Category: Lucky Testimonials

What Bill Gates has to say about Luck

Even the richest man on the planet acknowledges that luck plays a crucial role in his life. During a recent town hall interview at Columbia University Business School hosted by CNBC, Bill Gates was asked by a student to reflect on what role “pure luck” played in his success. Gates responded:

“I was lucky in many ways: I was lucky to be born with certain skills. I was lucky to have parents that created an environment where they shared what they were working on and let me to buy as many books as I wanted to, and I was lucky with timing. The invention of the microprocessor was something profound, and it turned out that only if you were young and you were looking at that could you appreciate what that meant. And I was obsessed with writing software, and it turned out that was the key missing thing that allowed the microprocessor to have this incredible impact. So in timing, in skill set, in some of the people I was lucky enough to meet…it’s unusual to have so much luck in one life, but it’s been a major factor in what I’ve been able to do.”

–Kevin

The Luckiest Tourists in New York?

The mid-air collision between a helicopter and a private plane over the Hudson River last week was a horrific tragedy, but if there’s a tiny silver lining in all of this, it’s that by sheer luck two other deaths were avoided. Paola Casali, a tourist from Rome, and her 13-year-old son were also supposed to be on the doomed helicopter tour, but arrived just minutes after the helicopter took off. They were not late, as they had been told to arrive between noon and 1pm, but somehow the flight had already departed. As they waited for the next helicopter, news broke of the accident.

Casali told the New York Times that “she felt that it was fate or some kind of divine intervention” that prevented them from being on the ill-fated flight. ”I feel so confused, but but I feel the we are so lucky,” she said.

To read the full story, click HERE. And if you have any stories involving a lucky experience that possibly saved your life, please submit them to The Luck Guide.

–Kevin

(Photo by Rahav Segev for The New York Times)

From Russia With Luck

From Russia With Luck

Feeling Shitty for the Sake of What Might or Might Not Be Luck

It was a Thursday in mid-October, National Boss Day in the U.S., to be exact. But it didn’t matter. I don’t have a boss. And, we were in Moscow, Russia, and hauling ass toward Red Square to see Lenin’s tomb, which closed at 1pm. We needed to see the stuffed and waxed dictator. When we arrived at Resurrection Gate, through which I could see the large expanse (400m x 150m) of Red Square, the high end GUM shopping center on the left and the considerable battlement walls of the Kremlin on the right, it was 12:20, and we had some time to kill.  Just outside the colorful gate, there were people throwing what seemed to be money.  More precisely, there were people taking turns standing on a circular inscribed bronze tablet embedded in the cobbles[1] and tossing the items, most often with a smile and cameras flashing, demurely over their shoulder, as if to say “Not that I believe this works or anything,” or, “Now I can say I’ve done it, on to St. Basil’s,” or “I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, but everyone else is doing it, and when in Russia…”

Being curious travelers, my friends and I stopped and watched. One tall woman with long blond hair took to the plaque in jeans and high boots and smiled before throwing something glinty over her shoulder. Before it hit the ground, and in confirmation that this was in fact money, and not say crumpled tinfoil, several babushkas, who had been standing quietly behind her, suddenly broke out in a flurry of activity and fought to catch the item in midair. When they failed, the group bent down in their coats like a crowd of pigeons over breadcrumbs, scrambling wildly for the tossed change.

This action seemed akin to throwing money in a well, but maybe there was something more beneficent about it than just having a wish granted. Also, there was the problem of the money not hitting the ground sometimes, which, if this had to do with making wishes, would seem instrumental to sealing the deal. If some babushka catches your coin, does the wish not come true? Or, does the bestowing of the wish get reassigned somehow to the babushka who caught your instrument of aspiration, so that she walks off with the tired bookish-looking guy you’ve been eying since you stepped out of Teatralnaya Metro instead of you?

I walked up to Stalin (well a man dressed up like Stalin who was charging to have pictures taken with him) to find some answers. I was wary of getting too close him, afraid that by being in his vicinity, he would charge me for time spent with Stalin, picture or no.  He turned away from Napoleon. I didn’t speak Russian and he didn’t speak English. I spoke to him in Serbo-Croatian (SC), another Slavic language, which I kind of know, and which kind of got me by in some situations in Russia before, barely. We resorted to broken English and what I think are very communicative and effective internationally understood hand gestures.  He said “For love” and lifted his shoulders, eyes and hands upward. “Em…for good…future,” he adlibbed and waved his right hand in front of him as if he were unrolling a scroll. “For luck?” I asked. “Svetno?” (which means luck in SC). He gave me an empty look. I nodded my head as if to say, “I understand, don’t worry,” though I firmly believed that he had either no idea what this tradition that occurred before him every day was about, he simply didn’t care, or he might suddenly become more clear for a few rubles. I almost wondered if someone had made up this tradition as an apparatus, albeit a poorly devised one, for fundraising. But faux Stalin basically confirmed in a vague sort of way the vague notions I had about this tradition: that there’s nothing more interesting to it than tossing salt over your shoulder, except that you can’t make other people move for salt. That’s not altogether uninteresting or unilluminating given that wishing wells that I’m inured to are heavy with neglected coins.

It seemed apropos in a week in which the Dow Jones had its largest and second largest point drop in its history. I wondered whether I should toss money, or join the ersatz numismatists. I decided to toss a kopek, the most worthless unit of money I had on me. It was an utterly joyless moment. I cringed as my friend took a picture of me and had this moment fixed on celluloid. I had no reason for doing it and felt badly about the movement behind me when my kopek sailed through the airspace near Red Square. I didn’t want whatever was the result of this activity.

