Be a wave catcher

There’s a lot of luck involved in success. I think it’s Gary Player, the legendary South African golfer, who came up with the famous line: ‘the more I practice the luckier I get.’

It’s a good philosophy to have. Rather than blaming others for our lack of success, it gets us working hard and persevering in the face of adversity. I love the Sherman brothers’ song from the brilliant (but overlong) 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Roses of Success. Work hard and take responsibility for your own life, and don’t blame others. When it goes wrong, pick yourself up, lose the self pity (it’s ugly and reeks of entitlement) and have another crack.

But there does seem to be a lucky element to most success stories. Good timing, coincidences, being in the right place at the right time, and making calculated gambles that pay off.

In my own work life, I was in the right place, at the right time, to establish myself as a wine writer. I had a technical background (PhD and working as a science editor), I worked with words (I was an editor), and I loved wine (I was a wine geek). Along came The Internet, and most of us thought it was cool but we never realized what an impact it might have on our lives, within such a short time. I started discussing (and learning about) wine on bulletin boards, and began a hobby website (one of the first on wine), and it wasn’t great, but it was good enough, and I then began to get commissions to write, and a book deal (Wine Science). I also landed a newspaper column. These were waves, and I caught them.

I think the right attitude to have is to be a wave catcher. You prepare yourself. You get in the water wearing a wetsuit and with a surf board. You have already spent some time learning how to surf. Now all you need is a wave, and when one comes along, you catch it. You can’t make the wave happen. And no matter how much you want to surf, and how good you are at it, without the appropriate wave, there will be no surfing. Don’t punish yourself if there are no waves: that’s out of your control. But you can be competent and prepared, and waiting in the sorts of places where waves tend to happen.

That’s the practice. Practice and you’ll get luckier. But you still need some luck.

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