The role of luck in success
Frank Lloyd Wright and Hilda Rebay
One of the discussion topics at the conference I went to this weekend was “How to make History”. We considered, among other things, the role of luck. Post-conference, I am now on the trail of Frank Lloyd Wright in New York and Wisconsin. I have a section on the role of luck in success in my late bloomers book—for now, here’s a short illustration from Wright’s life of the way that luck is about more than random chance.
When Solomon Guggenheim decided to build a museum for his art, he appointed Hilda Rebay as curator and director. It was her job to find an architect. At this point, Rebay thought Wright was already dead. One day, a book fell off a shelf and hit her on the head. It was Wright’s book and landed open at a picture of his face. Rebay was a spiritual and mystical person and took this as a sign.
This looks like chance. But Wright had a reputation as an individualist, his ideas of organic architecture complimented Rebay’s Theosophy, and he had written several books. Moreover, his deliberate idiosyncrasy was important. You might think the cape and the hat and the cane and all the pronouncements are performance art, but at some point it’s impossible to separate the genuine from the presentational. He was pretty weird and he leaned into that.
All of these things meant that it wasn’t just a book falling on Rebay’s head, it was something she could take as significant. When she wrote to Wright and began working with him, he lived up to this mystical promise. Wright’s buildings, ideas, egoism, and energetic work habits made an ordinary event into a sign.
We play a crucial role in making our own luck. The more we appreciate that, the bigger the role we may be able to play. “Many complain of neglect who never tried to attract regard,” as Samuel Johnson said.
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