Legendary Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn purportedly said the following:
The harder I work, the luckier I get.
Now whether Mr. Goldwyn uttered this line is beside the point.* The point is that someone saw a connection between effort and good fortune—those who sat on their arses the least were the ones who got visited by luck the most.
Does Hard Work Attract Luck?
For most of my life I was a slacker. I had no stomach for hard work and was perfectly happy with mediocrity. The results of this mindset are not too difficult to surmise. I was an okay son, brother, friend, mate, neighbor, athlete, student, and worker. I was also an okay money manager. From a financial independence perspective, though, I was a basket case. Yes, I paid my bills on time and had a balanced checkbook. But I had way too much debt, no emergency fund, and no inkling that I should be saving for my retirement.
But then around 18 years ago something happened. A co-worker at my dysfunctional government job was complaining about updating the street dictionary. We worked for a highway department and every street we maintained was in a Word document (aka the street dictionary). Whenever streets were assigned to a new maintenance crew, someone had to insert the street dictionary diskette into the A drive, fire up Word, and then scroll through every page in the document to locate and edit the affected streets. Not fun. The street dictionary contained thousands of streets—organized alphabetically, not by which crew maintained them.
I told my co-worker that there had to be a better way. So we tracked down a computer consultant working for the engineering department and asked him what he thought. He told us that we needed to put the street dictionary into a database. He then gave us a quick tutorial on Access 97.
Now don’t ask me why, but for some reason I was intrigued with Access. I told my co-worker I had Access installed on my home computer (it was part of the Office 97 Professional suite) and I could transfer the street dictionary to Access in my spare time if he would like. My co-worker thought that was a splendid idea.
So that night I went home with a printed copy of the street dictionary under my arm and proceeded to create my first database. I then spent the next month entering every street from the street dictionary into that database. I also purchased a couple of books on Access and learned the basics of querying and reporting. When I was finally done with the transfer, I showed my handiwork to the highway commissioner and I became an instant hero. Our street dictionary could now be updated in seconds with a simple query. We could also now supply our maintenance crews with printed street dictionaries of just the streets they maintained, not every street in the entire municipality.
Soon after my street database became operational, word of its success—and value—spread. I became the go-to-guy for any office staffer who needed a database. With each passing month I found myself shoveling less asphalt and formulating more queries. Eventually, the powers-that-be decided it was better to have me in a cubicle than in the field. My days of shoveling asphalt, cutting grass, and picking up dead animals were over.
Learning Access wasn’t difficult. Any well-manicured ape could have done it. But learning it was work, and I made the effort. And I was lucky enough to work for an outfit that lacked initiative and a familiarity with Access databases. Had I worked for a more functional outfit—one that possessed an energetic workforce and a data-driven culture—it’s highly unlikely I would have become a database “guru.”
This was not the last time my willingness to hustle was rewarded with luck. Soon after I began my transformation from asphalt-guy to database guy, I decided to get a master’s degree in public administration. The only program I could afford was at a college in Manhattan called Baruch. But driving into Manhattan from Long Island after work was not an option. Traffic and the cost of parking were (and are) insane. To make Baruch a viable option, I needed a place to live that was close to the Long Island Railroad (LIRR). This brought me to Long Beach, a small city on the south shore of Long Island. I bought a one-bedroom condo for $70K in 1998.
For three years I put up with the indignities of the LIRR (crowded trains, drunks, breakdowns, track changes, Penn Station, etc.). In 2001, I finally got my MPA. I also got something infinitely more valuable. I got a wife. The future Mrs. Groovy was a fellow student at Baruch. But wait! There’s more! Mrs. Groovy had a penchant for home improvement. Over the next five years we worked our tails off remodeling our entire condo. Our remodeling efforts, in turn, coincided with the decision of Washington and Wall Street policy makers to do away with lending standards in the housing market. The ensuing housing boom they unleashed proved to be very fortuitous for Mrs. Groovy and me. We sold our one-bedroom condo in 2006 for 340K and walked away with over a quarter of a million dollars.
So here’s what my decision to get a master’s degree ultimately reaped: a soulmate and a life-altering chunk of money. Would lady luck have been so kind to me if I chose to sit on the couch and slurp beer after work rather than trudge into Manhattan? It’s conceivable. But it’s highly doubtful.
