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Stephen Mason Ph.D.
Stephen Mason Ph.D.
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LUCK...A Matter of Attitude?

Did Your Mother Make You a Success?

I always worked hard and tried to do the right thing and yet I never got to be successful. All my life I saw others who were lazy and not as smart getting ahead. So now I have to wonder if life is anything more than a matter of luck?

How often have you heard just such a lament? There are many people - often with good reason - who believe that luck is a gift from the gods. Some are favored with more than enough while others are doomed to go without. Of course, this is nothing but magical thinking and yet, let's be honest, the notion has occurred to most of us.

Who you're lucky enough to know, for example, counts for a lot. Just look at the number of sons and daughters of Hollywood stars who go on to become Hollywood stars. Of course, it's often said that those kids have enormous talent and that while their parents got them in the door, after that it was up to them. Perhaps that's true. Then again, how many of society's top spots actually demand anything extraordinary in the way of intelligence or talent? Aside from sports figures (an area where ability is obvious) one could argue that many celebrities are famous mostly for...being famous. Are the politicians who represent the nation really the best and the brightest? Are the financial geniuses that made their fortunes before the market crashed really that clever? Are best selling authors really the most brilliant writers? Let's really be honest. How many of the best and the brightest, the cleverest and the most brilliant are nothing more than...the luckiest of the lucky?

A new book - OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell - says it's all luck. Because the Beatles worked long hours in a long string of dead end nightclubs, they were well rehearsed when Ed Sullivan called. And can Ed Sullivan himself be considered anything but an example of blind, stupid luck?

And here's another example of lucky timing in a universe that just doesn't care: Who is Pete Best?

He's probably the unluckiest drummer of all time. He left the Beatles in 1962 and was replaced by Ringo Starr. Sir Ringo is now a Knight of the Realm while Pete has a mere mention in Wikipedia. What's more, history is awash with similar examples of those who seized defeat from the jaws of victory and vice versa.

Yet life is not all a matter of luck. There are those who come out ahead so often as to strain statistical law. For that reason, it's been suggested that some of what's called luck is really a matter of attitude and personality. Some psychologists believe that one's potential for success (a person's SQ or Success Quotient) is already firmly established by age ten. It seems to be a function of childhood experiences and parental rearing practices. Warm accepting mothers who were at ease with physical expressions of affection, raised children with the highest SQs. Fathers, who were themselves successful, made the best role models...but not until their children were young adults.

A series of experiments designed to measure SQ included one that involved piling up toy blocks in a column. Parents were told the average number reached by other kids and asked to predict how many their kid would stack before the column collapsed. If the average was 10, it was best to have a mother who said 12 and then hugged her kid if he managed that number but also hugged him (for having tried) if he didn't. This served to eliminate any acquired fear of failure. Parents who said 8, a number less than average, held their sons and daughters back. Interestingly enough, children who had already demonstrated that they could pile 10 in earlier tests, fell short of the mark after hearing the adult's lower estimate. But by far the worst parenting came when (usually the father) predicted 20 when the average was only 10. In this case, the child was practically doomed to failure. This was especially so if, after the column collapsed short of the extravagant estimate, the father then physically/verbally berated the child for the failure.

So it appears that a combination of talent and luck and early childhood rearing techniques are all involved in how well one does in life. One out of three can get you to the top but how well you'll do once you arrive and how long you'll stay there is almost always a function of all three.

About the Author
Stephen Mason Ph.D.

Stephen B. Mason is a psychologist, a former university professor, syndicated newspaper columnist and radio talk-show host.

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