~ Or: Serendipitous Scenarios Solidify into Substantial Situational Success
Raise of hands, who’s ever heard the phrase “good luck?”
I know, I know, low hanging fruit. That’s like playing a live show in Cleveland and shouting “WHO HERE’S FROM CLEVELAND???”
The concept of luck is a fascinating one to me for a variety of reasons. It’s this crazy thing that can happen and totally change entire trajectories. It’s elusive. The dag blasted thing cannot be fabricated. And it’s guaranteed to run out the instant you push it.
Obi-Wan Kenobi once opined “In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.” That’s a fantastic philosophy to adopt when possessed of The Force and capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. And still possessed of the higher ground.
For the rest of us, luck is a very real thing.
There are also things that are attributed to luck that oftentimes have absolutely zilch to do with luck. Gonna get into that one too for a bit.
For now, let’s dive into this œffering of words and things talking about the bizarre idea of Luck!
Let’s Define What Luck Is
Let’s start with the dictionary definition of luck. According to the good old Oxford Languages:
success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.
Ok, that’s easy to get into. Luck, as a traditional definition, is based on chance. A roll of the dice. Things wildly outside of anyone’s actual control.
There are times when the idea of luck starts to get a bit more tricky. Philosophical, perhaps. Outside of the scope of chance occurrences. One of the more common descriptors of luck is as follows, adopted from the words of Roman philosopher Seneca:
Luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity.
I’m conflicted by that definition. On the one hand, our level of preparedness is usually within our own power. Either directly or indirectly, we are preparing for stuff at almost all times. On the other hand, we have opportunities which at times can be fleeting or nonexistent!
When an opportunity strikes, are we prepared? Are they then saying that all opportunity is lucky? I feel like that can’t possibly be entirely true at all times. Aren’t some opportunities earned rather than presented as some kind of fluke? Or is that maybe not the case? Is being offered a promotion at a place of work an opportunity as a result of luck or because of skill and merit?
I’m not even sure I’m going to get to a good answer by the end of this, but I’m going to let stream of consciousness take over for now.
Two Chance Opportunities That Sure SMELL Like Luck
When I decided that this was a topic that I wanted to write about, I had to think a whole bunch. This generally hurts. There are ramifications of doing so, even beyond allergic reactions. My keto-compatible fatty computer made of meat doesn’t always like to have to DO THINGS. But here we are.
I wanted to think of some examples that illustrated what pure luck could potentially look like. There are two I plan to tell the tales of. Those tales shall be told right now!
That time you’re asked if you’d like to be in a backing band for your composing hero
This one is all about networking and nothing but networking. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
A chance to spend time with a very good friend materialized several years back because she was in town. She had dinner with the family and me and I gave her a ride back to a mutual friend’s home where she was staying. Lots of fantastic conversation.
At one point, she turns to me and says “How would you like to back Vince Dicola as a band?”
After I picked my jaw up off the floor and stared a bit longer, it occurred to me that she was serious. Turns out Vince was going to be a guest at an upcoming event where the band I was in was already scheduled to play. The end result? We split our set. The first half us doing our thing. The second half as backing band for one of the single most influential creators of music in my entire life.
Why did that end up getting in my orbit? The person calling the shots and making those arrangements and I had known each other for years by that point. My adoration of Vince was so overt it could have been an LED banner running across my forehead. Which would be effulgently bright and large in scale because I have a LOT of forehead. I was in a band that was capable of keeping up with his musicality. As a result, for her it was a no-brainer.
Nuthin but net. working. net working.
The follow-up to that story
When Vince decided that live shows are awesome and more of them need to happen, he pulled a band of locals together. Incredible drummer. His composing partner of decades on guitar. The son of another famous movie composer and director on backing keys. A Disney series composer on backing guitar and marimba.
He pondered finding a local session guy to fill in on bass. He -really- wanted someone who knows how to play Chapman Stick as a percussive bass instrument to complement his music. His experience with me in the backing band in DC was apparently ok because he called me up and asked if I was interested.
Does Howdy Doody have wooden teeth?
Next thing I know I’m rehearsing for hours every night to make sure I’m ready to keep up with that cadre of ASTOUNDING MUSICIANSHIP.
That show led to two more since then.
Luck. The opportunity came up and my perceived preparation was at least enough on point to not make a complete fool of myself.
So this one time in an elevator
This is not that kind of story. Sheesh.
Sometimes all it takes is hitting an elevator button at exactly the right time. In this case, it was to head down to a convention hall to meet up with someone. Pressing the button has the doors open immediately with two very confused folks who thought they pushed the L button but had not.
Delightful conversation. Turns out we were all there for the same event and heading in the same direction. When asked if I was participating in a subset of that event, I said that I was not but merely trying to catch up with someone who was. Something in that conversation inspired them and next thing I know, they’ve handed me a business card. I was instructed to contact them after the event and provide them with some materials for them to evaluate my skill level.
Yes, the opportunity presented itself. And yes, I was prepared for it. The classic luck scenario.
But here’s the thing.
If for some reason they had pressed the L button the way they intended to press the L button, no such meeting would have taken place.
So in my head, this is WELL outside the scope of the typical definition. This meeting never should have happened. I’m sure glad it did! But there’s no reason for it to have taken place.
