Is it better to be lucky or good?

When I was growing up, I used to hear this quote all the time. “I’d rather be lucky than good.” I always heard it referenced as it relates to sports. One one hand we all know that the more effort we put into something, sports, school, relationships, the outcome tends to be commensorate with that effort. I have talked about one area that has a negative correlation to effort, and than is investing. But today’s post is not about investing, it is about looking back at all of the great accomplishments in my life and realizing that there was some component of being “good” and some component of being “lucky.” I don’t think any of us want to acknowledge that something we have accomplished is not 100% due to our own talents and efforts. But if I am being honest, in my own experience I think there was some great fortitude and acts outside of my control that significantly enhanced my ability to achieve what I would consider great accomplishments in my life. Let me walk through the many examples that I have experienced over the last 30+ years and you be the judge!

Loyola Marymount Unifersity Baseball (1992)

I played baseball at LMU from 1990-1994.  I would say I was pretty highly recruited coming out of high school, I had a few offers and selected LMU because of the combination of strong academics and high quality baseball team (Ranked top 20 freshman year).  My freshman year the team was stacked.  We ultimately had 15 guys get drafted to play professionally.   I did not have a great Fall Ball season, in fact the coach was insuinating that maybe I should consider transferring somewhere else.  It was not an uncommon practice in those days that they gave out more scholarships than they had budget for, only to cut some people after the Fall semester.  I did not leave.

The Spring went a little better and I was starting to find my stride.   I started the season as a pinch hitter coming off the bench late in games to get on base and hopefully get some scoring going.   I did reasonably well, about one month into the season, we had our first road trip up to University of San Francisco.  As I remember it (it was 30+ yrs ago after all), the starting Designated Hitter (DH) missed the flight and yours truly was inserted into the starting line up for the weekend  (LUCK).  I had a strong weekend and found myself battling for more playing time (GOOD).  

The very next week, during an intersquad scrimmage, I hit a ball into the gap, as I was rounding first, I slipped and ended up breaking my right wrist (BAD LUCK).  My season was essentially over.  I came back just in time for the end of the season, but we did not make the NCAA tournament and my freshman year ended in disappointment (NOT GOOD).

That summer, I played baseball in Celina, Ohio.  It was a small town, I stayed wtih a family and enjoyed getting to learn a new culture and environment.  The last weekend of the summer before I was scheduled to go back home, my summer team coach said “Hey, you know Coach Smith left LMU?” Remember, this is 1992.  There was no internet, no smart phones, etc.  Clearly, I had no clue that he was leaving. When I arrived back on campus in the Fall, not had the Head Coach left, but every single scholarship player had also transferred out of LMU.  Imagine my shock and disbelief that everyone had left.  I would have a new coach, almost entirely new team and we would have to start over as a program.

I had no idea at the time, but being the only scholarship player left on the team, would turn out to be one of the best things that could of happened to me (LUCK).  I started every single game for three years.  I was “the guy” by default as there wasnt anyone left.  I ended up having a great career and was inducted into the LMU Hall of Fame in 2005 (GOOD).  Had coach Smith not left, had all those other talented players not left, would I have had the career I ended up having?

 

LMU 1993

The best thing that happened to me during my time at LMU was meeting my wife of 25 years, Joy.  This too, is  a stroy of luck and being good.  As I mentioned before, I ended up playing baseball at LMU.  But the school that had recruited me the hardest was Stanford. They were the first school to recruit me and the coaches had visited my house several times to get to know me and my family.  I had my heart set on going to Standford.  But in this case the “luck” was NOT getting into Stanford and going to LMU.  They told me I did’t have the grades to get in.  Maybe that is true, or maybe I just was not good enough.  Either way, I look back at not going to Stanford as one of the best things that ever happened to me.  If I had gone to Stanford, I would not have met Joy.  If I had not met Joy, I would have my two kids.  Crazy to think about, but it is true.  I might have kids, but not THESE kids (LUCK).

There is also another part about being lucky in this love story.  I met Joy the first day on campu at a freshaman orientation event.  I remember it vividly, and I guess you could call it love at first site.  For “luck’ we ended up having an accounting class together that year.  I would be lying had I not noticed her in the class.  I also happened to notice that after our first quiz, she did not do all that great.  As “luck” would have it, I would become her tutor for the semester.  I might have been book smart, but I made a huge tactical error in the timing of asking Joy out on a date.  Unfortunately, I waited until AFTER the last final to ask her out, and while she did quite well in the class, she was not available to go on that date…at least not yet! (NOT GOOD).

Fast forward to our Junior year.  Joy had been casually dating a friend of mine.  As I recall (again it was 30+ years ago), they had gotten in an argument (LUCK).  I happened to be there and we went on the Bluffs (beautiful view from campus) and we talked for several hours.  This time, I was no dumby.  I asked her out on a date the next day, and the rest as they say is history (GOOD).

Hewlett Packard (1999)

My first job after getting my MBA from The University of Southern California was at HP in 1997.  I was thrilled to get a job at such a great brand name and well respected company in Silicon Valley.  The late 1990’s was a crazy time for technology as the internet and websites had just become a “thing.”  Silicon Valley was at the epicenter of this crazy period of time.  New companies were staring up, have an IPO and everyone that worked there would become rich, or so it seemed. I had started out in the notebook computer division at HP in Cupertino, CA (I worked at the campus that is now the Apple headquarters).  I started as a financial analyst, but quickly moved into contract negotiatons with manufacturers in Taiwan.  I was quite good at it and I had been successful in saving the division millions of dollars (GOOD.

