Posted by: David Stewart | December 6, 2014

Luck is not a factor

“Good luck in your 18 mile run tomorrow.” This from a co-worker yesterday.

Honestly, I’m not sure how she knew I was going 18 on Saturday, she must have overheard me telling someone. Up until now, when someone wishes me luck, I tend to quote the movie “The Abyss”, when the character Lindsey responds with:

“Luck is not a factor.”

I realize now that this is probably a snotty thing to say. After all, someone is just being polite. And this co-worker is a mom whose kids are involved with sports, and I appreciate the sentiment. So I followed it up with: “It’s probably more about shear pig-headedness on my part than anything else.”

“Well,” she replied, “good luck with your determination.”

Why is it that I react so strongly when someone wishes me luck? In spite of all the preparation and skill and natural talent that someone might possess, there seems to be an x-factor in life’s pursuits that can’t be explained. The highly-rated football team who can’t seem to generate any offense in a key championship game. The marathon race which results in a “Did Not Finish” in the results column in spite of months of preparation. The driver who glances at their telephone at the wrong moment and wanders into oncoming traffic at just the wrong time.

Inanimate objects are often assigned with good luck generation. Wearing your lucky shirt to give an important presentation, or wearing your team jersey to watch a key championship match. No question, a person’s mental state can be affected by supernatural powers attributed to objects.

That’s not for me. Running 18 miles is just one of the things I put myself through in order to run marathon races. Weekly long runs are the cornerstone of marathon training. Endurance is built, aerobic efficiency is increased, joints and feet are toughened up to take hours of pounding. There is even a matter of running efficiency – your body actually gets more efficient as you run more.

Of course it helps to have determination and mental toughness to run that far in one setting. But there are plenty of people who are a whole lot tougher than me and who can’t run that far. And many very determined people who are far too sane to want to.

And sometimes in spite of all the preparation and determination, things will just go pear-shaped. I’ve had long runs blow up in my face due to a variety of factors. It’s pretty embarrassing to call your spouse to rescue you in the middle of a run because you are in too much stomach pain. I usually hope I can learn something from these failures and try to do better the next time.

I think you can actually learn more from failure than from success. I remember telling this to a younger co-worker who has had nothing but success in his work career. I don’t think he believes me. Perhaps its true, but when things go perfectly, you might not ever figure out what it was which created success. Which probably leads to belief in lucky shirts. So “bad luck” might actually lead to “good luck” in the future? Only if you are willing to learn from your failures.

I’ll try not to be so snotty when people wish me luck in the future. I know they are trying to be encouraging. Maybe I need to figure out a better movie quote.



  1. I think it is hard work that gets you to the start line and sometimes it’s a bit of luck on race day that determines your placing. But everyone remembers their races differently depending on what kind of day you are having

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