What would we call that then… pre-luck? The luck that took place before more luck? I don’t even know anymore.
Luck As a Vehicle of That Which Is Outside Our Control
Ok so there’s a lot to be said about making our own luck. Right place at the right time and prepared for it. This much is true.
How does that play into things that are completely outside the scope of our control? Are there situations where luck, good or bad, can be leveraged to our advantage?
I’m pretty sure the answer is “possibly maybe.”
Sometimes it’s indifferent
Yes, you can be at a Texas Hold ’em poker tournament. Sitting right across the table from Phil Laak and his infamous hoodie. You can also get stuck with a 2 7 hand multiple times. That’s not the good kind of luck. The cards you are dealt are completely out of your control. You can’t even count cards at a tournament table to nudge the odds because it just doesn’t work that way. There are also times when the 2 7 hand aren’t exactly bad because it may embolden the most effective blᵫff of all time.
So it just is what it is at times.
Sometimes it’s just bad
Set up a lemonade stand with an offspring. Check the weather forecast: sunshine and lollipops. Lemons squeezed and bereft of their juices. Pitchers at the ready. Solo cups primed.
The first thunderclap hits. Nary a cup of lemonade is sold that day. Bad luck.
We can TRY to solve weather. Ski slopes and beach houses do this every day of their seasons. Some seasons just suck. Some days the lemonade stand is a bust. The elements are frequently outside of the realm of our control.
Or slip and have an uncontrolled fall the night before you’re supposed to go bowling with the kids and bust up a couple ribs.
Just plain bad luck.
Sometimes it’s good!
You find a quarter on the sidewalk outside a bowling alley. You didn’t earn that quarter. There was no build-up to the acquisition of said quarter. It fell out of someone’s pocket. You found it. It paid for a game of Galaga that you otherwise wouldn’t have played.
Again, I’m still not entirely sure where this is going. We have a sampling of BOTH definitions of luck from above: total chance and ready-to-go response to an opportunity. Let’s keep going. In the event that you’re still with me, I consider myself LUCKY to have you here along with me. See? Luck!
Dependence On Luck For Success
This is the heart of what inspired this post in the first place. The queen of all voice acting, Tara Strong, had some words to say about success in the entertainment world. During an acceptance speech she made at the SOVAS “That’s Voiceover!” Career Expo, she noted a few powerful points that are worth repeating.
There isn’t a transcript that I am aware of so I’m going to try to summarize what she had to say. Her career has been astounding. The number of roles multitudinous and her skill at them unrivaled. So for the most part, she has a pretty good handle on what is what. She talked about the fact that she has friends who are exquisitely talented actors who are not booking. Why? They haven’t had that lucky break.
That. Lucky. Break.
Her commentary flies in the face of so many motivational speakers. Work hard! Grind! Hustle! (and not the 70s dance kind) Put in the reps! Get out there! Make your opportunities! Just keep at it and you will succeed!
It’s just that … let’s get back to the folks Tara is talking about. Those people are working hard. Doing the grind. Hustling both on and off the dance floor. Putting in the reps. Auditioning. Getting in front of directors and producers. They’re REALLY GOOD at what they do.
They’re not booking.
They haven’t had that one lucky break that changed the direction of their career.
Is opportunity a form of luck or is it created? I guess the answer is “yes,” depending on how you look at it.
Looking back a few paragraphs
Let’s go back to my Vince story. He wanted a Chapman Stick player for his local band and he was willing to look out of state to someone he was familiar with. This was compounded luck. He could have EASILY gone with a local Stick player! His region has plenty of them. What did I have that the other local stick players didn’t?
The lucky break that made the connection. I’m not even remotely a capable Stick player compared to folks who play it every day and are skilled masters. I’m just good enough to rehearse for a few months and be ready for a show.
As a result of that luck, he still keeps me on his call list for upcoming local shows. There may be more of them. I hope my luck won’t run out! Every opportunity to be part of his musical circle is a gift that I do not take for granted.
Now that I’ve written all this, I’m re-reading the stream of consciousness. My only conclusion is that the idea of luck is multi-faceted. Some of it is dictionary-defined chance, some based on unexpected opportunities. And in some cases, it’s careful planning and the idea of making one’s own luck.
Maybe I’m weird, but I find myself very rarely saying “good luck” to someone who is going to be doing something. My voice acting friends are probably sick of hearing me say “good skill!” when they get into the booth. Be it a directed session or an audition or a project that they’re working on, mostly it has nothing to do with luck at that point. The task that they are performing is skill-based. Sometimes we are better at the skill than others. So to that end, I wish them “good skill” with the hopes that they will be able to perform at peak capacity.
Not that I expect any words of mine to influence their performance one way or another. But maybe, just maybe, well-wishes that aren’t based on chance might feel meaningful. They certainly feel meaningful to me when I wish them upon people whose skill I know to be of great efflorescent capability. Some of you reading this have been on the receiving end of it many times and are rolling your eyes right now.
Thanks for going down this rabbit hole with me. I’m not sure I got to any definitive answer, but it was fun thinking out loud. On the one hand, it was an exploration of ideas at a philosophical level.
On the other hand, there’s always the chance that I’ll learn from this experience and write a blog that is FEWER than 2,000 words.
Wish me luck!
Until next week.
-= george =-