Right about 1998, there were start ups going IPO every day.   The companies would go public and see their stock prices shoot up through the roof.  History would brand this the “Dot com bubble” – bubble does’nt have a good ring to it, does it?  Because I was working in the heart of Silicon Valley, people were leaving HP in droves (LUCK).   We had something like 40% attrition, so HP was desperate to keep people and retain them to stay or else risk going out of business.  As I mentioned, I was only two years out of school, but I had done some good work (GOOD), so they wanted to keep me.  I remember walking into my bosses office and him telling me they were giving me a 50% raise, I think I actually fell out of my chair.

Needless to say, this was a game change for Joy and I.  We were able to qualify for a mortgage and purchased our first house that same year.   Another situation of being lucky and good. As an aside, many of those folks who left HP for “greener IPO pasteurs” ended up wanting to come back.  Some of them did, but were not fortunate to get the “retention treatment” those who stuck around had received (LUCK/GOOD).

 

Hewlett Packard (2012)

Fast forward a few more years and another situation occured that had a massive impacton the trajectory of my career.  We had moved to San Diego in 2004 to join a start up division in HP.  The division had not done all that great, and in 2012, HP decided to shut down the division.  However, that division had contracts that extended 2-3 years with some very important customers so HP could not walk away.  At the time I was a Director.  Once HP had decided to shut down the division, all the senior leaders also decided to leave (LUCK).  Nobody was interested in leading or being part of a “shut down.”  Nobody, except me!  They asked me to become the General Manager of the division and promoted me to Vice President (GOOD).  I can say without any hesitation that it would have taken me another 5-10 years to get to that level of HP.  At 40 years old, I was by far the youngest VP at the Company.  In addition to the compensation advantages, it was a great period of career development.  I learned how to lead a group of 200+ people, how to motivate employees who knew their jobs were going away, how to build pride and accomplish objectives in a tough environment.  I look back at one of the best jobs I ever had at HP.

Not only was that General Manager position a great one, I was then able to parlay that into another Vice President position.  This time it was a start up group and we had resounding success.  Over the six years I was the leader of that division, we built one of the most successful businesses inside of HP in years.  It was an incredibly rewarding experience that all started when HP decided to shut down the division, and everyone decided to leave (LUCK).

GoPro 2022

Finally, let’s discuss how I landed at GoPro as the Vice President of Subscription. Obviously, the skills I developed at HP during my time building a subscription business there were directly translatable to GoPro.  I already highlighted how Luck/Good got me there.   

I had interviewed for two months for the VP position at GoPro and in the end they didn’t say “no” but they didn’t say “yes” either.  I was the first person to go through the interview process and they wanted to get other candiates (not a great sign).  However, when they told me about this, I had asked if they would consider bring me on as a consultant (something I had been doing for other clients).  To my amazement, they agreed.

What I learned very quickly was the reason they were willing to bring me on is because the two people who had the most direct involvement with the subscription business were both leaving (LUCK).  They brought me on as a trial run, and within two weeks they made me a full time offer (GOOD).

Conclusion:

I don’t want to leave the impression that I don’t think hard work pays off, I think it does.  While I have experienced all of these events in my life, I do still behave in a way that believes I can control the outcomes in my life.  I don’t know how true that actually is, but I do not believe in just thinking “whatever happens, will happen.”  While that may actually be true, I choose to at least pretend that the amount of effort I put into something will ultimatley yield a positive outcome.

But as the stories I have illustrated today show, there was a tremendous about of things outside of my control that led to the amazing outcomes.  I could not control all the players leaving LMU, not getting into Stanford, all the employees leaving HP, or employees wanting to leave a division being shut down or any of those things.  Those all happened outside of my control (LUCK).  However, I am also confident that when those opportunities presented themselves I was ready (GOOD).  I believe that is the take away for me and hopefully anyone who reads this blog.  Focus on being the best version of yourself.  Focus on being prepared.  Focus on what you can control.  You won’t know when, but at some point LUCK will present you with an opportunity.  When it does, that is the time when being GOOD will yield great outcomes in your life.

OK your turn.  How has being lucky and good led to opportunities in your life?

4 thoughts on “Is it better to be lucky or good?”

  1. Marco Napolitano

    Loved this blog Dad! Think this might be my favorite one you’ve posted yet and I can tell you put a lot of time into it. It’s easy to find examples in sports, like last season when Ross got hurt or committing to ND after my last club tournament ever because one of the poles that was already committed wasn’t smart enough to get in. It’s crazy how much luck and randomness plays into event and outcomes that you don’t even know about too. Like I have no idea why I got into USC med. Was it because of the integrity of application or because someone like lacrosse. Who knows? But the comment about staying driven and determined so that you can capitalize on opportunities that may arise due to luck I think is an awesome takeaway. Again, loved this post dad and can’t wait for your next!

    1. I’m glad you liked the post Marco and I think your takeaway is the same conclusion that I have come to. I am not sure you can create your own luck (or opportunity), but I am certain that you can be ready when the time comes to take advantage! I have been thinking about this post for a long time, but we have been busy with selling the house, moving, etc so time just got away from me. Thank you for the nudge to get this over the finish line!

  2. Hi Anthony,
    I enjoyed reading your blog on
    “ Is It Better To Be Lucky Or Good “
    As you begin a new chapter in your life,
    keep the same vibes that served you well!

    Love
    Mom

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