Are you feeling lucky?

What does a stuffed toy bear have to do with luck and success? I’m glad you asked…

One of my current podcast faves is “Desert Island Dishes” with Margie Nomura. I’ve also been cherry-picking some episodes from the archives of “Desert Island Discs”. 

It goes without saying that the subjects of these interviews are successful people. The vast majority, however, don’t come from privileged backgrounds, and those that do (like Nigella) have had some sort of real hardship in their (apparently) privileged lives. Most have come from humble beginnings, worked their butts off and made the most of their “lucky” break. Mostly.

It got me thinking – about luck and hard work and how overnight successes generally come out of many years of hard graft, perseverance and overcoming obstacles. 

Often, we look at people who have made it big and don’t see the years of work that got them there. Sure, they might have been “lucky” and had an opportunity present itself, but they still needed to:

  • Have the awareness to recognise the opportunity
  • The courage to say yes to it
  • Have done the hard work and preparation to make the most of it

I consider myself a fortunate person in life – I have been blessed with so much. Yet everything I’ve really wanted from a personal success viewpoint I’ve had to work hard for – and I think that’s how it should be. Success has not dropped into my lap and, to be honest, I’m not sure that I’d appreciate it if it did. It’s almost as if whoever it is who has a say in these things is up there saying, ‘but how badly do you want it? Show me.’ Once the hard work is done is when the opportunities come up, or maybe it’s because I’ve done the hard work that the opportunities arise.

Then I listened to an interview with Jeremy Clarkson, the English broadcaster, motoring journalist and ex presenter of “Top Gear”. I should at this point pause and say that while I enjoy his writing (even though I’m the opposite of a car enthusiast) I’m quite ambivalent about him. I was, however, curious about how he got to where he got to.

Anyways, back to the interview…

He mentioned a few times in his Desert Island Discs interview (recorded a number of years ago) just how fortunate he had been early in life despite having done the opposite of working hard. 

“I knew something would come along, something always comes along, well it does in my life anyway.”

His parents – a teacher and a salesman – put his name down at one of those posh schools without having any idea how they were going to pay for it. Then his mother made him and his sister a stuffed bear for Christmas. The bear wore a raincoat and wellington boots and a rainhat. It was, of course, the first Paddington Bear stuffed toy.

The bear was popular, so his mother made more and his father sold them – and they sold well, despite the fact that his parents hadn’t given any consideration to the intellectual property rights of the character which had been invented by Michael Bond in his 1958 book “A Bear Called Paddington.”

Eventually, Bond became aware of what was going on and commenced legal action. By chance, Clarkson’s father met the author in a lift on the way to a meeting to discuss the matter and the two struck up an instant rapport – the upshot of which was the awarding to the Clarksons the international licensing rights to the bear. 

Fortuitously this all occurred just as young Jeremy was due to start at the posh private school his parents were now able to pay for.

He apparently hated the school, was bullied and in turn caused a lot of trouble, got into a lot of trouble, and was subsequently expelled.

He then applied for a role at a local newspaper which he got, in his words, on the basis of the fact that his grandfather, a doctor, had gone out in an air raid to deliver the editor’s first child. “I got expelled from school and because forty years ago my grandfather got up and delivered a child in the middle of the night, I got a job in journalism.”

He was, as he said in the interview, rubbish. He then moved to London and decided he didn’t want to work for anyone but did want to write about cars, which he did, syndicating the articles he wrote. It was, he said, a way of making a living while putting in minimal effort. This led to him being invited on a launch junket which in turn had him bumping into the producer of “Top Gear” and the rest, as they say, is history. Lucky yes, but this time it was his work that had put him in the path of the opportunity and work that saw him turn that opportunity into success.

The interview had started me thinking about luck but then something about Erica/Erika’s Sliding Door post sprang into my head. If Clarkson hadn’t squandered those early opportunities – the posh school, the newspaper job, the ones that had fallen into his lap, the ones he hadn’t had to work for – he wouldn’t have been in the position to make the most of the big one when it came along.

Luck again? I’m not sure.

As dearly as I wanted a publishing contract, I’m now thinking it was lucky that I didn’t get picked up by a traditional publisher early in my writing career. In hindsight, I don’t believe that I would have been ready for it and may have either squandered the opportunity or taken it for granted. Not having a contract fall into my lap has certainly made me work harder, and having had to work harder I think makes me appreciate the successes more – no matter how small they might be. 

