Thursday, April 4, 2013

Luck and the Marshmallow

I don't believe in luck, not much anyway.  I used to have a track coach in high school that used to say in his speech before our meets, "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. You've been preparing all week, now is your opportunity." If we succeeded, we were not lucky, but because we had worked at it.  In any competition, unless dice are involved, very little has to do with luck. It actually has to do with training or practice. Life is a lot like this. Life is more like chess than it is like craps.

I have a great situation for employment at the moment. I work for one of the greatest entities on the planet, a world renowned organization known for intellectual prowess and philanthropy. I work out of my home, telecommuing.  I enjoy my job, I have no commute and I am paid well. I get a little annoyed when I am told that I am lucky.  I have this position from working extremely hard for a very long time. I have worked many jobs lots of them with low pay, long hours and on off-shifts. I approached everyone of them as a learning experience even working the loading dock and coaching high school track. They were an opportunity and a stepping stone to something better. I put myself through college by working these crappy jobs sometimes with obnoxious bosses and awful working conditions. I partied some in college, but not as much as others. I always had a paper to write, a program to code or a textbook to read. I have always had my eye on a long-term goal as opposed to short-term gratification. Now, here I am. I am goals met, feeling gratified. So don't tell me that I am lucky. Prior to my last job, I had been laid off four times in a row. I saw the layoffs coming so I left my last position for my current position, an organization known for having a lot of money and not laying anyone off.  That wasn't luck but planning or as my coach used to say "preparation."

The concept of long term goals over immediate gratification isn't a new one, but it is obviously not for everyone. According to the Marshmallow Study, it is something we learn at a very early age and it is one of the biggest determinations of success.  The study, done at Stanford University in 1960's and 70's, took 32 preschoolers (16 of each gender) and offered them a treat now or a treat later (15 minutes). The treat would be a pretzel, a marshmallow or a cookie. The kids were told that if they waited for the treat later, they would get two. They repeated this a few time increasing the reward and the time interval each time. They made note of which students choose what and followed up on them years later.  By 1990, the delayed gratification students had a higher average SAT scores. Later follow up showed the delayed gratification groups to have better police records, lower BMI's, more financial success and education.  The delayed gratification group scored better, as an average, in every aspect of life.

I hope there is a student reading this right now, who is in the middle of writing a difficult paper or struggling with some a difficult concept in school. The student is taking a break from their studies and on the net looking for a distraction.  He/She is looking out the window at the beautiful spring weather and thinking of hanging it up. They have a friend urging them to go to throw a ball around or head to party or bar.  I say to you: hang in there, it will pay off. You get plenty of marshmallow later if you don't eat it now. Luck has nothing to do with it.

No comments: