My nickname when I was on the seventh-grade basketball team was Jelly. In college, some friends called me Big Mitch and others Mitchell A. Even now, they still do. In West Virginia, a client called me Einstein.
A couple of years ago, I randomly started calling myself Mr. Lucky. Why? I was just feeling good about things and starting to become more aware about life, rather than just living it. I kinda liked the sound of it. I didn’t mention the name to anyone except my wife until I started writing this book. I never imagined that I would write a book, let alone a book about my life. I’m a pretty quiet, reserved person, and the last thing I ever want is to be the center of attention. The thought of sharing not just stories about my life, but many of my private thoughts almost stopped me from writing altogether.
But I like to help people. I always have, even though I was never conscious of it. When I think about this now I am somewhat surprised, since my attitude has generally been that we’re all responsible for ourselves. If you want something, just do it, I would say. Figure it out and make it happen. I hadn’t thought about how, for many people, that is easier said than done. I definitely haven’t always been the most compassionate person in the world.
Take, for example, the most ordinary lucky day of my life: December 2, 1985. I was in south Florida on a business trip when I realized that “Da Bears” – the 12-0 Chicago Bears – were playing a Monday night game against the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins were trying to protect their legacy as the only undefeated NFL team in the modern era. Every player from the Dolphins’ 1974 undefeated team would be at the game, and every diehard sports fan, myself included, wanted to be there as well.
I had to go to that game; but I didn’t have a ticket. I called my dad to see if he could help. Nope. He told me he was going to the game with a buddy of his and wished me good luck. In those pre-cellphone days, he gave me his section, row, and seat number, hoping that at some point we would meet up.
I went to the stadium, knowing that with a yearly salary of barely over $20,000, this would be one of the toughest tickets I had ever scored in my young life. Although I had always managed to find a ticket, I was having no luck that night. I tried everything and nothing was working. And then I looked down, and what do you think I saw on the ground? Yes: a ticket to one of the most-hyped Monday night football games of all time. Now mine.
Exuberant, I entered the stadium and found my dad. He was shocked but very excited to see me. After I told him how lucky I’d been to find the ticket, he told me that his friend would be a little late to the game. Amazingly, his friend never made it so I actually got to sit with my dad the whole time while we watched the Dolphins win 38-24 in a game that ESPN ranks as the third-best Monday night game ever. My dad and I had been to at least a hundred sports events together – including the 1979 Super Bowl where the Steelers beat the Cowboys 35-31 because Jackie Smith dropped a perfect pass in the end zone from Roger Staubach – but this game was truly special.
Only recently, though, did someone point out to me that my spectacular luck on that day was due to someone else’s misfortune. Wow, I never once considered that. Oblivion at best; at worst, a failure of compassion. I can only hope that the person who lost that ticket was able to convince the box office they had purchased it and was allowed to take their seat – because it would then be their luck that I wasn’t in it, due to the absence of my father’s friend.
And so the universe arranges itself, doling out the good fortune and miseries, not always in equal measure, but always mysteriously. Most important, I have learned we all have a choice in how we view the cards we are dealt and how we play them.
Ironically, compassion or no, I have been successful helping people, both personally and professionally. I now recognize that I am very happy when I am helping others and feel tremendous satisfaction and pride after doing so. In business, I was able to help organizations grow faster and more profitably, and fortunately I was able to make a good living at the same time. In the end, there was even a big payday.
During the last few years, I have been mentoring two terrific young men who were both homeless shortly before I met them. They were part of a program that provided reduced-cost housing and required them to be full-time college students and work full time simultaneously. I have been privileged to be part of their lives and to have them in mine. We have helped each other to be better than any of us thought we could be.
In each case we started out slowly, getting to know one another. I didn’t know it at the time, but came to understand that both of them had seen many people come and go in their lives; in particular, their fathers. They were cautiously assessing how much they wanted to share with me, and in some ways I was doing the same. Gradually the conversations grew deeper, until now we talk about everything.
Later they told me how amazed they were that every week they would get that text from me, asking if this time or that was a good time to get together. I didn’t realize how much they valued that I just showed up. I listened, I genuinely cared, I asked questions, I made suggestions. They probably didn’t know how happy I was to spend time with them and how much joy I got hearing about what they were doing and accomplishing. I am proud to say that one of them is a successful realtor, who graduated with an MBA and at age twenty-three bought his own home. The other young man is equally phenomenal. He is a senior in college, working two jobs that fall on opposite ends of the social spectrum – one at a luxury hotel and the other at a foster care agency. Both young men are focused on giving back to our community.
Watching these men flourish has been so joyful and fulfilling that I wanted to do more. As I tried to figure out how I could help more than one or two people at a time, I made the decision to write this book. The name Mr. Lucky isn’t intended to describe my life. I don’t feel lucky that I had a very successful business; I feel fortunate. Like most successful entrepreneurs, I had a little luck along the way, but despite my self-bestowed nickname, I attribute very little of my success to luck.
Thomas A. Edison’s statement best describes what I believe were the keys to my success: “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are: hard work, stick-to-itiveness, and common sense.” You can’t teach common sense, so I will try to inspire you with stories about work ethic; entertain you with my persistence; and educate you with simple but powerful ideas.
In case you think my life has been a bed of roses: Clearly there is nothing lucky about having your house burn down or your dad die of cancer or any number of the heartbreaking and challenging stories about my life that I will share. But in almost all of these cases, I considered myself extremely lucky because things could have turned out a lot worse. For now, let’s just say that if I were a cat, I would definitely be running out of lives.