How to Make Luck a Frequent Visitor
I’m not going to bore you with additional stories about how hustle brought me luck. All I’m going to say is that Mr. Goldwyn nailed it. Over the past 18 years I’ve worked hard to become a better person and many good things have followed. It’s as simple as that. If you want to become a luck magnet yourself, do the following.
Pick five or six things that you can do every day to improve yourself—your whole self, not just your financial self. They don’t have to be monumental things. Just simple things. And you don’t have to spend hours doing them. You can spend as little as five minutes on each of them. The point is to just do five or six constructive things every day. Make them as habitual as your morning coffee.
Here are the six things I currently do.
- Clean something. Mrs. Groovy and I are very tidy people, but there’s always something that needs cleaning. So every day I look for something that is quick to attract yuckiness. Today, for instance, I wielded my cleaning fury against the shower door. Tomorrow I have my sights set on the microwave.
- Practice Spanish. I use two applications to hone my Spanish-speaking skills: Rocket Spanish and Duolingo. I’ve only been going at it for two months now, so my Spanish is very weak. Other than annoying my brother’s Hispanic girlfriend with inane questions (¿Quieres una naranja?), I can’t do much with my budding bilingual skills. But that’s okay. It takes me out of my comfort zone. Makes my brain work in unfamiliar ways. And who knows? If I stick with it, if I achieve a modest degree of fluency, I might do some great things with my Spanish tongue one day. I might even become the Señor Dinero Bigote of the Latino community.
- Exercise. The easiest exercise in the world is walking. Mrs. Groovy and I walk two miles during lunch every day. I also like to subject my muscles to a little resistance. So every day I do at least 20 pull ups, 50 pushups, and 100 squats.
- Work on personal finance. Mrs. Groovy and I are big fans of financial podcasts. Most of our lunchtime walks are accompanied by a Stacking Benjamins podcast. But every now and then we’ll queue up a So Money or a Radical Personal Finance. I also devote at least an hour a day to reading something on personal finance. I’m currently working on Carl Richard’s The One-page Financial Plan. And, then, of course, there’s the financial blogosphere. I swear it’s an addiction. Poring over the clearinghouse websites of Real Clear Markets, Yahoo Finance, and Rockstar Finance is how I usually get my daily fix.
- Read something non-finance related. A little moral training never hurt anybody, so every day I read at least one page from the Bible. I’m currently on chapter nine of Proverbs. I also read a lot of history. History keeps me humble and exercises my gratitude muscles. The last two history-related books I read were The Girls of Atomic City and Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa. Read either one and you will see just how freakin easy we have it.
- Do something nice. Honor is more important than money. So every day I do at least one nice thing. I hold a door open for Mrs. Groovy. Or I call a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while. Or I make a server’s day by giving him or her a 30 percent tip. You get the idea. There’s no shortage of ways to spread kindness if you’re determined to do so.
Trying to do five or six simple constructive things every day seems like a daunting task. And it certainly can be. I’m extremely lucky (there’s that word again) when it comes to time. I don’t have kids and I work from home. But I still have days when I have to scramble to hit every item on my list. So how can, say, a single mom with three kids and a full-time job tackle something so ambitious? Well, for starters, there’s no law saying you have to do five or six constructive things. You can pare it down to two or three. Or even one if you’re really pressed for time. Also, it helps if you can knock out some of your things before your day even begins. Check out the book The Morning Miracle. Author Hal Elrod is a big proponent of addressing personal development in the wee hours of the morning. He suggests getting up three to four hours before you normally would. That is probably too extreme for most. But the concept is brilliant. I get up about two hours before I shower and I easily take care of half my list.
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. The secret to becoming a luck magnet is pretty straight forward. Get off your arse and build a better you. There’s no downside to this strategy. Remember, if luck fails to be a more frequent visitor after six months to a year of constructive activity, you can always return to your couch-sitting, t.v.-watching, beer-slurping ways.
* Some believe the quote was never uttered by Mr. Goldwyn and is a take off on the following adage published by Coleman Cox in 1922.
I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.