What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

I believe there is such a thing as being in the right place at the right time, as, for example, when I found myself standing in line at a bar, and a friendly editor with a knitting bag happened to be waiting for a glass of water (swear to goodness) right beside me.

I hardly ever drink alcohol, but considering it was the first conference where I’d put myself up to pitching, you could say—I would say—that a lucky thirst possessed me. The editor not only extracted a pitch from me, but ended up offering me contracts (plural).

I also believe bad things happen to good people, which some of us might call bad luck.

I do not believe bad luck and good luck can always be distinguished from each other.

Take, for example, my dear old dad, who as a young man wanted nothing in this life so much as to own a dairy farm. Dairy farming is relentlessly hard work, dangerous, and difficult, but this was his dream—his only dream.

As dreams go, owning a dairy farm has a drawback. A modest dairy operation with a decent herd, some acres, equipment to tend those acres, a milking parlor and tank, living quarters, and all the other accoutrements of the trade costs an immodest fortune. Then too, my dad had not been raised on a farm, and the skills involved—everything from commodities economics, to meteorology, to bovine veterinary science, to agronomy and many other disciplines—is not easily or quickly learned from books.

Dad is nothing if not determined, though, so he mapped out a course: He’d hire on with the company that went from farm to farm and collected the milk from the holding tanks. He’d get to know the various farms in the area, and then go work with one of them. A few cows at a time, he’d start his own herd, or share of a herd, and so the dream could be attained one moo cow at a time.

Alas for my dear father. He got the job with the milk collecting company, and shortly thereafter forgot to tighten some coupling between two hoses. Awfully bad luck there—he’s not a forgetful man, by any means. A semi-trailer worth of milk spilled onto the ground, dad was promptly fired, and his dream went into the dirt along with all the moo juice.

Except… my great uncle pointed out to Dad that one could study dairy science up at the college. Up to the college Dad did go. Turns out, there wasn’t much known about how milk is produced at a cellular level, and the subject fascinated my father. In very short order, he was a tenured professor with graduate students from around the world (milk is serious business for most developing counties), publications stacking up left and right, and—more important than any of that—a job he loved that made a meaningful contribution.

The next time you drink milk from an opaque plastic jug, remember the young man whose dream went into the dirt. He instead figured out that light alters flavor compounds in milk, and had great fun doing it.

So… was it bad luck, the day Dad forgot to tighten that coupling, or good luck? I fare best if think in terms not of good luck and bad luck, but of good luck and good luck in disguise.

What about you? Ever had some good luck arrive in disguise? To one commenter below, I’ll give away a SIGNED copy of Deanna Raybourn’s RITA Nominated “The Dark Enquiry.”

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25 comments on “What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

  1. I was working for a multinational electronics corporation and going to school at night. I was persuing a double major and each one required “Speech” class. I had never been comfortable talking in front of people,and tried to get the college to give me credit for both degrees with ONE “Speech” class. NO LUCK! I labored hard to accomplish the requirements and passed both classes with an A. Good Think…. my job was being fazed out and a teaching position was opening. WHAT luck!!

    • Love that story! I wanted desperately to dodge an accounting class. My advisor said he’d waive the requirement provided I took his constitutional law class. Such a choice would NEVER have occurred to me, but it sent me down the road that ended me up with a degree in law (and I still don’t get accounting).

  2. yeah, sometimes, something bad happens and then soon after something good happens to me. its funny that way. 🙂

  3. I love this story about your dad. Can’t think of anything offhand for myself. Thanks for sharing. Love your books.

    • I didn’t know this story about my dad. At a family reunion, I overheard my sister relating it to one of the grandkids… oral tradition is alive and well in the Burrowes family.

  4. Great story!

    I was going to have a nervous breakdown on my job and I quit without notice, something I’m not too proud of, but getting that last crappy job and burning all my bridges in the end allowed me to get to what I wanted to be doing. I have no income at the moment, but I’m working on my own projects that I love. It’s no fun being poor, but I no longer feel like hurling myself off a cliff, and I no longer feel too ashamed of myself to be with friends or meet new people as I did when I was stuck doing something I hated that I was terrible at for almost no money. Big improvement!

    So maybe not a total luck story, but it’s a really good thing that came (and is still coming, with better yet to come, I hope) out of a bad situation.

    • Anna… I’m often reminded of the words from the song: “Love will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no love.” Ain’t it the trufe?

      Whats the new business?

      • Great quote! And true. I’m so blessed to have a partner who wants to support and encourage a non-standard profession.

        And Writing.

  5. I have to admit I have had good come from what seemed like very bad luck when things did not go as planed. the hardest part for me was seeing the good in things not going exactly as I had dreamed or planed. However its true something good can come out of something bad if one remembers to stay positive through the bad luck situation.

  6. I always say (sort of joking but mostly not), it’s just like Garth Brooks says, “Thank God for unanswered prayers.” I’m a pretty big believer that I don’t always necessarily know what’s best.

  7. I was fired from my first job out of college for something that was beyond my control Anyway, I decided to go to grad school instead of finding another job and actually worked part time for the housing office of the University I was attending. It was through my job that I met my husband. If not for getting fired, it would have never happened! We’ve been together almost 33 years!

    • What a nice story! And it must have really hurt to lose that first job. We’re so vulnerable early in our careers, and each bend in the road looms so large then. Glad you made lemonade out of these lemons.

  8. Loved the story. I grew up with an alcoholic father and at 16 found a group called Alateen (children of alcoholics). There I met many life long friends. I also met and fell in love with my husband. I’m not sure I believe in bad/good luck or maybe its destiny.

    • Alateen is an organization that has provided consolation and support to a lot of young people in difficult situations. Maybe your encounter with true love there was indeed destiny.

  9. A few years a go, my husband was at a job he hated. He hated the drive, the hours, the people, the atmosphere, and the company in general. One Saturday, we were supposed to go out Christmas shopping when he got home from work. I got a call that morning that he had been in an accident at work and had cut his fingers (of his dominate hand) off in a saw. Of course we were devastated. 2 years of unsuccessful surgeries to reattach. 2 years mostly out of work on less than half the income we were used to, nearly losing our house, car, and running up credit cards just to buy groceries, etc). Finally Michael said enough was enough, he called off further nerve surgeries & they reamputated the fingers, he healed, and found another job. The job he is at now has been amazing. He (basically) sets his own hours, can take off when ever he needs without trouble or permission (we have 2 kids with special needs, so doctors and therapies never end). He’s never been happier, and we are, I’m happy to say, finally recovered from the financial issues of his accident. His accident made us take a look at what was important & having a roof over our heads rated right up there! So every penny has went to the mortgage & we managed to pay off the house this year, several years early in fact, so come what may in future, we will have a home (knock on wood, no hurricanes please, perhaps I shouldn’t temp the NC coast, right?)

    • I heard a saying once: Weak people give up and stay, strong people give up and move on. There are times to throw in the towel, on jobs, on relationships, on educational programs, on nerve surgeries. Knowing when to let go, and then moving the heck ON, is probably one definition of success. Hats off to you for achieving a chunk of the American dream a lot of us will never get close to.

  10. Best luck out of bad luck that there ever will be for me and my husband:

    My second wonderful daughter was received after a (very, very, very early!) miscarriage a month before…