A lucky break

What part has luck played in your life? It has played a big part in mine and others, including that of a former U.S. president.

Earlier this year, in an interview with Barack Obama, television host David Letterman turned the subject to the matter of luck.

Obama acknowledged the role it played in his life. Yes, he had talent, he said, and he had worked hard, but neither of those could fully account for how a mixed-raced kid, who had only known his father for only one month of his childhood, could end up president. He had been lucky.

My first bit of good luck was being born into a traditional, two-parent Pennsylvania household where my mother was a loving but strict homemaker and my father was a steady and supportive provider, bringing home a paycheck every two weeks. I was always warm, fed and encouraged. Within reason, I never lacked for anything, whether material or emotional. I was lucky.

After I graduated from high school, I didn’t really know what direction my life should take. I did know I was lovesick and wanted the object of my affection to be my life’s partner. At the tender age of 18, I made a genuinely serious proposal of marriage and was turned down. I was emotionally shattered and pursued a fallback option: college. That led to a very satisfying working career and financial stability. Having my marriage proposal turned down was a lucky break — for both of us.

John Milton, a 17th century English poet, is credited with first expressing the notion that, “Luck is the residue of design.” In modern lore that theory was repeated by baseball executive Branch Rickey, when he was asked to explain his luck with signing budding major league talent. That hypothesis holds that if there is a thoughtful forward-looking plan for any undertaking, good things will happen incidental to that foresight. I heartily subscribe to that idea.

During a career in the Navy, I prided myself in recognizing hidden opportunities for advancement and took advantage of those chances. For example, when volunteers were solicited for seemingly unattractive overseas missions, I immediately saw the opportunities to spotlight my talents and gain the attention of senior officers who could advance my career. It worked, and I got an early promotion. Was that part of a career plan or luck? Maybe a bit of both.

Hard work and company loyalty also can be part of a plan for success. Showing up 15 minutes early for work, giving diligent effort during the shift and willingly staying beyond quitting time to finish a task can lead to advancement and higher pay. As Hollywood movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn famously stated, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

It has also been said that, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.” I made a mess of my first marriage and take full responsibility for its demise. But something good came out of that experience: two sons, who are my pride and joy. They were raised primarily by their magnificent mother. They were lucky.

James Wentz writes a monthly column for the Mirror.