musing on luck

June 05 2015

I joined the Listserve just over three years ago: 1,123 days, to be exact. The list currently has 23,888 subscribers. Given a few assumptions1, we can simply divide the two to arrive at a cumulative probability that I'd have won the list by now: less than 5%. I'm a lucky man! Of course, if you knew me personally, you'd have known that already.

How to justify that assertion of luck? Let's start with the basics: I'm white, male, American; born to a dentist and a programmer, money was never really a concern growing up. The funny thing about living an upper-middle-class life is that from the inside, it's entirely invisible. How else might people live2?

Luck: the very qualities which impeded me socially as I was growing up, the nerdiness and hyperliteracy, turned out to be beneficial when it came time to go to college. I had a tiger mom long before that term was invented, and all the stress and homework paid off when I had a long list of AP credits and a nice GPA as I applied. More luck: my first choice college really liked my SAT scores, so I got to attend a private university at state-school prices.

Luck: When planning my final year of college, I was a little ahead in my coursework, so I had a choice. I could either overload a bit more and graduate a semester early, or I could keep a normal course load plus something extra just for fun. I chose the latter, and got a year of Japanese study in. Why not? I was watching a lot of anime at the time. How was I to know that the opportunity would arise to become an English teacher in Japan? I didn’t even have to pay for the flight!

After a year, the owner of the school I was teaching at died. His inheritor planned to close the school; it hadn't been earning much. I'd have to find a new job. Bad luck! Or so it seemed. I'd always dreamt of flight, so on a whim I wrote the Army and asked if it was possible for a civilian of no particular qualifications to become a helicopter pilot. Turns out the answer is yes3!

If you want to exhibit luck, the Army is the place for it. I was assigned to the Medevac, the single ethically easiest part of the military. In Afghanistan, nobody in my entire brigade died! And of course, if the Army hadn't taken me to Germany, I would never have met my wife.

Suffice it to say, she's the biggest example of good luck in my unusually lucky life.

So what do you do when you have all this luck, when you honestly can become anything you want? I’ve just left the Army: I received the notice I'd won the Listserve minutes after I gave back my military ID. Now I'm starting my first business, writing computer games. My degree, a decade ago, was in Computer Science. It's time to use it! More than half of new businesses fail, of course, but a few strike it rich. I have high hopes.

I’m feeling lucky.

I'm on Twitter and Flickr as coriolinus, for those interested.

Peter Goodspeed-Niklaus

1. Assumptions: daily random choice; subscriber population hasn't changed significantly; people can win more than once.

2. One eye-opening experience was attending Basic Training. Suddenly, peers were thrilled to be able to support their families on a salary that I considered substandard for a single person.

3. Sound good? Look up the Warrant Officer Flight Training program.

Peter Goodspeed-Niklaus
[email protected]
Würzburg, Germany

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