Do You Feel Lucky?

On the lead up to St. Patrick’s Day, I wondered about the phrase, “luck of the Irish.”

I had just watched a PBS documentary on Irish history and they didn’t seem very lucky at all.  Considering:

  • The great potato famine took over one million lives and drove another million to emigrate – decreasing the population of Ireland by almost 25%.
  • Their war for independence from England caused a lasting divide between Unionists in Northern Ireland and Nationalists in Southern Ireland. The solution to which caused such bitterness, that unlike in America, they don’t celebrate their Independence Day.
  • The period from 1970-2000 was called “The Troubles”! (Thirty years marked by escalating violence and domestic terrorism)

Ironically, the phrase “luck of the Irish” was originally one of derision. It’s origin dates back to the gold and silver rush in the 19th century. Many of the most successful miners were of Irish descent. Their success was attributed to “luck” rather than intelligence or hard work. This reflects a very unhealthy relationship between success and luck.

When reflecting on the role of luck in achieving our own dreams, only 27% of Americans see it as essential.  

However, when we think about luck’s role in other people’s success – especially those who we may not feel are as deserving  – then we see it playing a more significant role. 

Or in sports parlance — your opponents make lucky plays, you make great ones.

Our relationship with luck is critical to how we view the world and support each other.

In his book Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, author Robert Frank demonstrates its impact on everything from individual giving to support for fair tax policy and social welfare programs.

Usually when we acknowledge luck’s role in our success we can’t help but link it as just a by-product of our work. 

Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “The harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”  Easy for him to say when he inherited a 5,000 acre plantation.

The motto of my namesake, the McKinnon clan (Scottish not Irish – long story), is “Fortune follows the brave.”  Yet bravery had little to do with many of the breaks I’ve received along the way.

When we acknowledge the role of luck in our lives, it doesn’t diminish the magnitude of our success but enlarges our appreciation of it.

So just a few days after celebrating a day when we are all a little Irish, I ask you this –  Do you feel lucky?

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