Before an exam, a competition, or a performance, we always say, “Good luck”. But what has luck got to do with it? A bit, I suppose. It’s lousy if you have to do something well on a day when you are sick, or got a flat tire on the way in. But is that enough to make or break you if you’re really well prepared? If you’re doing it right, it really shouldn’t be.

If you know your stuff, you shouldn’t need luck. So, when I’m wishing my students luck, am I implying that they need it to make up for their lack of ability? When I wish them luck I feel like I’m undercutting all of their hard work, telling them that I don’t actually believe in them, so here’s some extra luck. Maybe it will help since nothing else has. I know that’s not the traditional colloquial meaning of the phrase, but that’s where my very literal brain goes with this.

There’s another expression I’ve heard over the years, “Luck is for the unprepared”. Very true, and really the basis of this post, but it is hardly something encouraging to say to someone who is about to put their all into performing some complex task for a critical audience. So here’s my conundrum. I need a simple phrase that shows my faith in the recipient, that is encouraging, uplifting to them, and encourages proper practice and preparation.

The answer came at a Highland dance competition. I was recently volunteering at a high stakes event and was in the position to be a fly on the wall and watch the dancers prepare for their performances. As each dancer went through their paces to get warmed up, costumes perfect, shoes tied with precision, practicing a tricky technical step, it all fell into place.

There is luck, I’ve had it. I’ve been in the right place at the right time. A timely answer or the right helpful person has been right there when I needed them. I’ve had a bad day getting to some performance or test, but kept my head in the right place and just took it all in stride and conquered it all. But is it truly luck? These episodes of luck have happened largely because I had already been putting plenty of thought and energy into the topic. One’s senses become attuned to anything that has to do with the subject at hand so when the slightest related thing is present it is so much easier to notice it and do something with it. Thorough preparation and a strong attitude have been my good luck. The dancers around me worked hard for their success. They, certainly, did not depend on luck.

So here’s a new maxim for you: Be prepared, luck will follow.