Optimising for luck

In The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion there are eight basic attributes that the player can choose to emphasise and increase. 

– Agility: “Affects your total Fatigue, damage dealt by ranged weapons, and your steadiness in combat.”
– Endurance: “Affects your total Fatigue, as well as your starting health and your health gain upon leveling up.”
– Intelligence: “Affects your total Magicka.”
– Personality: “Affects your ability to gain information and better prices from NPCs.”
– Speed: “Affects how fast you move and the length of your jumps.”
– Strength: “Affects your total encumbrance, your total Fatigue and the damage done by melee attacks.”
– Willpower: “Affects the rate at which Magicka regenerates, as well as your total Fatigue.”
– Luck: “Affects everything you do in a small way.”

So, someone seeking to play a rogue-ish character might optimise their character build for Speed and Agility, someone seeking to play a mage might opt to max out their Intelligence and Willpower, and someone seeking to play as a warrior might go for high Strength and Endurance. These seem like reasonable, straightforward, reliable strategies, right? Correct. But what is less reasonable, on the surface, is optimising for luck.

In Oblivion, “Luck governs no skills directly, nor does it boost your skills over 100. However, it affects just about everything in the game. A luck value of 50 means that nothing goes for you or against you. Luck above 50 influences events in your favor. Luck below 50 influences events against you.” So why optimise for it? First, luck grants a hidden raise to all skill levels. Second, any situation that involves a random calculation to determine an outcome is modified by luck. Finally, luck has an impact on the loot you find in dungeons and on dead NPCs. So more luck equates to higher skill levels, preferable outcomes, and better booty. Can you see why optimising for it is a good strategy in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion? Now, how about optimising for luck in real life?

What’s the difference between a lucky person and an unlucky person? Primarily, it’s the consequences of events that are outside their direct control. For example, a “lucky” freelancer will receive unsolicited invitations for work from potential clients. The “unlucky” freelancer will be unable to find work, no matter how charming or cunning he is. Another example: an aspiring athlete who is lucky will be taken under the wing of a good coach, will happen to be playing in the game that his dream team’s scout is present at, and will stumble upon the opportunity to make visible, meaningful, influential choices under the gaze of said scout during said game. The unlucky aspiring athlete, who may be just as good or better than the lucky one, will end up with a tyrant of a coach, he’ll miss important games due to a family emergency or injury, and when the scout is present, he’ll have the misfortune of playing on the side who chose the night before to stay out late and get drunk. See the difference yet? 

Now, allow me, briefly, to elaborate on how to optimise your life for luck, on how best to become a so-called “lucky person”. It won’t take very long because the role luck plays in a human life has a singular cause: other humans.

The world is run by people. It also happens that the things we wish to gain from being lucky—wealth, respect, status, honour, opportunity—are controlled by human beings. So, it follows that the presence of luck is intertwined with the influence of other people. Imagine a non-fiction author who is well-known to a mass audience and well-regarded by his critical audience (his contemporaries in his field of expertise). He will be privy to all sorts of benefits. His self-confidence will be bolstered by correspondence and questions from his readers. This correspondence could be the source of meaningful relationships that are valuable on both a personal and professional level. It’s also quite likely that people who have read his book, and those who haven’t but know what it is about, will send him important and interesting creations; they’ll email over an obscure article, they’ll recommend or send a copy of a fifty year-old book that contains powerful insights, they’ll share advance copies of a documentary they’re filming, or invite them to a discussion of a concept which they’re deeply interested in. All this, amongst other things.

Put another way: the horsepower of your engine of serendipity is directly proportionate to, not how many people you know, but how many people know you. I can give you a personal example here. When I began editing, I talked to someone who makes a living doing it. They were kind enough, first to even entertain my interest, and second to hop on a video call and answer my naive questions. That right there was enough; I was grateful for the time, the opportunity and the answers I was given. So I was surprised in equal measure when the person I’d talked to contacted me shortly after, offering an introduction to someone who, in the end, became both a client and a friend. I’d done nothing to warrant that generosity. It just accrued to me due to the kindness and compassion of someone I’d come into contact with. 

That’s a micro example of this macro-concept, of the idea that people knowing you is what luck is. In fact, when the above episode occurred, I realised why networking is such a prevalent strategy. Not the slimy, smarmy, quid pro quo networking, but the kind of networking that combines a deep abiding love for what you do, and a sincere interest in others who do it as well, or can benefit from it. This kind of networking is more effective than all those marketing strategies we read an endless amount about. SEO, Facebook ads, ploys that seek to game and exploit the structures and communities of services like Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Quora and Stack Exchange? Forget about all that. Instead, make an effort to know people and show them that you care—sincerely, about your work and the people it serves—and soon, those same people will begin to know you, and occasionally, feel inclined to help.