What brings us luck?

An artist meditates on the blessings that can emerge from a creative and passionate life

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"We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don't like?"
-Jean Cocteau

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You're so lucky!" an old friend in college used to say to me. I never knew exactly what she meant. Was there something between the lines here? Was she saying, "You're lucky and I'm not," or "It must be luck, because you sure haven't done anything to deserve it," or "The gods like you better than they like me"? Or was she being gracious and saying, "You are fortunate; you are blessed"? If I was lucky, where did this luck come from? Didn't I have a part in it, too?

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"When God throws, the dice are loaded."
-Greek proverb

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Luck is one slippery subject. You don't get very far into a conversation about it before you start talking about personal belief systems. When we ask for "luck," we're asking to be blessed. But whom are we talking to? Whom Who do we expect to shine the light on us or find us a great parking space? Does luck come as a reward for a deal made with God or the devil? Is it engraved in the lines on the palms of our hands? Who exactly is displeased if we break the chain of a feel-good e-mail that's been shadowed with a threat? Does the movement of the sun, moon and stars engineer our fortune? Are we asking our guardian angels to intervene in our lives? Is it karmic payoff or the simple law of probability?

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They call you Lady Luck
But there is room for doubt
At times you have a very unlady-like way
of running out.
-"Luck be a Lady," from the musical Guys and Dolls

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I think that there's a trinity at work in our lives, in our destinies, in our "luck" and our blessings.

First, there's the God part, and that encompasses all that's invisible, mysterious and way beyond our understanding or control. We can't tame the God things. We can only hope for courage and presence of mind when they present themselves - in the myriad of forms they take.

Secondly, there's the raw material of our lives and our gifts. Some people are born into utter poverty, with a straw mat as their home. Others enter a luxurious and pampered life. One personality emerges with a gift for understanding tidy rows of numbers. Another grasps life through a paint brush.

We each have to contend with the bottom line of the truth of our particular gift and circumstance. Third, there's our part. Our part is where we take a step in creating our own luck. This is the little point in the universe that we can illuminate.

It's about how we take what we've been given, and conduct our lives.

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"I find the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have."
-Thomas Jefferson

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In a recent story in the newspaper, the headline read, "Beefing up: State chili cook-off competitors bring tasty recipes - and luck." Referring to how a winner is chosen, former Texas state chili champion Ray Calhoun said, "It's 99 percent luck and 1 percent chili."

Now, I know nothing about chili competition, but my guess is that in that 99 percent, there are some things that the winner did to bring himself "luck" and the accompanying trophy.

Maybe he had a personality that engaged the judges or a presentation with dashing flair and showmanship. Maybe he had a colorful costume that set him apart. Or maybe he gave away free beer with the chili. Consciously or unconsciously, that chili winner knew what it took to be in a position to be "lucky" in a chili contest. "Luck" is often associated with gambling. But the most high-stakes professional gambler would be out of business if he relied solely on "luck." He knows his game, inside and out. He plays against the best to sharpen his skills. He dresses to psych* himself and the person across the table. He wears his game face. He knows when he can win, and when to bow out. He has acutely refined his ability to read the opponent. And he respects the concept of "luck" - he asks for it to be with him.

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"I've always thought you've got to believe in luck to get it."
-Victoria Holt

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Last year, a young man was killed in front of my home, and it seemed so random. It made me sad, but it also made me think about how lucky my own life has been. And it made me question whether there's anything that we can really do to ensure grace in our lives.

Yet: There's a line in a gospel song that says, "If you take one step, he'll take two." In other words, if I step up and engage with life, work and people, there is a return to me. I don't know if God is pleased when he sees us take a step or if it's a law of physics. But when I engage, things happen.

Oprah Winfrey asks guests, "What do you know for sure?" I'd have opposing answers. "I know I have no control. I know I have some control." There's no control over many of the big blessings - or blows. But I know that there are steps we can take to set the stage for our lives. It's in the way we choose to see, the way we understand the world, and in the words we articulate.

We can look at ourselves and imagine our best. Somehow, mysteriously, we change. Our landscape is shifted. Elements that are within us and available to us cultivate our luck. This luck takes us to a place where we can say, "I've been fortunate. I've been blessed."

Whether talking about health, love or work, when I ask for luck, I'm hoping that two will hear - God and the best part of me. It's the part that can say, "Yes, I'm ready. Shine on me."


