or some other vice has rendered quite incapable.

There will still be found men to whisper to each other as he passes, "Ah, if Brown didn't drink, he might do anything." Far different will be the mental standpoint of the man who really means to succeed. He will banish the idea of luck from his mind. He will accept every opportunity, however small it may appear, which seems to lead to the possibility of greater things. He will not wait on luck to open the portals to fortune. He will seize opportunity by the forelock and develop its chances by his industry. Here and there he may go wrong, where judgment or experience is lacking. But out of his very defeats he will learn to do better in the future, and in the maturity of his knowledge he will attain success. At least, he will not be found sitting down and whining that luck alone has been against him.

There remains a far more subtle argument in favour of the gambling temperament which believes in luck. It is that certain men possess a kind of sixth sense in the realm of speculative enterprise. These men, it is said, know by inherent instinct, divorced from reasoned knowledge, what enterprise will succeed or fail, or whether the market will rise or fall. They are the children of fortune.

The real diagnosis of these cases is a very different one from that put forward by the mystic apostles of the Golden Luck. Eminent men who are closely in touch with the great affairs of politics or business often act on what appears to be a mere instinct of this kind. But, in truth, they have absorbed, through a careful and continuous study of events both in the present and the past, so much knowledge, that their minds reach a conclusion automatically, just as the heart beats without any stimulus from the brain. Ask them for the reasons of their decision, and they become inarticulate or unintelligible in their replies. Their conscious mind cannot explain the long-hoarded experience of their subconscious self. When they prove right in their forecast, the world exclaims, "What luck!" Well, if luck of that kind is long enough continued it will be best ascribed to judgment.

The real "lucky" speculator is of a very different character. He makes a brilliant coup or so and then disappears in some overwhelming disaster. He is as quick in losing his fortune as he is in making it. Nothing except Judgment and Industry, backed by Health, will ensure real and permanent success. The rest is sheer superstition.

Two pictures may be put before the believer in luck as an element in success.

The one is Monte Carlo—where the Goddess Fortune is chiefly worshipped— steeped in almost perpetual sunshine, piled in castellated masses against its hills, gaining the sense of the illimitable from the blue horizon of the Mediterranean— a shining land meant for clean exercise and repose. Yet there youth is only seen in its depravity, while old age flocks to the central gambling hell to excite or mortify its jaded appetites by playing a game it is bound to lose.

Here you may see in their decay the people who believe in luck, steeped in an atmosphere of smoke and excitement, while beauty of Nature or the pursuits of health call to them in vain. Three badly lighted tennis courts compete with thirty splendidly furnished casino rooms. But of means for obtaining the results of exercise without the exertion there is no end. The Salle des Bains offers to the fat and the jaded the hot bath, the electric massage, and all the mechanical instruments for restoring energy. Modern science and art combine to outdo the attractions of the baths of Imperial Rome.

In far different surroundings from these were born the careers of the living captains of modern industry and finance—Inchcape, Pirrie, Cowdray, Leverhulme, or McKenna. These men believed in industry, not in fortune, and in judgment rather than in chance. The youth of this generation will do well to be guided by their example, and follow their road to success. Not by the worship of the Goddess of Luck were the great fortunes established or the great reputations made.

It is natural and right for youth to hope, but if hope turns to a belief in luck, it becomes a poison to the mind. The youth of England has before it a splendid opportunity, but let it remember always that nothing but work and brains counts, and that a man can even work himself into brains. No goddess will open to any man the portals of the temple of success. Young men must advance boldly to the central shrine along the arduous but well-tried avenues of Judgment and Industry.

Reference book: Success

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