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Walking under ladders


Græme Gordon, Executive Director, Praxity

What makes certain people lucky? It’s not just pure chance.

​This weekend I walked under a significant number of ladders. In my culture, walking under a ladder is said to be unlucky but I do not consider myself superstitious so I threw caution to the wind.

I should explain that this was my weekend for putting the Christmas lights on our house. This includes an illuminated reindeer on our chimney pot and lights outlining our roof. Hence the need for the ladders which circumstance required me to walk under. 

The luckiest man

Coincidentally, this weekend I was also reading a biography of a baseball player called Lou Gehrig in which he gives a famous (in baseball circles) farewell speech about luck. Gehrig had been a very strong, virile man and held the record for continuous games played in the Major Leagues (2,130). Described as the Iron Horse of baseball, Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS, a terminal muscle wasting syndrome which subsequently became known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Knowing he had but months to live, he announced to supporters at Yankee Stadium: “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” His luck, he said, was receiving nothing but kindness and encouragement from fans during his playing career. He went on to describe his good fortune in having met great people in the sport and had the unwavering support of his family.

Gehrig’s poignant words, especially when juxtaposed with his renowned great work ethic, got me thinking about what makes people believe they are lucky. I do not consider myself superstitious, hence I am happy to walk under ladders, as long as I have checked there is no one above likely to drop anything. I have no issue with black cats crossing my path or counting the number of magpies I see. Yet I do often use the expressions “cross fingers” or “knock on wood”.

In it to win it

Maybe I have been very lucky. I do certainly consider myself very fortunate in work and my private life. However, I do believe in the saying “the harder I work the more luck I have” * 

If we take the time to ‘work’ a situation, it more often than not bears choice fruit.

Take the simple case of attendance at Praxity conferences. When individuals from a firm, however small, attend one or all of the main conferences regularly, and actively network with other attendees, the individuals and their firms are significantly ‘luckier’ in the business they are engaged for. I concede that there can be a time lag between initial conference attendance and eventual results, and I acknowledge my evidence maybe circumstantial, but once the business rolls in it is worthwhile and generates positive results. 

My attitude to luck is summed up by the slogans of two lottos on either side of the Atlantic. The New York lotto strapline of “hey, you never know” isn’t very inspiring to me if indicative of our chances. In contrast, the motto of the UK lotto is “you have to be in it to win it” which correctly indicates that we need to take action to at least have a chance, however miniscule the odds of winning.

So, the lesson for me is to keep on keeping on. Interact, network, communicate and ‘work hard’ and, you will get ‘luckier’ without the need to cross your fingers.

*Attributed by some to Thomas Jefferson, writer of the USA’s constitution, Stephen Leacock or Sam Goldwyn. However, it is unlikely any are the originator.