Several times when I've been invited to talk to art students, I've spoken about "How to Be an Agent in Your Own Luck." For my purposes, I don't define "luck" as piles of money and mountains of stuff. The "luck" I'm referring to brings an open heart and the lifelong survival and growth of our guiding passions.

With the understanding that there's so much we can't control, here are some elements I've found to be helpful in, directly or indirectly, cultivating good fortune.

  1. A place of your own. You need a retreat. It can be a room of your own, a corner of the garden, the kitchen table at night, or the floor of the attic. It's where thoughts emerge, where it's quiet enough to listen, and dreams fill the air. It's where you feel safe to let your crazy and beautiful schemes take form. It's where your work is done. Make your special place.
  2. Discipline and hard work. Whether you're a plumber, a manicurist, a politician or an artist, know your area. Strive to learn more, to dig deeper, to serve more knowledgeably and justly, to express more eloquently. This takes time, dedication, and your determination to work through setbacks, failures and disappointments.
  3. Good timing. This is like a ballplayer with the timing and talent to know exactly where to be to catch a pop fly. Know when to be cautious, when to take risks. Develop the skill of being in the right place at the right time. When amazing opportunities or challenges take you out of your comfort zone, know what time it is. It's time to step up and show what you've got.
  4. Your innocence. When you're fearful, return to your first memories of your love and joy in what you do. Don't let the world bend your enthusiasm or faith in what brings you satisfaction. Believe that your actions make a difference - intimately and publicly. Innocence arrived at after a lifetime of "reality bites" is a powerful motivator. It's a hard-won, stubborn decision to hold on to what's good.
  5. Respect for your gift. This is nuts and bolts. Take care of your body and your mind - the tools through which your gift is delivered to the world. Eat right, get enough sleep, avoid harmful behaviors. Recognize when your resources feel depleted - it's time to fill yourself up with beauty, nature and great ideas.
  6. Gratitude for what you have. Acknowledge all that's good in your life - your health, money in your pocket for lunch with friends, the joys of loving and being loved, the satisfying accomplishments. Coveting what someone else has is a dead end. We each have to find our way to peace within our own skin.
  7. Challenging, stimulating, amusing and inspiring people. Surround yourself with the people you love and who love you. Create your own "Who's Who" of characters who brighten your life and who comfort and understand you. Allow enough room in your heart for someone new and unexpected to enter. Don't fear those who may be pushing you to find your best. Most important, know yourself.
  8. Winning personality. Don't be a jerk. Jerks can't escape the small world of their own wants. Stay engaged and connected with those around you by showing a genuine curiosity and interest in what they do. Don't be shy about talking about what you're up to. Nurture your inventive, nimble and creative mind so that when problems arise, you have a solution. As a recent headline in The New York Times read, "If life hands you lemons, get a good-looking juicer." Cultivate your sense of humor - it empowers you with the most disarming weapon against a loaded situation, and it will lighten your own heart.
  9. Effective presentation - of yourself and your work. Whether captivated by a Broadway tune, an artist's portfolio, a kindergarten teacher or a cosmetics salesperson, the audience loves a showstopper. It's OK to refine your showmanship and strut your stuff. It displays your utter joy and confidence in what you do and who you are.
  10. Desire. Desire can get watered down by disappointments, by others who would have you fail and by the passage of time. Whether it's a desire for wisdom, love or professional or personal survival, hold on to your desire as the nuclear engine of your life. Desire is the fire that burns within. It's your need that has to be met. It's your willingness to accept the unknown and pay the price.
  11. Courage. Speak your voice. Know that what you bring to the table has value. Question what you need to do in order to enlarge your sense of personal integrity. Let your will to "do" be greater than your need to complain. Great people aren't just those who win political or athletic pursuits or whose work ends up on the walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A father shows "greatness" when he protects his child's friend from a bully.
  12. The power of lucky charms. We might think that we carry that lucky charm or wear that lucky necklace as though it's some kind of antenna to pull the luck vibrations our way. But that's not it. By carrying something that we consider lucky, we're admitting our need. We're recalling a moment when we felt blessed. And we're asking everything that's invisible and mysterious to give us the help we seek and to bless us once again.


:: One By One By One
:: One Bullet
:: In Mom's Eyes
:: Luck
:: A Sea of Sound
:: Diary of a Confetti Engineer
:: What Did He See From the Mountaintop?
:: Faces of a Plague
:: What turns compassion into action?
:: Today Marks the Beginning

If you are interested in scheduling Karen Blessen for a speaking engagement or workshop, please call 214-827-3257 or e-mail kblessen@aol.com

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