It never ceases to amaze me how we are so fascinated by the concept of luck.
It’s fickle, unpredictable, and cantankerous. And yet an entire city, Las Vegas, has been built on the very concept of it. Millions of dollars change hands in lotteries, horse races, and poker games. People may go through elaborate rituals in an attempt to both avoid bad luck and obtain good luck.
I hadn’t had much experience with games of chance in my life, until one day when I visited a casino while shooting a commercial there. My producer gave me ten dollars to play with and encouraged me to try it on some of the compellingly gaudy slot machines. I refused, knowing that his money would probably be gone soon… but he insisted, so I went ahead.
One after one, the quarters went into the little slot. I must admit, I did feel a trace of excitement as the coin clanked in and the arm clicked, causing those colorful tumblers to spin. But alas, all too soon the fun was over, and I couldn’t help but think of the nice hamburger I could have bought instead.
When you think about it, luck is quite a strange and abstract concept. It goes without saying that a rational person would not depend on it. And if we allow it to, it will be happy to dictate how we conduct our creative business.
Here are a few myths about luck that apply to artists… have you allowed them to affect your art?
“The Right Place at the Right Time” Myth
How many times have you heard this warmed over phrase?
“He was in the right place at the right time.”
You probably felt a little miffed that you weren’t in that place at that particular time. Then maybe you would have enjoyed the success that came to that special person who, as the randomness of fate would have it, was just fortunate enough to be “chosen”.
You feel that you’re just not “good enough” to be granted success. The guardians of celestial karma deem you unworthy of elevation to a higher creative status. Maybe if you continue to whittle away your time in anonymity long enough, and do enough of the right things, then you too just might be selected for greatness some day.
Or, you might be disappointed at the odds and give up completely. After all, who will notice little old you when there are so many other artists out there? What makes your ideas so special compared to the plethora of ideas out there? So you settle back into anonymity and think to yourself, “I won’t be discovered anyway, so why bother trying?”
The “Overnight Success” Myth
Our culture seems to favor the “overnight success” story. You’ve heard the widely told stories of these “fortunate” souls:
- The street painter that gets discovered by a generous benefactor and his work is placed in a famous gallery.
- The single working mom whose novel gets read and picked up by a major publisher, landing her a large advance and a coveted spot on Oprah’s Book Club.
- The filmmaker whose short film on YouTube gets noticed by a Hollywood producer and optioned for a feature length production.
- The musician playing on an open mike night who happened to impress a record mogul enough to land her a three record deal and a ticket out of her friend’s apartment.
Those people certainly don’t seem to have more talent than you do. Don’t you deserve to be discovered, too? Why can’t you seem to catch a break?
The truth about those above stories is that the concept of sudden fame is much more dramatic than the concept of working hard for years and finally getting noticed. The fact that the artist sets the stage for success gets overshadowed by the glitz of a compelling “Cinderella story”. This leaves the rest of us with an unbalanced view of reality.
Luck As An Excuse
When we hear the words “I just had a streak of bad luck”, do we hear the words, but what’s behind the words?
(What I hear behind the words is an excuse. Do you?)
I hear someone who is less likely to examine the real reasons for the “streak of bad luck”… and more likely to repeat the same actions that caused failure. Because if we blame it all on luck we don’t have to change anything.
How many times do we use the concept of luck as a means to absolve ourselves from responsibility?
Playing To Lose… A Toxic Cycle
There is a fascinating fact about people who are addicted to gambling. That fact is this: they want to fail.
That’s right. Compulsive gamblers don’t play to win… they play to fail.
“Isn’t that crazy?” You ask. “Why would they want to do that?”
Gambling addicts often play to lose because they are trying to find an outlet for negative emotions of depression and low self-worth. While they may think (and say) they play to win, it’s the negative outcome that validates and verifies their negative feelings. They are, in essence, acting out their feelings in a misguided attempt to cope with them. They are using luck to do this.
So what does that have to do with our creative business?
