That the Irish might not have a monopoly on luck…

Friday is March 17th and as with every year, with it comes Saint Patrick’s Day; a holiday draped in an array of symbolism. From Irish pride and green-themed debauchery to shamrocks and good old fashioned luck, this holiday is soaked in much tradition. The Irish pride part makes sense- Saint Patrick was a 5th century Bishop from Britain who is widely credited for spreading Christianity to Ireland. He would later be canonized (following his purported death on March 17) as the primary Patron Saint of Ireland. The green part makes sense- green in the Irish flag and the nickname of Ireland as the Emerald Isle (though original tradition supposedly held that blue was the primary holiday color). The debauchery part definitely makes sense- traditional Catholic protocol allowed for the day-long celebration of the Feast of Saint Patrick to be the one day Lenten restrictions on consuming alcohol were lifted. The Shamrock part makes sense- Saint Patrick folklore includes stories of Patrick as a Bishop using the three-leafed clover to demonstrate and teach the Holy Trinity.

But what about the notion of luck as a central theme engrained within the tradition of Saint Patrick’s Day? The luck of the Irish, as it’s so commonly known, harkens back to the aforementioned shamrock, whereby legend holds that the four-leaf clover symbolizes the melding of Celtic Druid beliefs as the fourth component of Irish faith (combined then with the Holy Trinity of Christian doctrine). Soldiers in the Irish military would wear the shamrock on their uniform as a sign of Bishop Patrick’s blessing. Thus this symbolized that God was watching over the soldiers during battle, and would protect them against all foes. God was luck, and luck was on their side. In modern times luck represents something very different across a vast array of circumstances. At one far end of the spectrum lives the random low-probability positive outcomes which are often referred to as luck (winning the lottery, for example) and at the other end is the co-worker who is promoted over another equally-qualified colleague. In either example it would certainly appear that some people are just luckier than others.

What I noticed this week is that luck is not simply something that happens, but rather it’s a product of our reactions. First, the far end of the spectrum where such infinitesimally-small odds of hitting the jackpot make it so unlikely and therefore make doing so seem so very lucky. Even this example requires the beneficiary to put himself in a position to win…to react to life’s needs and enable himself to have even the slimmest shot at success (by buying a ticket at the exact right time and place). Perhaps even choosing that exact time and place of purchase can be considered lucky, but continual dissection of diminishing circumstances just leads down an infinite path with no definitive conclusion. Next, the colleague who gets promoted instead of the other deserving candidate. How often have we said, “wow, she always gets so lucky.” Branch Rickey (past Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager, famous for promoting Jackie Robinson into the Big Leagues) once said, “luck is the residue of design.” Both the promoted colleague and the co-worker left behind are the architects of their respective career designs. Even if done so unknowingly, something in each design left a residue which sealed their fates. Looked at another way each instance of luck stems from our reaction to something or someone. Perhaps we react to our recent financial hardship by playing the lottery, or maybe by subtly highlighting our job credentials during performance review season. Either way we have no guarantee that our reactions will breed success, but at least it provides us a chip to toss onto the roulette wheel. By reacting we’ve intervened. And by doing so we’ve intertwined a bit of our own design into fate’s plans. From that point on we wait and we hope. Put another way, a little Irish luck this year on Saint Paddy’s Day might just be the shadow cast by your reaction, with a little help and illumination from fate (the angle of the sun).


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