“I’d rather be lucky than good.”
You’ve heard the expression, or some variation on it. I have too – my whole life. My father’s variant was, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” Sometimes he added “I guess” at the end, especially when something fortuitous happened to someone he deemed undeserving or held some sort of animosity for (football players for teams opposing his, for example).
I’ve seen the adage bear itself out in life. It’s not, despite its outward appearance, something for the embittered to say about those more blessed or fortunate than they. Rather, it’s a commentary of observation, one which, over time, is certainly possible to measure and note.
Some examples in general
I like the example of musicians and bands for this concept. They’re a concrete way to demonstrate an otherwise abstract idea.
Take for example some of the mega-bands from the 1980s. During that time, I believed anyone could record an album and get rich quick, regardless of talent level. Reference: Seagulls, A Flock of and Vanilli, Milli. I was wrong in that belief though.
See, more than just talent is required . There’s a confluence of fortunate events, a happenstance, which precedes almost every rock star success story I’ve ever heard. In the late 90s and early 2000s, VH1 ran a show called Behind the Music. WIGSF, you may recall The Simpsons doing a parody of this show, including use of the actual narrator from the series. (“Let me be clear about this: I thought the cop was a hooker.”)
When that show told the behind-the-scenes story of a band, there was, without exception, a pivotal point just before their breakthrough into stardom where the story goes, “Yeah, so, like, uuuuuuhhhh, this dude’s there, in like, the audience, y’know? And it turns out, he’s, uuuuuhhh, like, this big-time record producin’ dude from MegaStar Record Company, y’know? An’ like, he says, ‘Wow, you dudes are, like, awesome an’ shit, and I wanna give you a contract.’ So, uuuuuhhh, yeah – that’s, like how it happened. Then it all went nuts, y’know? Like, panties on stage nuts, y’know?”
Inevitably, invariably. Every. Single. One. My wife is a witness that I’m not exaggerating this.
They would NOT have achieved the success they did without what most of us would call a “lucky break” to put them ahead of a lot – and I mean a lot – of other bands and musicians. Some of whom were more talented.
A real-life example
My ex-wife is a professional-caliber singer. She:
- can write songs
- plays rhythm guitar
- sings both backup and lead
- reads sheet music
- almost has perfect pitch. (This is the ability to see the note on the page in its clef and sing it at the exact tone corresponding to the piano key, if you aren’t familiar.)
Point is, she’s got an amazing voice and can do a lot of amazing things with it. Things other singers won’t even try, most times.
Here’s how it went for her:
- Some guy from a church where she used to sing heard her
- he had a couple of contacts in the recording industry
- he wanted to back her and approached her with the idea, of which she was in favor (obviously).
- he sank about (I think) $10,000 to cut a demo tape
- put her in contact with a few of his contacts, and
- generally promoted her as best he could without hiring a marketing firm.
In return, she pitched herself to as many local spots and booked herself as a performer as many times as she could.
You know what happened? Of course you do.
Nothing, that’s what.
Oh, sure, she played the local gigs until they ran out, and she still sang weddings for friends and relatives or referrals thereof. But, last time I dealt with her, she:
- lived with her mother
- still claimed Amway was just to finance her “recording career”
- might be singing at the church from which she got fired for a monthly stipend.
I don’t keep up with her and I don’t know – she might be a mega-star now – but last I heard from her she
- didn’t have, and I quote, “a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of”,
- had a set of twins
- was fighting to ensure father (a friend of mine) couldn’t see them, and
- had generally become Bitch One.
But that recording contract? Yeah, not so much.
Why? Because, as good as she is, as talented and capable and multifaceted musically, she never got that lucky break.
What’s it to ya?
For me, this comes back to writing. I see books all the time where
- the writing’s not stellar
- the editing could use some help
- the product is in general a POS.
I read them – much as I can, anyway – and wonder
- who the f**k at the publishing house bought that steaming pile of crap
- which agent thought it would sell in the first place, and
- how the f**k the author was unembarrassed submitting this as a piece of “literature” in the first place.
I see someone like J. A. Konrath, considered by many to be the king of self-publishing , a shining example of what’s possible. Of course, he’s very vocal about his advocacy of self-publishing, and yet, extremely cautionary to writers about following his footsteps with the expectation of achieving his success.
He’s sort of a dichotomy, because on the one hand he seems to be encouraging authors to go the self-publishing route and yet repeatedly discourages anyone from expecting to have the monetary success and popularity he’s enjoyed. He also repeatedly states he’s not an exception and authors who go the same route can get the same result, or even better if they work at it. (He is not, so far in my experience with his blog [very, very new to me], explanatory on self-marketing and promotion. He also makes no secret of the fact that he had success in print after a dozen years of failure before jumping to self-publishing, which proves he’s not self-publishing because he has no alternative.)
Confused? I am too.
But look at it another way: How about lottery winners?
Sure, you can become an entrepreneur and work like a dog, or a Type-A personality, sacrifice and suffer to make millions and finally get rich slow. You can. Oh, sure, there’s the remote possibility you’ll achieve instant, overnight success and be mega-rich and able to live like a wealthy slob in just a short time, but for most it’s a long, hard toil. And for most, the doing is the reward, not the money. They aren’t trying to get rich, they’re trying to do what they love most and to provide as comfortable a living for themselves along the way as possible.
But the odds aren’t in favor of that. The odds favor being a toiler forever, or until you retire or die, whichever comes first.
Lottery winners? They drop a few bucks on a ticket, the right six numbers come up, and they walk away multimillionaires.
For my money, pun intended, I’d rather be lucky than good. I’d rather be that guy who buys a ticket with the magic six numbers. I’d rather be that guy who happens to get his manuscript to the agent who’s had just enough alcohol that night to be in just the right frame of mind and who takes on my work, and in turn pitches it to just the right editor at just the right publishing house at just the right time for them to want my product so it hits the market at just the right moment so it sells like J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown had an orgiastic love child and I can sit back and live on royalty checks alone. I’d rather be that guy.
As opposed to this fat lump of wallow I’ve become, I mean.
How ‘bout you? Would you rather be lucky, or good?
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