Which makes me think that sometimes not getting what you want can be very lucky indeed.

What about you? Do you consider yourself lucky?

Author: Jo

I write, I bake, I chase sunrises.

20 thoughts

  1. I don’t consider myself lucky with regards to my achievements in life business/career wise. However, I’m lucky in other ways – lucky to be able to leave the corporate life and explore what I like to do; lucky to be reasonably healthy; lucky my kids were all born healthy, etc. Loved reading this post Jo. You always write such interesting stuff! 🙂

    1. All the luck I’ve had in my career – and I have been very lucky has been about right place, right time & right preparation.

  2. I wonder if Jeremy Clarkson comes off as a bit of a tosser at times because he is so offhand about everything? If he’d had to work a bit harder to achieve success, maybe he’d be a kinder person?
    I think we’d all like to have life handed to us on a plate, but it’s in the tough times that we grow and our character matures and develops – with too easy a life we end up shallow twats and nobody wants that (well, nobody with any depth anyway!)
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

  3. It seems ironic that Clarkson falls on his feet, but then he sounds as if he expects luck and funnily enough, when you expect it, it does come along.

    1. I think you have a good point there. If you expect to fail very often you do… I don’t think we can ever discount the power of positive thinking.

      1. I think because he’s looking for luck, looking for those opportunities that he sees them easier. Someone who is looking to fail is only looking for the opportunity to fail in order to prove to themselves that they always fail.

  4. I sometimes wonder if it was luck, privilege, or hard work and choices made in life. I do know I have a bunch of privileges – where I was born, being white, supportive parents (emotionally, not monetarily). But I also worked hard to get my degree and made choices in life that landed me opportunities. I guess at the end of the day, I believe more in hard work than luck. Some folks are lucky, and those are the stories you often hear. But more get to accomplish their dreams with hard work.

    1. It’s so interesting listening to the stories of those who have made it big and when you hear how they started with nothing or if they had this privileged life something happened that was so challenging that it pushed them out of their comfort zone. But the, as you say, there are others born into wealth and privilege that seem to swan about and do nothing particularly special. Strangely they’re never the subject of these interviews. I think that was probably the point I wanted to try & make.

  5. Hi Jo, I’ve not been lucky in my career – everything I’ve ever achieved has been down to hard work and the attitude of never giving up. In saying that I also haven’t risen to great heights of success outside of my own world. I sometimes say to my husband that we are lucky to have a lovely apartment by the sea, we can travel on overseas holidays most years and whilst not flush with funds we have a comfortable lifestyle. His response is always ‘it isn’t luck it was because we worked so hard’. Both being ‘second-time arounders’ and starting a new life together at 40 and 30 with not much money we have worked as a team to achieve our life and I’m proud of that. I also sometimes look at others who have been given opportunities or they have fallen in their lap who have squandered them. I always enjoy your posts Jo and this one in particular. Thanks so much for sharing at #MLSTL and enjoy the rest of your week. xx

    1. We say the same – how lucky we are – but behind that luck was hard work, financial decisions, lifestyle decisions & everything else that you did in order to make it happen. x

  6. Okay, first of all, I have to say I love the quotes you included. I’ve pinned them all! As far as the question of whether I’ve been lucky, I do consider myself lucky to have been born in the United States to parents who loved me and built my confidence. I consider myself lucky to have healthy genes. I consider myself lucky to have met some people who saw potential in me and mentored me. That said, I also have worked hard to keep my body healthy, to expand my knowledge, to self improve. So I guess any successes I’ve had are a result of a combination of good luck and hard work.

    1. I’m pretty much the same – fortunate life to begin with, but from a work viewpoint if I’ve been noticed from a potential viewpoint it’s been because of what I’ve done in order to get noticed and mentored. It’s absolutely a combo.

  7. I really enjoyed this post Jo and all the comments too! I love the quotes you used and didn’t know anything about Jeremy Clarkson’s story, so that was very interesting. I like his writing but his persona on TV is a bit of a tosser as you and Leanne have said. I’m not sure about luck, I’m of the opinion it’s all down to hard work but can’t explain how some people like Clarkson have such fortunate moments in their lives. Really enjoyed this read #mlstl

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