Smarter to be Lucky?

- by Flo Fitzpatrick

“ Smarter to be Lucky than It’s Lucky to be Smart?”

There are variations of the quote, “Smarter to be Lucky than It’s Lucky to be Smart” – usually changing ‘smarter’ to ‘better. ‘ Keanu Reeves in “The Replacements” uses the ‘better’ quote after winning a squeaker through sheer luck but I love the ‘smarter’ quote because it’s a lyric from the song “War is a Science” which is an extremely fun song from the musical “Pippin.” When I type the quote I start singing which makes anything automatically ‘better.’

Is it a true statement? I’m not sure I can answer that. I do know that on those days when I suffer from ‘luck-envy’ (and I’m convinced everyone on the planet has luck-envy days no matter how successful they might be) I devoutly wish I was lucky even if that meant being a complete dunce.

When I was nineteen, I performed in a local production of the musical “Oklahoma!” The director, a man in his early fifties, had danced in a few movies; done a few National Tours. He used to tell me that “Making it in theatre is five percent talent, five percent perseverance and ninety percent luck.” I was young and starry-eyed and convinced he was wrong. I saw the percentages as more like eighty-five percent talent, ten percent persevance, with the last five reserved for luck.

The fact that the man was working as a shoe salesman instead of still dancing on Broadway should have been a warning to me. The more I got involved in ‘the biz’, the more I sadly had to agree he was right. I was watching amazing talents go unnoticed by critics and directors. Watching the ‘luck’ of people being typecast -getting roles for looks rather than talent.

My best friend, Suzan, is one of the finest actress I have ever seen on stage or in film. Her comic timing is superb and her dramatic skills unrivaled. She’s done some bit parts in movies, a few local commercials in New York City, regional plays out the wazoo, shown up as a witness on Law and Order and has a recurring role on the online soap “Gotham.” But she hasn’t made it on Broadway, nor been seen in a national commercial (came close but the advertiser decided pulled finances) or had a featured role in a film or become a regular on any tv crime dramas. Directors and other actors love her. She’s wonderful to work with and she’s beyond professional in her approach to every job. She’s come close to Broadway, close to major movie deals, close to those commercials. But as yet – no sale. We’ve talked about it and our only conclusion is “currently unlucky.” It’s frustrating. It’s annoying. It’s damn depressing.

My own “luck-envy” days now as an author are equally frustrating, annoying and damn depressing. I read about writers receiving gazillion-dollar advances for a first book which immediately becomes a hit movie. I see authors putting their back list books on e-readers and hitting number one within minutes. I read books I personally think aren’t worth giving to my dog as chew toys and grind my teeth noticing their rank on best seller lists. That’s when that evil statistic put forth by my old shoe-selling director creeps into my head. Five percent talent. Five percent perseverance. Ninety percent luck.

That’s also when I have to turn around and start looking at luck in smaller chunks. I’ve been lucky enough to get published – something writers with tons of talent and persevance have yet to accomplish. My first book was noticed by an editor through bad luck on her part; good luck on mine. I was supposed to pitch “Ghost of a Chance” at a writers conference. This editor had the flu and couldn’t make it but graciously extended an invitation to those of us who had had appointments with her to send our mansuscripts in. She promised to read them as soon as they arrived. She did and promptly called me to extend a contract (which I guess could be consider that five percent talent?)

A few years ago, when my second novel, “Hot Stuff,” came out, I was going through a truly rotten time in my life. I didn’t do a single book-signing. No publicity at all. I didn’t care about the release date or whether or not a single reviewer chose to say anything nice. I had no idea I’d been given a Four and Half Gold Star rating from RTBookReviews, then had “Hot Stuff” nominated for RT’s Best Romantic Suspense until another writer gave me the news. About a year after the release, I learned that an independent film producer had read the book and loved it so much she went through Kensington’s option process to get “Hot Stuff” onto the big screen. No, it still hasn’t been made but some major names have read it, liked it and asked to be put on board if it finally gets bankrolled. Even if it never makes it to film, I consider myself lucky to have had the experience of knowing something I wrote created a nice buzz among some pretty important folks who make very successful movies – and I’ve made some good contacts as well.

When those “I’m so unlucky/poor me” days hit me and I want to drive to the nearest bridge, I also try to remember the kind of luck that has nothing to do with fame or fortune or building an empire. Trying not to go all Pollyanna here but I start thinking about that same actress, Suzan, who was smart enough to realize we’d be BFFs the day she met me and the luck I’ve had reaping benefits of loyalty and trust and humor and that indefinable something that cements friendship for years even when distances interfere.

And there’s the luck of being given the gift of having passion for not just one – but two – professions. Theatre and writing. Those are firm, unwavering passions I know I’ll keep in a world where passion is all too often tossed away after six months.

In the end, I guess the question is not so much ‘is it smarter/better’ to be lucky – as it is how we choose to use the talent, intelligence and luck that we’ve been given.

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