My friends and I moved on to the tomb. We were nearly turned away at the gate by an officer who told us that Lenin’s tomb was closed, though it was clearly indicated that it was open for another half hour.  Within moments, we were approached by a man who offered to take us on a “private tour” for 700 rubles (roughly $25). This would enable us to get in, even though it was “closed.” I guess this was lucky in a twisted kind of way. Whether or not luck was the result of my flying kopek, I’ll never know. I was divested of my vest at a banya, swindled out of twenty bucks at a small-town bank outside Moscow, and charged $50 dollars more than locals at the Marinsky Theater. But provided that I was also given a ride at night by a strange young girl after being dropped off by a bus in a small town in the black of night, and walked to destinations I was seeking by generous strangers I called our “travel angels,” I was open to whatever odd brand of “fortune” came my way.

–Rozalia Jovanovic

[1] Which I later found out, via Fodor’s, marks kilometer zero for the Russian highway system.

(Photos by Rozalia Jovanovic.)

Lucktown

Stefan Wieser from Cologne, Germany, submitted this photograph of Glückstadt, which literally translates to “Lucktown.” He had these thoughts on luck to share with us:

“When I was having dinner with my sister and my parents a couple of weeks ago (honoring my sis having passed her final exam to complete her time as a doctor-in-training; she’s now a full-fledged internist), my Mum wore a Chinese-style dress and carried a handbag I had once brought her from Shanghai Tang. I forget who had told me about this particular habit then, whether it was the vendor at the store or someone else, but I had slipped a $1 bill into the bag’s side pocket for good luck. And it was touching to find out that even now, some five years or so later, my mother still carries the same dollar bill around with her.

Another lucky charm story: The day before I started taking MY final exam, sometime in 2003, a friend came over to my place and gave me a rusty nail. She said that she had actually wanted to bring me the entire horseshoe (which, at least in Germany, is one of the most popular symbols for good luck), but that she didn’t want to add even more weight to the huge volumes of law commentaries I would have to schlepp all the way to the examination’s venue already. So what she gave me instead was one of the nails with which the horseshoe was once affixed to the hoof. Lucky charm worked quite well for me. For her, however, good luck was somewhat scarce since. Although she went on to find her dream job, working with the Organization Committee for the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, and fell in love with someone, I never got the chance to see her again. When she was diagnoed with kidney cancer, the prognosis was only three to six months. Later, as she had instructed me, I passed on the nail to a friend in Paris, once again for an important exam situation, but – even though the lucky charm worked well in this case, too – received it back afterwards. Obviously the custom of passing on a lucky charm does not exist in France. Well.”

–Kevin

Ganeshagate

If you were paying close attention to Kevin’s blog entry of June 23rd (and I know you were), you would have noticed among Barack Obama’s lucky charms a “tiny monkey,” which, it turns out, is a miniature representation of the Hindu god Hanuman. It ended up in Obama’s pocket the same way many other items have landed there: “I have all these things that people give me—all these different little good luck charms.” The other day the Washington Post blog reported that Bhavna Pandit, a political fundraising consultant, believes that the quickly spreading news that Obama is toting around this little Hindu monkey will go a long way with the Indian American community. The blog entry says that “women and men of [Pandit’s] parents’ generation” are “suddenly taking note of Obama in a way they had not done before.” The article suggests that if Pandit is right, Hanuman may help Obama carry the Indian American vote, which had previously been largely aligned with the Clinton campaign. See the story HERE and HERE.

What’s interesting about this is not just that I’m a big Obama supporter, but the shared understanding on the part of both Obama, the consultant interviewed, and, presumably, the person who gave Obama the monkey in the first place, that Hanuman inhabits a space that is at the intersection of faith and superstition, religion and luck. And I had an experience recently about just this topic that ended on a somewhat less positive note.

I was at CW 11 (a local network) to be interviewed for a short piece they were doing about lucky charms for Friday the 13th. They had asked me to bring some charms to discuss so I had a bag full of things I have collected or been given since I started working on the luck book. They include pennies, a four-leaf clover, a wishbone, a daruma, a maneki neko, a pair of red underwear, an evil eye amulet, and a Ganesha. One of the production guys had taken away the charms to create the table display for the spot and I was sitting in the “green room” waiting to go on. A woman came into the room to inform me, angrily, that she had taken the Ganesha off of the table. She began to explain that Ganesha was a god, not a good luck charm, and that people worship him. I began to say that I know that he is a Hindu god and she cut me off, stating that she was Hindu and that he is “the mover of obstacles.” I tried to say that, as I understood it, he is thought to bring good luck to difficult endeavors but again she interrupted, snapping that I wouldn’t have put a baby Jesus on a crucifix on the table along with red underwear, would I have? I considered this for a moment, thinking to myself “Well, actually I would have but the baby Jesus on a crucifix isn’t considered lucky,” but I (wisely, I think) kept my mouth shut and she stormed off.

The thing that is complicated about writing about luck, or talking about luck, is that it really comes down to belief, and that’s a pretty serious subject, whether it’s shared by an organized religion or an individual. We here at the Luck Guide try to be sensitive when we’re talking about these things, but we don’t always get it right.

I’m not sure if it was a mistake or not to include the Ganesha on that table along with the red underwear. I just know that when I had hit a really rough patch writing the book, I happened to walk by a store where there was a display of Ganeshas in the window. I went in, bought one, and when I got home I put him on the mantelpiece in the room where I was doing my writing. The next morning I woke up and started writing again. I’m not sure what the turnaround was about—religion, faith, luck, the power of positive thinking, or a good night’s sleep—but I suppose I reserve the right to believe he brought me luck, regardless of what anyone else says.

–Deb