I've been thinking lately about this idea (ideal some would say) of success. In a recent talk I heard by the "Good to Great" guru Jim Collins, Collins noted that Luck (I've capitalized it here to reflect how we revere this aspect of life) is a very real thing and that, yes, it happens. (Please note that both Collins and I are intentionally ignoring any metaphysical discussion about Luck here, even though I've somewhat deified it with my big letter 'L'.) Sometimes good things do fall in our laps, whether somewhat promoted by us or another person or not. We do get lucky. On the other hand, we do get unlucky, if you will. Sometimes bad things do fall on us, again, whether somewhat promoted by us or another person or not.
What Collins notes, however, is that a key difference between people who are successful (define that as you will for right now) and those who are not is in how they react to the Luck or 'unLuck' that comes their way. In other words, how do they capitalize on the event or the experience? Do they treat it as a blessing and then make new things happen for the benefit of themselves and others? OR . . . Do they run and hide? Do they celebrate it but then let the opportunity fall away?
It's an interesting idea, I believe, and one that causes me to look at my own experiences of luck, 'unluck', blessing, or coincidence, karma, or whatever you want to call it. What HAVE I done with those things that have been given me? Have I invested in the experience or have I -- like some lottery winners do with money -- squandered it all and thrown the opportunity away?
This doesn't really have to do with money (for some people success ALL has to do with money). It has more to do with what's been placed in your hand at a particular moment in time. Perhaps it's a chance meeting with someone. Perhaps it's an educational opportunity that, for some reason, lies before you. Perhaps it's a quirky skill or aptitude that sets you apart. Perhaps it's the girl or guy who -- if reality will permit you to see past your princess/prince dreams -- is the ideal help-mate that creates a greater you and a greater her/him and a greater 'we' than you could ever imagine. And, yes, perhaps what looks like 'unLuck' is really a disguised blessing to move in a different direction, to see yourself and life in a more challenging context, and to dig deeper for the courage that lies within. Sometimes we're in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time; but sometimes we're also in the right place at what seems to be the wrong time.
Toward that idea, the success that comes from what you do with the Luck that comes your way may, in the end, even look like unLuck or, yes, even tragedy; however, the question may be more a matter of for whom does the real success come? Such is the path of the martyr out of whom Good arises (not all martyrs bring good, you know.) Plato's ideas led to his death but it also brought the Western world a greater sense of consciousness through reason. Jesus' death challenged tradition and its oppression, leading toward individual choice and spiritual freedom. Lincoln's 'lucky' role as president during a critical time in America's development reinforced the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy through the Emancipation Proclamation, setting the stage for the substantiation of real equity and equality as a true American ideal. And the realities of that ideal would later be tested by other martyrs, most notably by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
While you and I may not be looking at martyrdom today, we do wrestle with what success is or may be in our lives. Opportunities come and they go . . . I just hope God or someone else will slap me up side the head to pay attention and, more importantly, to grant me the courage to tackle what I should do not just what I want to do toward my immediate pleasure or gain.
"Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who knew me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow." -- Abraham Lincoln