Have you been lucky in life? Have you been faced with the dilemma of risk vs luck?
A very good friend of mine likes to complain that I’ve been remarkably lucky all my life while her luck has always been bad. She feels that I’m living my dream simply because I’ve been lucky – not because I’ve been willing to take risks when unusual, and perhaps risky, opportunities presented themselves.
She seems to think that if she’d had my good luck, she’d be living a happier, more fulfilling life. I think she was unable to deal with the risk vs luck dilemma. She chose to be safe.
Of course, she didn’t know me years ago when I went through some dark times. She just looks at me now and sees the life that I’m leading now – a life that she thinks I’ve reached because of my good luck.
Risk vs Luck
I admit that I’m very happy with how my life has turned out so far. I live overseas which had always been a dream of mine – a dream that I actually thought I’d never fulfill because my other passion was dogs. How could I travel or move overseas with my dog and cats?
When the opportunity that took me overseas to work appeared, my state of mind had been a ball of confusion. Remember that song by the Temptations? Yes, that was me.
At that time, I was in my late 30’s and feeling restless. I thought I’d finally found a career that I wanted and was in the second year of a doctoral program to become a clinical psychologist. I could see my future mapped out. I’d become a therapist, set up a practice, and stay in one place for the rest of my life. Oh no – one place? That scared me senseless.
I loved my studies in psychology. I’d already finished a Bachelor’s degree in Education and had taught in Los Angeles for several years. But I disliked teaching and quit. After that, I had tried various other means of making enough money to support myself. Nothing felt right until I went into the program in psychology.
Was I Open to Change?
Now, though, I had a new problem. There was no way I was willing to stay in one place for the rest of my life. I wanted to move around and see what it was like living and working in different places, especially overseas. As a psychologist, how could I leave patients that depended on me in order to satisfy my desire to move around. At least, I hoped I’d be good enough that patients would need me.
I wasn’t sure which way to turn. Should I continue on my path to become a psychologist or should I give it up before I’d incurred a huge debt for the tuition, books, and general living expenses?
While I was in the midst of this confusion, the risk vs luck dilemma presented itself to me. I happened to see a blind ad to train people on word processing equipment in Indonesia. I figured I could bluff my way into that job. In the same newspaper was a U.S. Department of State ad for administrative jobs in US embassies overseas. I sent in my resume for the job in Indonesia and went to the open testing for the State Department jobs.
The long and short of it is that I passed all the written tests for the State Department with flying colors. The next step would be an exhaustive oral interview. Before that interview could take place, however, I’d need to fill out and submit a mountain of paperwork.
When I say mountain, I really mean it. They didn’t just want to know every job and every address I’d ever had. They seemed to require details about every time I’d brushed my teeth. Did I spend two minutes or three? Did I brush the left side before the right side? Or vice versa? How many times did I rinse?
Obviously, I’m not being serious about the teeth brushing. I’m exaggerating to make a point. The State Department seemed to want that kind of unbelievably detailed information before they’d let me proceed to the next step I the hiring process.
It was daunting, so I put it aside. I really didn’t want to be someone’s glorified secretary anyway. I’d already done enough of that over the years.
Risk vs Luck - I Had to Choose
So now you’re probably wondering about the job in Indonesia. No response, so I continued with my doctoral program. No need to buy the Lonely Planet guide to Indonesia. Grrr…..
Several weeks later when I was in the midst of final exams, I got a call to interview for the job in Indonesia. Was I familiar with the Radio Shack TRS80? I’d never heard of it, but I was sure I could figure it out quickly enough.
It was 1982. Not a lot of admin people were computer literate at that time, but I had worked on a Vydec computer. And I was still naïve enough to think that one computer was very much like every other.
The interview took place on the only day in my entire school career that consisted of three final exams in one day. I didn’t care. I could smell opportunity.
When they offered me the job at the end of the interview process, I didn’t hesitate – I accepted immediately.
Was this risk or luck? I'd been proactive in an effort to deal with my confusion over what I'd be doing the rest of my life. Luck consists of opportunities that appear from time to time. The question is whether a person takes the risk to make the changes needed to explore the opportunity.
I took this risk. I took a leave of absence from my graduate program in order to follow my dream of living and working overseas. And I never looked back.
The job was for just three months. How perfect. Those three months coincided exactly with the next school quarter. I could take one quarter off, get the travel/living overseas virus out of my system, and return to grad school to continue becoming a psychologist.
When I accepted the job, I didn’t know how I was going to deal with my dog and two cats. But I was pretty sure that I could con some friends into helping out. After all, it was only three months.
Risk-free Is No Way to Live
I know a lot of people who avoid risk at all cost. You probably know people like that, too. From my personal perspective, it’s not a good way to live. I don’t expect everyone to be as adventurous as I am, but perhaps my friend who thinks I’ve have more than my share of luck could have ended up in a happier place if she’d taken a few more risks.
Willingness to risk means that you’re not afraid to fail. It’s true that many of us have been taught over and over that we must succeed at everything that we try. But actually, it is sometimes good to fail. If we don’t fail now and then, it means that we’re not trying enough new ventures, and we’ll never find out what awaits on the other side of those risks.
When Einstein went to Princeton, he was asked what he needed for his study. He replied, “A desk, some pads and a pencil, and a large wastebasket to hold all of my mistakes.”
The larger the risk, the bigger the possible pay off.
And so – off to Indonesia!
Would my evaluation of risk vs luck pay off?
What kind of risks have you taken? Can you relate to my willingness to take a risk? Would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below. Thanks.