The Luck Of The Draw

Riding Hard


I’m a big believer in luck. It’s the only way I have of accounting for the success of people I don’t like. I believe that some babies are born into the lucky sperm club while others are born into a life of poverty and despair. Contrary to the Declaration of Independence, we are not all born equal. If you think so, how do you explain why one child is born into a rich and loving family in America while another is born in a cardboard carton in the squalor of Calcutta?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t look for four leaf clovers, carry a rabbit’s foot in my pocket and I don’t believe that black cats and ladders are responsible for keeping me off the Forbes 400 list. Nor do I believe in the old wive’s tale that stepping in a cow pie brings good fortune. If it did I’d be the richest, most successful man on earth.

Emerson said that “only shallow men believe in luck.” Well Mr. Emerson, I guess you could say I’m only skin deep because I not only believe in luck, I believe that our lives are to a great degree shaped by where, and to whom, we are born. Sometimes I think that if I was born in a barrio or a tenement I too might have taken illegal shortcuts to get ahead if that was my only way out. If I was born in China or Russia I’d be in prison or a gulag for speaking out angrily against the regime. Other times I’ve wished I was seven feet two inches tall so I could have played the game I love for a living. And I’m not the only one who believed in luck, Napoleon said, “Give me Generals who are lucky.” There are indications Abraham Lincoln believed the same thing.

The rich and the successful like to think it was their sheer brilliance that made them better than you or I, not admitting that their hundred million dollar trust fund may have helped. While death row inmates of San Quentin say it was their unlucky consequences of life that put them there.

I’m not begging for sympathy but I’ve had a lot of hard luck in my life. My lucky cloud never shed any rain. But every bad thing that happened to me that I thought was bad at the time, turned out to be a good thing later in life. As Elmer Kelton wrote about one of his characters, “I’ve enjoyed bad luck most of my life.”

I read people all the time who write much better than I could ever hope to, and yet they can’t find an outlet for their work. I didn’t strike out to become a writer, all I ever wanted to do was become a veterinarian. But after I graduated after three years of college with high honors I had no money, nor any way to get my hands on any, to go to vet school. Believe me, I felt very unlucky. I went to work for a livestock paper only because it paid $200 more per month than the cowboy wages I was getting at the time. That’s how I became a writer, an occupation I now think I was born to do. I thought I was unlucky to get a certain bacteriology teacher at the time but it turned out to be the luckiest move I ever made because that’s where I met the wonderful woman who I think I was destined to marry all along.

While I believe in luck I also believe it can be unlucky to have too much good luck too soon. I feel sorry for the extremely lucky for they can never brag that they are self-made men and women. I have an auctioneer friend who I always thought was the luckiest guy in the world. He became a livestock auctioneer early in life through family connections and he became a darn good one. I admired him, I thought he was very lucky in life and I wished I could have been in his boots. It was only several years later that he told me how miserable he’d been the entire time because in reality, he hated livestock!

That made me change my outlook and realize how very lucky I was to have bad luck.


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