I hate Beginner’s Luck.
Beginner’s Luck is the way the universe makes raspberries at your ego.
I didn’t have beginner’s luck as a kid. I didn’t have any kind of luck. I was the type of kid who never drew an ace in a game of War, but I could count on getting the Old Maid. I got the only word I didn’t know in the spelling bee. The church bazaar had one of those fishing games where you hooked a prize. Four friends in a row got a pound of fudge. I got a kazoo. I shouldn’t have bothered the rest of the neighborhood with Eeny-meeny-miny-mo. I should have just said, “I’ll go last.”
I blame my parents. My parents occasionally enjoyed going to the horse races. But they were not lucky. Many years ago, upon returning from their vacation in Florida, I asked my mother whether she had a good time.
“We hit a horse,” she said.
“That’s great!” I said. “How much did it pay?”
“We hit a horse,” she repeated. “With our car.”
So coming from those genes it’s no surprise that I didn’t have much experience with beginner’s luck. That all changed when I hit thirty.
I was on a business retreat in Virginia. One of the activities was a golf tournament. I like Golf, but it is not exactly my sport. (No sport is my sport; but that’s another post.) So I felt a rare stroke of luck when it rained the whole trip. Our event planners quickly improvised a replacement challenge – a pool tournament.
Well, I had never played pool before. But there was plenty of beer involved, and someone showed me how to hold the cue. I figured I would just relax and at least pretend that I was a good sport.
But the most amazing thing happened.
And I thought, Holy crap. Maybe I’m a natural. Is there an Olympic team for this?
So the next time I had an opportunity to play pool, I put a little money on it.
Ha Ha on me.
About ten years later I was making some excellent progress in my career. Slow, steady incremental rungs on the ladder of success.
Our humongous corporation had just been acquired by an even humonger corporation. And I had to present our Long Range Plan to the top strategic executives. I ran into a co-worker friend as I walked into corporate headquarters. We discussed the future of the industry for just a few minutes in the elevator. My friend opened his briefcase and handed me a Goldman Sachs report. “Take a look at this – it tends to support your premise.”
I had a chance to scan the report before my meeting. I chanced upon a chart with data that backed up my somewhat radical, certainly unconventional forecasts.
The new owners were dubious when I presented my plan. And extremely condescending . One of these top guys (and aren’t they always guys?) said, “I don’t think Wall Street would agree with you,” in the tone of voice where you can almost hear the unspoken words, “Little Lady.”
And I pulled out my borrowed research tome and tossed it on the conference table with a thud.
“Goldman Sachs agrees. Page 74.”
And my CEO – who also now had these smug new bosses – gave me a nod and a covert little smile for showing up the officious jerks.
And I was a Vice President by the end of the month.
Ha! A promotion based on a fortuitous elevator ride. Beginner’s Luck in the new corporation.
I forgot I worked for Stress & Holler, Inc. Being a vice president – except for the money, of course – sucked.
Ha Ha on me.
I was an English major in college. I wanted to write. But I got a little sidetracked. By a desire for food.
So I abdicated my literary dreams and got an M.B.A. And worked as a financial executive for the next twenty-five years. And I really didn’t mind. I was good at budgets and analysis and made pretty good money. I had (and still have) no complaints.
But sometime after I turned 50, I began to think about how I used to love to write. And I started to miss it. I took a few online courses. Memoir Writing was the first one, and I remember my older sister wondering what I could possibly write about. “Memoir?” she asked. “No offense, Nancy, but we had the nicest sweetest childhood imaginable. That would make a pretty boring memoir. Who would want to read about playing hopscotch and taking a ride in the car?”
Surfing the net one day, I stumbled upon a call for entries for a planned book of essays. Marlo Thomas’ The Right Words at the Right Time, published a few years before, consisted of a hundred short essays from the very famous, each one recounting how someone’s wise words at a pivotal moment had made a profound difference in the renowned person’s life. All the profits from the book went to St. Jude Children’s Hospital – and it had been a best seller. So Ms. Thomas was planning a second volume, this time with non-celebrities.
And I had that kind of story. And I was certainly a non-celebrity. I scribbled my essay into a tiny notebook while on a plane to a business meeting. Back home, I typed it up, cut it by 50%, and sent it in.
And about a year later, I got a phone call from Marlo Thomas’ editor. “We loved your story,” he said. “It’s going to be in the book.” And it was! I was published! And in a book that was on the best-sellers list for a couple of weeks.
So there, big sis! People DO want to read about my sweet but boring life!
This is EASY, I thought. The very first thing I ever submitted is a best-seller. I have a real talent. (But I think I will start making things up, so actually interesting things will happen in my stories.)
And over the next several years, I did it. I wrote a novel.
I’m a novelist. I can retire and write full time. I’ll live on my royalties.
Ha Ha on me.