Luck is Not a Business Model

Luck is Not a Business Model

My son William, an actor, student and short-order cook, recently sent me a blog post by Michael Ruhlman in which Mr. Ruhlman quotes from the book Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook  by Anthony Bourdain. Both profane and profound, Mr. Bourdain has made a career out of his eclectic experience as both chef and author, and his first book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, rocked the culinary world and led to television fame.

The blog post is entitled “So You Wanna Be a Chef” and the excerpt from Mr. Bourdain’s book is a litany of all the reasons not to commit to attending culinary school and/or to the world of professional cooking. He ends his admonition to the reader by admitting that in spite of his own bad choices early in his career, including his battle with addictions, he got lucky. “And luck,” he writes,” is not a business model.”

Those words resonated with me and I hope they will with you, too. Don’t get me wrong–I believe in luck. Every time I circle the block looking for a place to park in downtown Wheaton, I call on the spirit of my deceased father whose “parking karma” was epic. Sure enough, a space opens up for me! I usually give a nod to the heavens and say, ‘Thank you, Daddy.” Is that luck or timing? I don’t question it. I’m just grateful.

My dad was also fond of saying, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” He was a big fan of the “luck-is-not-a-business model” school of thought. A child of the Great Depression, my dad believed in hard work and had my sister and brother and me apply for work permits before the candles were blown out on our sixteenth-birthday cakes. My parents, both influenced by the Protestant work ethic, insisted that we pay for half of anything we wanted to buy that was a big-ticket item. I’d been pocketing cash from a lucrative baby-sitting business since I was 12 and to my luck (there it is again) and delight, we lived next door to a couple who had two small children and who loved to party. This was back in the day when babysitters got paid fifty cents an hour–double after midnight. I committed to saving for my first pair of contact lenses which was going to cost around $100, an astronomical sum to me then. For more than a year I baby-sat to earn my half of the investment and never felt richer than when I had that $50 set aside. Lucky? Maybe. Lucky enough to have parents who taught me the value of hard work.

You’ve heard of the star who is discovered, an “overnight success” who ruefully admits in a magazine interview that there were 20 years leading up to that sudden surge of fame. Nothing happens overnight–at least not that I know of. Those of us who do strategic planning believe in the power of declaration, putting pen to paper (or cursor to mind-mapping for those with a bent toward technology), planting seeds today that we’ll harvest not tomorrow, not even the day after that, but maybe years from now. Success takes vision, patience, tenacity and grit.

And maybe just a little bit of luck.

[Photo by © Ralf Roletschek – Fahrradtechnik und Fotografie]

The Tenacity Gene

The Tenacity Gene

This week I heard a great interview on National Public Radio with an author named David Epstein who wrote a book called The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. There are some wonderful insights Mr. Epstein shared about the book, but the one that really caught my imagination was a story about the success of sled dogs who help win the Iditarod race in Alaska.

Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey couldn’t afford to breed fast dogs. Instead, he bred dogs that were slower but would “just go and go and go,” according to Mr. Epstein. These dogs had the drive to pull the sled all the time, never wanting to stop. He says these dogs have been bred for motivation and for “work ethic,” something that’s kind of funny to think about when you’re considering sled dogs–but there it is, supported by science. These dogs are pulling longer, not faster.

This story brings new meaning to the old Aesop fable of the tortoise and the hare. And I can’t  help thinking about it when it comes to our own work habits. My most recent habit is to focus more deeply on follow-up and follow-through. I know that networking is only as good as the follow-through, so I’m holding myself accountable for new habits in connecting with people.

I receive a business card and follow up with an email, written expressly for that person and highlighting where we met or what we may have talked about. I remind them they’ve given me permission to add them to my “Golden Rolodex.” I thank them for their time and offer an open invitation to be of service to them in any way I can. Then I go to LinkedIn and write a custom invitation to stay connected via LinkedIn, too–referencing my earlier e-mail. I ask for nothing in any of these communications–this is just my way of reinforcing we’ve met and laying the groundwork for future connections.

This takes time and I feel a little like a sled dog, plodding my way through the snow. But I know that these investments of time and custom connections are critical to building relationships that will last. Whether or not I have the tenacity gene, I’m working on my tenacity muscle, accomplishing what Gregg Levoy in his book Callings calls “the pick-and-shovel” work of making connections. And I feel stronger every day, building the skill to just “go and go and go.”