Good Luck and Compassion

Jay - Bethesda, Maryland
Entered on June 27, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in the humbling power of good luck. Good luck has changed not just my own life but the way I see others.

Good luck gives you the opportunity to elevate the path of your life, and not because of anything you’ve done. After my first year of college, I was about to take a job stacking magazines. One of my college friends had just gotten a job as a copyboy on the New York Times. They needed another. That summer the Times published two of my articles. Sure, I had to write them, but if I hadn’t been in the building, who would’ve read them? Those stories got me a job on the Binghamton Evening Press, where I enjoyed another round of good luck when the Managing Editor, Erwin Cronk, sent my clips to Harvard Law School. The Dean of Admissions later told me that this was the only reason I got in.

Most of us have moments like this. A friend or mentor helps us get the first really good job or we just happen to be there and the best available talent. And, of course, they are legion in the annals of love. My sister could not come down to Washington for Thanksgiving one year because her boss needed her to work on Friday. She went to my aunt’s instead, and there she met her future husband.

I think it is the very undeserving nature of luck that helps me feel compassionate. I didn’t get here as planned and she didn’t get to where she is – up or down – as planned, and he didn’t get there as planned. There is always an asterisk by the credit and an asterisk by the fault.

Yes, someone had to work hard … but that wouldn’t have been enough. Yes, someone didn’t work very much … but things still could have gone better. I think of this when one of my sons, who has both a few economics courses and the certainty of youth under his belt, talks about why people should be paid more for their greater contributions to the economy and why moderating this would throw the natural universe of Adam Smith out of kilter.

Hey, kid, knock it off; don’t you know how lucky you are?