I have never been the smartest guy in the room, not even close. As you read my book I’ll prove it to you over and over again! However, whether you are the smartest person in the room or someone like me, always willing to work hard and continually focused on making things better, I believe that the lessons I share in this book will help you to be more successful in your career and happier in your personal relationships and life. That, of course, is the ultimate success. I say this being, well, lucky enough to have had success both personally and professionally.
My hope is that I can inspire you with a story that has a less than auspicious start. My SAT score was 600 on the quantitative portion and 450 on the verbal section. Thankfully, I was accepted into the University of Florida in the fall of 1978 because my dad was a resident of Florida and the school hadn’t become super-competitive yet. My grade point average in the second quarter was point nine. And no, that’s not a typo: .9 percent – basically the equivalent of a D. Also, when I finished graduate school I interviewed with, and got rejection letters from, at least twenty-seven companies (yes, companies sent out letters back then).
When I was hired by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta in May of 1984 as a Bank Examiner after getting my MBA, I am fairly certain my salary of $18,500 put me in the bottom 10 percent of my class. I may even have been the lowest-paid graduate from my MBA program.
Not the fastest start, but I did bounce back from that very, very fun second quarter of freshman year and graduated from the business school with honors in four years, and then earned an MBA in Finance from UF.
If that hasn’t inspired you, hopefully this will. From 2000 to 2007 I not only experienced and survived enough tragedy for an entire lifetime, but I had more professional success than I ever dreamed possible. First, the tough parts: My mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer at age sixty-one and died in less than a month. Three years later my house burned down, and my wife, daughter, and I lost 85 percent of our belongings. The following year my dad died of cancer at sixty-seven. Then we found out for ourselves that there is absolutely no factual basis in the theory that bad things happen in threes, when my talented, brilliant, and funny brother-in-law committed suicide three years later.
While many people would have found these challenges overwhelming, I am proud to say that during that same eight years I started a business, successfully grew and sold it for a lot of money, and retired at forty-seven years of age. All of this is secondary to the fact that I married my best friend twenty-nine years ago; my wife Dawn and I have a wonderful daughter whom we adopted twenty-four years ago; and today we are happier than ever.
As a fifty-nine-year-old man who thinks he is going to live for another forty years, I know how crucial it is to have a purpose. For me, it’s helping others, and nothing makes me feel better. Fortunately, I’ve spent the majority of my career as a consultant so I had the chance to help others virtually every day. Mentoring has given me an even greater, more meaningful opportunity to contribute to society.
Over ten years have passed since I retired, which has provided me the opportunity to reflect on my life. On one hand there is a whole lot I would do differently. On the other hand, I am now beginning to understand that it’s the tough times and the challenges that shape who we are and provide opportunities for growth.
I have come to realize that we have all faced many difficult situations, and how you deal with the tough stuff that life throws at you is crucial. I don’t let these situations drag me down. No matter how bad they seem at the time, I immediately pick myself up and keep on going. In the past I have done this automatically and unconsciously by taking action, usually before I have even felt what really happened. Once the grief or challenge begins to sink in, I am already moving forward. Persist first; come to see the positive side as it reveals itself, even if it takes a while.
I have recently begun to figure out that “stuff’ is always going to be heading our way. Sometimes it’s gonna be big stuff, but more often it will be little nothings, testing us to see if we truly understand what’s important. We always have a choice as to how we perceive every situation and how we react. Was my house burning down the worst thing that ever happened or was I the luckiest guy in the world? That’s easy – classic Mr. Lucky – as my family and I are not only alive, but I have life lessons to share from this and so many challenging experiences.
In fact, we are all, or all can be, Mr. or Ms. Lucky. I now understand that Mr. Lucky is not a person but a worldview, one that I have learned to appreciate as I reflect on my life. We can all consciously practice counting our blessings rather than bemoaning our misfortunes – and in so doing, increase our joy in life.
I talk a lot about my work history in this book. Certainly anyone who is starting or building a business, thinking about customer service or marketing, or just working a job will find useful advice here. While you may be tempted to view some of the stories I tell as a business memoir, the lessons I convey from my professional experiences have universal applications as well.
In one I will describe how I turned “the stupidest idea I ever heard” into the foundation of the business I sold for millions. In another I will share a common-sense sales strategy that most business people will pooh-pooh. This simple idea will make your life better and your business much more profitable.
The other lessons reveal the lifelong benefits we can all derive from experiences we’ve had, if we learn to think about them differently. As you read and reflect, I hope you will try reframing some of the experiences you habitually think of as negative in your life to focus on the positive you can derive from them – the wisdom, strength, resilience, or compassion you have gained; the people you have met; the wonder of it all.
Cumulatively, the Mr. Lucky experiences I write about here add up to a philosophy or even a spiritual practice of “how to be.” In short, this book is about how to build a life – a rich, satisfying life – from whatever circumstances you may face. Hopefully, what I have learned and will share will help us all handle whatever comes our way with more love, compassion, and grace, for ourselves, our loved ones, and for the world around us.
And so in this spirit I offer this book. We all have a story to tell, and I hope that reading mine will help make some of your challenges a little more manageable, and your successes even sweeter. Most importantly, I hope I can give you the knowledge and courage to believe that you have everything you need to make your dreams come true – and to find your inner Mr. Lucky.