Funny how life works. Michael Lewis was a graduate student going nowhere fast when he happened to have been invited to some dinner and then happened to be seated next to the wife of a big shot at Salomon Brothers. He obviously made a good impression because the wife more or less coaxed her husband into giving him a job. And that job happened to involve derivatives, which at the time were still considered exotic financial instruments. A year and a half later Lewis was earning hundreds of thousands of dollars. From there he wrote a best-selling book called "Liar's Poker" and went on to become a preeminent financial writer. Here's the point: Without that initial break, it's possible that none of the above would have occurred (or would have occurred a lot differently). Here's what he told graduates at Princeton (via Business Insider):
The book I wrote was called "Liar's Poker." It sold a million copies. I was 28 years old. I had a career, a little fame, a small fortune and a new life narrative. All of a sudden people were telling me I was born to be a writer. This was absurd. Even I could see there was another, truer narrative, with luck as its theme. What were the odds of being seated at that dinner next to that Salomon Brothers lady? Of landing inside the best Wall Street firm from which to write the story of an age? Of landing in the seat with the best view of the business? Of having parents who didn't disinherit me but instead sighed and said "do it if you must?" Of having had that sense of must kindled inside me by a professor of art history at Princeton? Of having been let into Princeton in the first place?
This isn't just false humility. It's false humility with a point. My case illustrates how success is always rationalized. People really don't like to hear success explained away as luck -- especially successful people. As they age, and succeed, people feel their success was somehow inevitable. They don't want to acknowledge the role played by accident in their lives. There is a reason for this: the world does not want to acknowledge it either.
Said Lewis: "You owe a debt, not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky."