“No one should come to New York,” E.B. White once wrote, “unless he is willing to be lucky.” I re-read his words often, when I’m homesick or tired, trying to remember why I came here, which was for school. A different kind of kismet, aided by admissions and financial good fortune, disguised as merit.
For most of my life, I believed in merit. (I am an indoctrinate American, naturally!) But, along the way, that eroded. So I started to believe in luck. Here is how the origin story goes: because I wanted to be a writer, I decided to be a copywriter. Because I wanted to be a copywriter, I poked around for a job. Because I poked around for a job, I met with someone and mentioned a spec piece (an unsolicited piece of writing with no publishing guarantees) I had written. Because I mentioned the spec, the benevolent person who could not hire me put me in contact with an editor. This editor liked the spec; she asked for more. Suddenly, I had deadlines. I sent invoices. I actualized ideas through words. I was a “writer.”
Call it fortuitous timing. Fortunate connections. Kindness. I combined them all and called it luck. And, though immersed in an abundance of it, I, like any characteristic New Yorker, became a miserly folk. Clinging to my stock, whether earned or given or stolen. Believing, like Heidi Julavits, I wasn’t just lucky, but “really, really, really lucky. I would never claim not to be lucky. I am so fucking lucky that I’m terrified of luck. I am terrified it will abandon me.”
In my terror, I obsessed, questioned, and attributed everything to my newfound neurosis. I loathed luck and its power, but mostly, myself; saying I was unworthy and unwilling. Because to question luck is really to question worthiness. A gendered characteristic? Probably. (Isn’t it always?) But unwarranted, considering there only three things, according to Neil Gaiman, anyone needs: to be good, to be kind, and to be on time. Even then, two will typically suffice.
Life ultimately depends not on luck, but on our quality of connections.
And our quality of connections depends on generosity: the quality from where luck springs. In my initial synopsis, it’s obvious: a mutual connection shared an editorial connection. What luck! What generosity! Then, for reasons unimaginable, that luck and generosity continued in succession like dominos tipped in a long line.
The way I once felt—an admixture of guilt, disbelief, and appreciation—is best explained by poet Mary Karr: over lunch with a magnanimous teacher, she asked, “‘How will I ever pay you back for all this?’ And he looked surprised. He said, ‘It’s not that linear. You’re not going to pay me back, you’re going to go out there and take somebody else to lunch.’”
I remember her words when I cling or grasp unbelievingly at luck. I remember generosity—in the traditional sense, sharing what you have (time, money, a connection) with others, but also, selfishly. Sharing your fears, your desires, and your needs. It’s because I shared an unspoken desire with someone I didn’t know, but highly admired, I am writing about luck at all today.
Can we make our own luck? I don’t know. I do know we can choose generosity. From experience, the world seems to open to opportunity from there.