When we rely on luck for success, instead of finding out what really works, we are setting ourselves up for failure. It’s easier to abdicate control of our creative business to “lady luck” than it is to take the reins (and the responsibility). When we combine negative self-worth with this avoidance of responsibility, we have a toxic cycle which results in (and validates) failure.When we rely on luck for success, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Click To Tweet
Here’s how the cycle goes:
- Low feelings of self-worth exist (“Nobody will buy my stuff…”)
- Lack of significant action results in failure (“I won’t try very hard because what’s the use?”)
- Lack of success validates the low self worth (“See? Nobody noticed…”)
- Low self worth continues (“Yep… nobody wants my stuff.”)
The cycle validates itself when we hear stories of “random success” in which an artist was plucked out of obscurity and thrust into the limelight. We pin our hopes on this rare occurrence. We might as well buy a lottery ticket… at least then we would know relatively soon that our stabs in the dark won’t work.
By the way, what of those “lucky” few artists who do get noticed in spite of their inaction? You would think that this would make the negative feelings go away. But for the few artists this does happen to, life often doesn’t get better… it gets worse. Because success brings a whole new set of expectations and pressures they are not mentally prepared for. Not to mention the sudden onslaught of haters that always comes to successful people, whether they are ready for it or not.
The Apparent Fickleness of Fortune
Since the beginning of time, humankind has struggled to grasp (and manipulate) what it calls fortune, or luck.
There is a certain element of unpredictability in any endeavor. Our minds try to grasp the formulas and systems behind why something happens. But try as we might, some things just can’t be predicted or explained. They just seem to happen.
But what of I were to tell you that actually could game the system? That there was a way to increase your odds of winning? It may not guarantee success, but it will guarantee better odds of success.
And I can prove it with a simple exercise.
Manipulating Luck: A Simple Exercise
I’m going to prove to you that luck can be manipulated, even manufactured, with a simple coin flip.
First, take a coin out of your pocket, or otherwise obtain one. (Hopefully not by stealing).
Next, flip it while calling “heads” or “tails “. The coin will land on either side.
If it landed on what you called, congratulations! You won this time. Do a little celebratory dance.
But if it didn’t, then use the following secret tactic:
Do the previous step until success has been achieved.
That’s all there is to it! Pat yourself in the back… You just manipulated luck.
Beating Lady Luck at Her Own Game
Life is composed of all kinds of moments when the outcome seems to be determined by a coin flip. Starting a creative business (or any business, for that matter) seems like a never ending stream of coin flips. While there is certainly a formula for success, there are constant decisions to make while trying to adapt that formula to the kind of creative business you want to create.
But how many times have we gotten the wrong side of the coin and simply gave up?
- You got the negative review on the painting that you were so proud of… up until you heard about the review. Then the world came crashing down.
- The client came back with feedback on the project you worked so hard on and they had lots of changes. You despair of ever finishing it.
- You put your heart and soul into the performance you’ve been on for weeks… and their applause was lackluster, even…sympathetic!
These examples hit us right in the gut. There is a part of us that wants to crawl right under our blankets and not come out for days. And they’ve happened to all of us at one time or another. And, sorry to say, they will continue to happen as long as we dare to create, to try and bring our special message to the world.
So what is the alternative to giving up? What can we do instead of casting that darned coin away, letting it roll into the gutter?
Keep that coin… take a deep breath… and flip again.
That’s the only way to beat that coin at its own game. Because it’s just a coin… it can’t change what it is. But you certainly can keep manipulating it until you get the outcome you want. Persistence trumps bad luck eventually.
Okay, sometimes life’s not as simple as the 50/50 proposition that a coin offers. Sometimes the odds are more like rolling a twenty-sided die. (Dungeons and Dragons, anyone?)
But the principle stays the same… if you don’t like the outcome, then stay in the game and keep flipping, rolling, drawing, whatever it is you have to do. It is the only way to win what you want. You may not win right away, and it may be a long time before you achieve your goal… but I can guarantee that the surefire way to lose is to not try.
Gaming The System
Luck is an institution. Think about all the state lotteries and big casinos. Would these big time players be basing their business on something unpredictable? Are they institutions because they’re “luckier” than the normal person?
