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Good luck? Bad luck? No luck?


This Saturday, thousands of Chicagoans will take part in and watch the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, while thousands more will catch a glimpse of the Chicago River as it turns green in honor of the holiday.

All over the world, people will wear green clothes, drink green beer and speak of “the luck of the Irish.”

By that, of course, they’ll mean “good luck.” But at the same time, millions of Americans will complain about their own personal “bad luck.” Sadly, that includes many small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Decades ago, there was a time when even I claimed that a spectacular business failure of mine was due to “bad luck”…

A little over 27 years ago, I turned my law school hobby – a fantasy sports game – into a business. I provided top-notch products and services and continually implemented aggressive and innovative marketing strategies.

As a result, I easily trounced my competition, quickly growing my company to the largest in the fledgling industry within just three short years and attracting an offer of $1.75 million for 45% of the company.

Although I turned down that offer (a failure story of its own, for another time), my company continued to double in size every year. On the outside, the future looked extremely bright.

But I was naïve in the ways of business, especially when it came to sustaining success and creating personal wealth. I suffered from a shortcoming typical of entrepreneurs: I was excited and energized by the startup and growth of my business, but had little patience or skill when it came to managing it once that initial thrilling stage ended.

After reaching my goal of becoming the industry leader, I had failed to set a new goal and instead started to become bored and complacent. I no longer jumped out of bed every morning with the fire and energy I had while growing my business, and even “put my feet up” a little and started to coast, putting my business on the road to ruin. Just while the Carter Recession of the late 1980’s made doing business tougher than it had ever been, I was responding by putting in less and less effort.

Then came a tailor-made excuse for the complete failure of my business: the 1990 Major League Baseball owner’s lockout.

While the labor dispute was settled in time for a full season to be played, it wiped out virtually all of Spring Training, and with it my biggest revenue month of the year – and my only real period of income between October and August. This “unforeseen stroke of bad luck that was totally out of my control” (as I conveniently called it) fatally crippled my business, and within a year it was gone for good – taking almost all of my personal possessions with it.

I retreated into a world of self-pity and blame, firmly believing my own excuse whenever anyone asked me the reason for the disintegration of my business. It took a while – and some skillful mentoring – for me to be able to admit that while the lockout certainly hurt almost every baseball-related business, it didn’t deal a fatal blow to every fantasy sports game company. That meant I had to accept personal responsibility for my own personal business failure – and stop chalking it up to “bad luck” or any other outside cause.

The recent troubled economy of the past three-plus years has given virtually all small business owners a similar – but similarly flawed – excuse for any business failing.

But to claim it’s all just a case of “bad luck” is to ignore the incontrovertible truth:

At its core, success or failure is up to every individual.

A sign of wisdom and maturity is to accept responsibility for one’s own success or failure, and not to do what the under-performing majority do, which is take the easy way out by shifting the blame for their lack of success to any believable scapegoat, including “bad luck.”

In my role as an author, speaker, consultant and leader of a group of nearly 200 local small business owners, entrepreneurs and sales professionals, I’ve found that weak businesspeople are quick to blame the overall economy, the government, their industry, their mentors, their partners, their customers, their advertising representatives. Basically, any available target will do – as long as the blame isn’t placed on the businessperson him- or herself.

But the “top 5%” of businesspeople choose to take control and responsibility for our own success or failure. No matter what the circumstances, we refuse to blame bad luck, the economy or any other easy target. Instead, we adopt a “do whatever it takes” attitude and resolve to overcome the same circumstances that the vast majority of people simply give in to.

The current challenging economy is neither bad luck nor good, neither obituary nor opportunity in and of itself – but only what each of us makes of it.

What will you choose to make of these times? What story will you tell two decades from now?

One Response to Good luck? Bad luck? No luck?

  1. Alberto Reply

    April 16, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Yo Steve,

    At times it seems as if we entrepreneurs are an army of one.

    The more I learn, read and discover by doing, the more I realize why so many people suck at success.

    You are going to work hard anyway, so while there are few that are working hard at making things happen, I see 99 out of a hundred working hard at making excuses.

    Same hard work but different result for.

    And since we have to work hard anyway along side working smart, we might as well work at making things happen.

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