I wish you bad luck this year

A short time after Christmas, Wall Street Journal writer Bob Greene caught up with US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and asked him about a commencement speech he gave in June to his son’s ninth grade graduation ceremony at a boarding school in New Hampshire.

Setting aside the preposterousness of a ninth grade commencement, Roberts’ message was one that resonated strongly with me.

He wished the kids he was speaking to bad luck.

Chief Justice John Robert. Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS

Specifically, he wished them bad luck with the hope that the bad luck that they experience will be useful to them in learning and growing as individuals.

Speaking to Greene, Roberts said that he crafted the message to reflect upon the harsh realities that everyone faces in life, to lend some perspective on how to properly learn from them.

“From time to time in the years to come,” Roberts said in his speech, “I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.”

Indeed. Justice can often times — particularly to the privileged — be an exercise of academic imagination. Righting wrongs, or pursuing justice broadly can be robotic, reading a chart that tells us how much and in which ways to proportionally punish people for transgressions. The importance of serving the wronged depends highly on compassion, which is itself tied into your own ability to understand what it is to be wronged. A smart message.

“I hope that you will suffer betrayal,” he continued, “because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.”

A funny thing to wish betrayal on someone, but no less important.

It is very easy to betray a trust. Feeding one’s own selfishness is a trap that too many people feed into. There can be no greater lesson for the benefits and importance of loyalty as the sting of the feeling of betrayal.

But it was the wish of bad luck, that struck me most.

“I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.”

I am a firm believer in the power of hard work, and of talent. There is not greater indicator of future success as time spent in mastery. You will be successful, by and large, if you put in the work to deserve it.

Yet a truthful person will realize that randomness, chance, and yes luck play a hand in any success or failure.

I consider myself a reasonably successful person, yet at major turning points in my life — particularly life changing career moves — luck has played a major part.

Not the type of luck that hands me something I don’t deserve, necessarily. But the luck of knowing exactly the right person who can turn you on to an opportunity that you are ready for. The luck of absurd timing, that gives you an opportunity that you are able to pounce on, but would not have been able to at another time.

That kind of good luck can easily feel like the universe handing you something that you deserve and that you are entitled to. Unless, of course, you have been the unlucky beneficiary of bad luck.

When you see something slip through your fingers because of bad timing, or because someone else was put in a position better than you, you appreciate your good luck more. When you lose something important to you because things inexplicably and through no fault of your own fell apart, you come to value that random chance when it bounces your way.

All of these concepts, to me, are related to a belief in the power of failure. Indeed, perhaps the power of negativity.

I have failed a lot in life. A lot. And it is those failures that taught me the things that I credit with the successes that came after them.

Carelessness resulting in loss taught me to be careful. Laziness resulting in an embarrassment taught me the value of hard work. Volatility and anger that caused an ill word to be spoken and a relationship destroyed taught me maturity and control. Passivity and complacency gave me results I was unsatisfied with at work, which taught me tenacity in pursuit of a goal.

It is the things that don’t go right in our lives that shape us into who we are, and result in positive, introspective reflections that then turn into self improvement.

So at the dawn of 2018, I have only one wish for you. I wish you bad luck.


Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.