We Make Our Own Luck

by Quek Zhao Feng | Sep 7, 2013 | 1876 views

It has been a long while since I've penned an article, so here's me making up for lost time with a nice little read. For starters, here's a brain-teaser. 

There was a man with a gun on his shoulder wandering in the wilderness. He walked 100 metres North, then 100 metres East, then 100 meters South before stopping. He then had the strange feeling that he had been here before. At this moment a bear wandered past and the man shot it.

What colour was the bear?


If one ignored the earlier story, answering this question correctly would be a matter of pure luck. Bears only exist in a few colours - black, white and brown. With no earlier consideration, and a small amount of luck, you'd pick the correct answer - white. 

This question, however, like many we face in life, rewards the answerer for every bit of general knowledge he or she has. Though faced with the impromptu, the more well read a person is, the more luck is removed from the equation and the more a person increases his chance at solving the riddle.  A combination of geography (the poles), mathematics (vectors and displacement) and natural understanding (bear colors and habitats) is what gives anyone the opportunity to turn ambiguity into certainty. It is possible for us to manipulate events in our favor.

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There are two kinds of luck. The first kind is Opportunity, and the second is Phenomena. Opportunity defines our very actions, and every action we take defines future opportunities.

In a tennis match for instance, Zhicong wonders if his serve will be strong enough to get by his opponent (Tennis serves often make or break matches). He wonders and prays for luck. His worry and anxiety, his nervousness, is defined by the amount of training he has put into perfecting his serve.

Training for hours and weeks on end assures him of a faster, more skilful, and more powerful serve when the big game arrives. It gives him a buffer, a stabilizing effect against the unknown, against lousy weather, against his frayed nerves, and even though he can never fully account for every phenomenon that may befall him, the training and hours put in gives him the opportunity to win.

And so he does. 

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As he wins the tournament, he is approached by a sports representative who gives him a new opportunity to play for his country in the national team. Zhicong is lucky, and luck is on his side. But it was through his own actions, training and his seizing of opportunities that his made his own luck first place, allowing him to win and seize future opportunities to get lucky. "Luck" can be manipulated in this way, through effort and will.

And sometimes, the first form of luck is defined by the second. Sometimes we don't create our own luck, but gain the opportunity to do so through unforeseen phenomena and "divine intervention." Several prolific men rose to power inspired by circumstances they had no control over. One could say there wouldn't be a Stalin without a Lenin, a Che Guevara without a Castro, or even a Hitler without the treaty of Versailles. 

Such prolific events were perhaps random tosses of the galactic dice. Had they not occurred, none of these powerful and influential leaders would have been able to come to the fore and seize success. Knowing how influential external phenomena is on our lives, sometimes we too feel that the world is too big for us to start anything or create any meaning.

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However, the key takeaway is that even though these leaders didn't start the fire, they took hold of the situation and created the opportunities for their own ascension. Random events always happen. In essence, to take advantage of random phenomena is also exploiting and creating opportunity. We only need a sharp eye to recognize that. The second kind of luck always leads back to the first, but only in the hands of someone ready and waiting to exploit it.

But there is a flipside to all this positivity. If we make our own luck, then the inverse, that we make our own bad luck, it also true. If we don't grasp the opportunity, we are stagnating our resources and exhausting future opportunities. Those who do not understand how they are not fully employing their resources believe they have done their best, attributing their stumbles and failures to "bad luck."

They often refer to such "bad luck" as "fate" - something beyond their control. This arises from poor understanding of potential actions, and their own capabilities. A person may be great at playing the piano, but may be misguided in trying to eke out a living playing concerts in rural areas. Similarly, a person may possess a fantastic vocabulary, but may be mistakenly trying to apply them in an area like Literature, where speaking clearly and concisely trumps flowery language. Understanding where to apply your strengths is often more important than developing that strength to begin with, and getting the areas right can help you be sure it was just bad fortune, and not your talent being wasted.

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Even those who were recipients of "bad luck" to begin with, the victims of phenomena afflicted by hereditary conditions like Stephen Hawking, or born into poverty like Mahatma Gandhi, can still make tremendous headways in the world. Even if you've been dealt a bad hand from the start, it is how you react to adversity that shapes your character and life.

Right now the prelims are almost onto us. It is not too late. It's never too late.

Turning ourselves around is not a mere option. It is our duty.

Not a duty to better our schools nor beat our competition, but a duty that we fulfil whatever potential within us to its limit.

And toss the dice ourselves.


Now, impose this idea of you creating your own opportunities onto the oncoming examinations. Opportunity may knock, but we must first build a door for it to pass through. And how well this door is built will decide if opportunity knocks once, or many, many times.


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