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?