On Luck and Wisdom

Luck and Wisdom aren’t just RPG stats! They’re guiding principles for how I try to live as a creative professional.

There’s what I call the Donoghue-Macklin concept of luck, which started as something Rob Donoghue said (italicized), with my addendum added (underlined):

Luck is largely about paying attention and having the will to act.

Getting work in this world isn’t like winning the lottery. It’s about seeing what’s around you and responding to opportunities that constantly present themselves in your life. I was “lucky” to meet Paul Tevis at GenCon SoCal 2003. And by luck, I mean he and I kept in touch, and talked about projects, and started plotting. Same with Fred Hicks, Brennan Taylor, Josh Roby, the various people in my software engineer career, etc.

All of these were chance meetings…that I observed were awesome and acted on. Chance meetings, coincidence, all sorts of happenstance happen around you all the time. Take the time to see it. Make the effort to act.

That’s luck. Wisdom is something I’ve been thinking a great deal about lately, as a number of people been applying the word “wise” to stuff that comes out of my mouth. Every time it happens, I just shrug and think “eh, it’s just me remembering a place where I fucked up” or “I just picked that up from someone else wiser than me.” I feel like I’ve hit this cusp where I’m just starting to be wise enough to know that I don’t know shit. Recently, I told a friend:

If I am at all wise, it is because I neither ignore nor obsess over the mountain of failure I have created in my years.

Man, I have failed a lot at a great deal of things personally and professionally. And I will continue to. I endeavor to, as little as possible, fail the same way twice. But each failure is an opportunity to learn, to adapt, to better understand myself and the world and people around me. If I ignore them, I will not truly be walking forward, but in circles. If I obsess over them, I will not be walking forward, for I will not walk at all. Instead, I must be mindful of them, and turn my failures into lessons, and lessons into allies.

There’s one failure in particular that I often look back on. Some time in 2008, there was a bit of nerdgame around the indie concept of ashcans that I took part in, because (as is often the case) I felt like I had a unique perspective as someone who tried the process and felt it flawed. So I posted about it (though I can’t find it anymore to link to), and I used something like “ashcans are a cancer on our community” — hyperbole that I thought would actually disarm some of the more pointed bits of my post, because I mean fuck, who actually thinks that sort of thing literally?

Surprise, surprise, I was misread. And got called out for it. I continue to be indebted to Remi Treuer for his taking the time to talk to a man he called “the most hateful guy in our community.” We talked on the phone, and I tried to use my inflection to indicate what I really meant. He called me on it still, because I wasn’t in control of my inflection on the Internet. He showed me where I greviously fucked up. And since then, I have taken “don’t post hyperbole on the Internet” as a rule I work hard to keep in mind. That is one of the many failures in my life that I have learned from.

I suppose that specific bit is a combination of luck & wisdom, given that I saw an opportunity and acted on it. Still, with this week, I feel like it’s a good thing to remind myself of.

– Ryan

P.S. Yes, this isn’t the post some of you were expecting. Sometimes, on occasion, I am wise enough to actually walk away from Internet toxicity.


2 Responses to On Luck and Wisdom

  1. And yet “cockbite” is one of the largest terms in your tag sidebar…

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Yup. Some things get grandfathered in under “personal brand management.” ;)

      – Ryan