Or… have they found a way to manipulate luck?
They have… it’s called odds.
Odds are simply balancing the outcome in their favor. They make the rules of the game, so they can do that. They structure it so that while sometimes the person walking in off the street may win, most of the time they will win. It’s the most ancient form of the streetwise taking advantage of the not-so-wise.
How can we artists increase our odds?
Well, as we have seen, persistence (flipping again) is one way. The more you try, the more opportunity you will have.
But there are ways to make our “flips” more effective.
Here are a few:
- Network with other artists and see what works and what doesn’t
- Research your market: what do they want?
- Survey your target audience and find out about their art buying habits
- Increase your skills through education (seminars, workshops, courses, etc.)
These are all ways of tipping the odds in your favor.
Erasing “Bad Luck” is Simple… Just Tweak and Keep Trying.
While failure sticks and clings in the most annoying way right after you experience it, it won’t cling for long when success comes.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. – Wayne Gretzky”
Wayne Gretzky certainly missed a lot of shots. He missed more shots than most of us can ever imagine taking in a hockey game. But the fact that he was arguably the greatest at his sport makes the misses not really matter, doesn’t it? His successes far overshadow the misses.
Michael Jordan, also arguably the best that ever played his sport, also has some famous quotes about missing shots… and how he overcame crushing disappointment, tried again, and defeated chance by his skill and persistence.
In sports, luck is for some an integral part of the game. You hear it all the time in the language of the losing team’s players. They say things like, “Things just didn’t go our way tonight.” But deep down most know that other factors are the real reasons they lost. Things they don’t really want to admit in public. Things like, “My head just wasn’t in the game tonight.” Or, “We didn’t prepare for this game like we should have.”
Success Makes Its Own Luck
There are a lot of myths about good luck out there, almost as many myths as the ones about bad luck. From superstitions to old wives tales, they all attempt to explain apparently random occurrences. I think they just enable the masses to fearfully accept the status quo, and let them continue in their way of thinking and doing.
But successful people throughout history seem to have a different belief system.
“Diligence is the mother of good luck”. – Benjamin Franklin
Old Ben has always been known as a hard worker. As an inventor, writer, statesman, and jack of all trades, he stands as a quirky yet tremendously example of American innovation and progressive thought. But he wouldn’t have gotten into our history books if he hadn’t had the ability to make his own luck though diligent study and self-improvement.
“The best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself.” – Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur, the leader of the American forces in the Pacific in the later part of World War II, knew the value of self-sufficiency. This mindset permeated the U.S. Armed Forces, who had already survived the Great Depression not with fortune, but with determination and grit. The chaos and unpredictability of war demanded this response in order to succeed. On a personal note, my grandfather Samuel Roy, who fought in the Pacific theater of WWII, was able to succeed and come back home to us… and I personally don’t believe luck was the reason.
“Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Seneca, the Greek philosopher, seemed to grasp that the apparent randomness of luck could be explained and even anticipated. The combination of preparation and the right opportunity for that preparation to be used can yield what we perceive as good fortune.
In any case, these people discovered that many more things trump blind luck… things like diligence, self-sufficiency, and preparation. They had an action-oriented approach which favors doing instead of waiting. And they had a tenacious ability to persist… when things didn’t go their way, they tried again.
What can we learn from them?
Your Future Is In Your Hands
- Isn’t it more fun to see the universe as a place we have some control over, instead of things happening randomly?
- Isn’t it more encouraging to think of ourselves as artists who can succeed on our own terms?
- Isn’t it better to be mentally prepared for success, instead of having the wrong mindsets that can destroy us?
I hope these words have helped you to think about your creative business in a new light. I also hope they have empowered you to take action today… and start working the odds in your favor.
- What will you do with the chances you’ve been given?
- Will you depend on random success, or pursue intentional success?
- Will you wait around for something to fall in your lap… or make something happen?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I can’t wait to see what you will do!
And as always, I wish you the best in all your creative endeavors.