Las Vegas is a city of luck. It is for me because last week I was hit by a car while crossing a street – and I’m fine.
It was just before 5 o’clock and I was headed to the parking garage from my office. A college student came ripping out of that same garage in a white car and did not see me until it was nearly too late.
Suddenly my hand was on the car’s hood and the bumper was pressing into my shin, as if I were casually leaning against it. Through the windshield, I saw the horrified look on the kid’s face as we collided. It was, as everyone says, a moment in which time slowed down. We were two strangers locked in a split second of deep intimacy, life or death, disaster or near miss.
I guess he screeched to a halt, though I didn’t hear it. All I know is that the car did – and did not – hit me at once. I felt my hand on the hood, my shin on the bumper. I looked down at my leg and shook it. I was perfectly fine.
But the story could have had a much different ending.
"I'm not gonna lie,” said the campus security guard who saw the whole thing unfold from across the street. "I shit my pants. I thought you were dead. I'd already called dispatch.
“Somebody,” he added, “wants you to live."
What do we think about luck? Or good fortune, or blessings, or coincidence, serendipity, or synchronicity. Even the words we pick reveal how we orient ourselves to the unpredictable.
Some people approach life like everything is a random occurrence. Others think of luck as an essence that can be influenced or supplicated. For example, we carry rabbits’ feet or develop rituals to sway outcomes. We pray. We create order. We believe it is meant to be. All of it is a dance with the unknown.
In my coaching practice, one of the first questions I ask people is about their spiritual beliefs because it is my intention to respect their perspective and facilitate their growth. It isn’t a coach’s job to change someone’s mind. In fact, we all live somewhere between “everything happens by chance” and “everything happens for a reason.” We are all piecing together a worldview and order.
The entire car incident was over in a matter of minutes, and surprisingly, the only one who saw it happen was the security guard. I got in my car and sat there alone. I remember thinking, how should I feel right now? Is there a better response than my calm? Should I be angry or more scared?
Do I call someone? Do I break down and cry? Do I still go to Target to buy that birthday present?
It turns out I did go to Target. (Maybe I’m onto their next ad campaign.)
This Target is a place where I generally avoid making eye contact with anyone, but not that day. I looked at all of the strangers buying bananas and bedding and Oreos with Game of Thrones-themed packaging. I searched their faces like you do when you’re lost in a new city and need to ask for directions.
“Excuse me, I just got hit by a car but I’m fine,” I wanted to say. “What do I do now?”
It has been years in the making, but after an earnest interrogation of the idea, my personal belief is that we get to write the story of what happens to us at every moment. We are, each of us, inventing who we are and how we navigate the world. Guess what? If you don't like your story, change it.
The rebirth story is the plotline of many big Hollywood movies. It’s also the story of recovery and redemption, opportunity, spiritual awakening, or any transformation.
But with this incident, there was no before and after. There was no “it was like this, and then it was like this.” I simply walked out of my office, assumed the white car had a conscientious driver, and then found my palm pressed smack against its shitty hood.
On the other hand, I will never forget it, so perhaps the “before and after” is still unfolding.
I love the podcast How I Built This with host Guy Raz. If you haven’t listened, Raz interviews entrepreneurs about the companies they built – the rise, sometimes the fall, and the guts in between. The question he asks everyone toward the end of the interview is this: “How much of your success was due to intelligence and skill, and how much of it was due to luck?”
Everyone answers differently but very few disavow luck entirely. Here’s a couple responses:
“Oh man, I have been lucky so many times in my life. I’m lucky my parents had a computer around me when I was a kid, right?” said Anthony Casalena, founder of Squarespace. “There are qualities that I have that have helped me stay here – perseverance, tolerance, and some level of adaptability. In my best moments some kind of self-awareness. But no, I think anyone who possibly claims they didn’t get lucky is crazy.”
“I think timing was great for us – this boutique [exercise] movement started, and people wanted connection and community,” said Sadie Lincoln, founder of ballet studio Barre3. “I’m a teacher, and group exercise became hot again. …So that’s luck in a way, this movement at the right time. But a lot of hard work, and inner work, and paying our dues out in the business world certainly was a part of this.”
“We like to say that there’s a lot of ‘deliberate serendipity,’” said Dave Gilboa, co-founder of the eyeglass company Warby Parker. “For example, we were really lucky to be exposed to our marketing professor who helped us to think through pricing. ...One of the things that we were just straight-up lucky on was timing. Timing is everything. Coming off the financial crisis, the public was looking for ways to save money and a brand like ours resonated even more.”
Nearly all of Raz’s guests speak to the idea that we “make our own luck.” In other words, luck isn’t “dumb” but the result of footwork and preparation. Building relationships. Investing in learning. Persevering and finding creative solutions. Working on the self.
If you think you’re lucky, chances are you’ll experience even more luck. The inverse is also true – if you focus primarily on bad outcomes, then you may miss opportunities.
The advice I’m giving to myself today is to pay attention to this near miss. It needs to register as a warning as much as an opportunity because my life could have taken a sharp turn that day. It always comes back to the lessons we learned in kindergarten, no? Look both ways before you cross the street.
After the car stopped, and my hand was on the white hood, and my leg was pressed against the bumper, and I realized that I was fine, I walked around to the driver’s side door.
“Are you okay?” he said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Are you okay?” I asked him.
“I’m Nate.” He held out his hand and I took it.
He stared at me as if seeing a ghost. I told him to have a good evening. I knew it was a weird thing to say even as the words were coming out of my mouth.
We parted ways.
In the near-term aftermath, yes, I sustained some psychic injuries. I don’t know how long they’ll last, but yesterday I was crossing the street, saw a car, and froze. My heart dropped into my gut. My palms were instantly sweaty.
Then another part of my brain took over, and I kept walking.
I’m Stephanie. I’m a writer, coach, and facilitator. I work with individuals, teams and leaders in creative, entrepreneurial, and nonprofit fields to improve communication, find a true purpose, and deepen connection and meaning. If you enjoyed this post, share it with a friend! And I’d love it if you would subscribe to my email list, below.