Fight One Virus with Another

“This is going to get old pretty quickly,” someone on the radio observed of the stay-at-home order that came down in New York recently.

“What is it about your couch and Netflix that you don’t like?” another questioned.

No doubt we’re going to have to rely on a number of ways to manage our social distancing and isolation over the next weeks. Months? One of the oft-mentioned ways is to stay in touch with family members and friends.

Astronaut Mark Kelly knows something about that. He spent almost a year in the International Space Station. As he reported in a recent New York Times opinion piece:

“Scientists have found that isolation is damaging not only to our mental health, but to our physical health as well, especially our immune systems. Technology makes it easier than ever to keep in touch, so it’s worth making time to connect with someone every day — it might actually help you fight off viruses.”

This idea of making meaningful reconnections during this time of crisis reminded me of a podcast I listened to last fall on The Tim Ferris Show where Ferris interviewed Jim Collins. Collins, the author of Good to Great, Built to Last, and Turning the Flywheel, doesn’t give a lot of interviews, so I felt it was worth listening to their almost 2.5-hour-long conversation.

 “Who luck”

One of the many pearls Collins offered is the concept of “who luck” — the luck of how engaging with the right people just at the right time influences the course of your life’s journey. The “right” people are mentors, leaders, friends, partners, teammates, and teachers.

I can relate any number of “who lucks” that influenced my life. Let’s take Mr. Chuck Walters as an example. Mr. Walters was my high school sophomore-year wrestling coach.

I was slotted into the 180-lb. class even though I weighed only a bit over 160 lbs. at the time. (Oy, have things changed.) We had a top guy at 165 lbs., and no one at 180 lbs., so I was platooned. For most of the season, my back got to know the mat very well. It’s tough when you’re some 20 lbs. down to the guy across from you – or on top of you. But in the last match of the season, I finally wrestled a guy who was wrestling one class up from his real weight just like I was.

And I prevailed. Returning to the bench, I was mobbed by my teammates. That was great, but the real lesson in life came later.

On the evening of the sports awards banquet, a rainy, windy spring night, I was sick in bed with the flu. I remember the doorbell ringing and one of my parents entreating me to come downstairs. There, in the foyer, stood my coach, Mr. Walters, dripping wet from the rain – holding a trophy. It wasn’t one of those “You participated!” trophies, though; it was a trophy that specifically acknowledged me for wrestling one class above my weight for the whole season.

“You did all you could do. You gave it your best. That’s all anyone can ask for,” he said, handing it to me.

That trophy is long gone — a painful story of its own — but Mr. Walters’ effort to personally deliver it has remained with me all these years. I remember the names of maybe three teachers from high school, and Mr. Walters’ is one of them. No need to guess why.

I don’t know if Mr. Walters is still alive, but given my age, I’ll wager he’s not. But I think I will try to find out. As a true “who luck,” he deserves that.

Givers and…

As you reach out to make meaningful reconnections, think of your “who lucks.” But try not to be dismayed if others don’t do the same to you. It doesn’t mean you’re not a “who luck” in their eyes. As my wife pointed out one Sunday over waffles, “There are two types of people in this world: ‘givers’ and ‘takers.’ ” You’re a “giver,” and they’re a “taker.” “Takers” are the people who answer the phone or an email with “Oh, I so appreciate you reaching out!” But they never do.

Hey, you got the chromosome, and they didn’t. (I owe including this thought here to my friend, fellow history lover, and writer, Tom Dietzler. He’s definitely a “giver.”)

But maybe, just maybe, your outreach will nudge someone to make a meaningful connection with another “who luck” in their life.

And maybe that person will reach out to one of their “who lucks,” and that person to one of theirs.

Soon, the act of reaching out and making connections with “who lucks” will spread like…a virus.

Your giving – like Mr. Walters – will have meant something.


Jeff Ikler
Jeff Ikler
The river that runs through my career lives – as teacher, publisher, coach, podcaster and author – is helping individuals acquire knowledge, skills, and self-awareness so they can better achieve their desired results and impact. • As Director of Quetico Leadership and Career Coaching, I work with individuals and leaders to overcome obstacles and make sustained changes in their behavior. • I co-host the podcast “Getting Unstuck – Shift for Impact,” where I bring to light inspirational stories of transformation in the field of education. • I am the co-author of the soon-to-be-published book for school educators, Shifting: How Educational Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change.

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    • It’s one of those sentiments I wish I could claim as my own, but I can only thank Tim Ferris and Jim Collins. That and the fact that I was willing – pushed by the universe? – to listen to their 2.5 hour interview. Pure gold. Thanks for your comment, JoAnna.

  1. If I give myself enough time, Jeff, I’m sure I can list dozens of “who luck” people in my life. Many of them are people who, like Mr. Walters, made a kind gesture, grand or small, that sticks in my memory. And then there are the “who luck” people who made a positive impact on me by treating me badly… I can think of three who inspired me toward important self-reflection – where I might have been getting in my own way.

    I love this article because it triggers so many memories, and I’m grateful for all of them, even the painful ones.

    You are one of my “who luck” people for sure, as is Tom Dietzler. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sarah, you always have such an interesting perspective. I, too, have had a few who (not) lucks, but as you say, they can still impact you and point you toward better behavior. I remember a story about one of your former bosses. It’s interesting to think about when “who lucks” show up. Is it totally by chance? Are we just more attuned at the moment to the possibility and need? Is it the universe watching and pushing someone our way? All I know is that I feel fortunate, very fortunate, the day our paths crossed.

  2. Hey Jeff, I’ve hit the “who luck” jackpot more times than I can count. One of those times was in Denver, in February, 2018 and I “who lucked” into meeting you. The “who luck” denominator for a lot of people has been Sarah Elkins who has taken us from tapping away keyboards into engaging and connecting “for reals.” I feel so honored and touched to have been able to bridge the precipice of talking to someone’s headshot into talking to that person. We are surrounded by difference makers and people who profoundly impact us in so many ways. When we are presented with circumstances that face us today, we have the opportunity to engage in meaningful ways. Yes, we are isolated in many ways, but this pandemic offers us a chance to pause and recalibrate.

    We can do only so much as our imagination and creativity allows. And how cool is that we can do with some of the people “who lucked” into our lives. We can whine about these circumstances or pounce on the opportunity to “who luck” some more. Great stuff, Jeff, as always. Thanks for the shout out, and for all that you’ve given with outstanding pieces like this.

    • “Pause and recalibrate” – from your mouth to everyone’s ears, Tom. Thanks for your thoughts here.

  3. Outstanding, Jeff!

    I can recall a few of those too. Mr. Besser, my junior high principle, WW2 vet and someone I managed to make the opportunity to visit on a frequent basis. Our conversations usually started with “G-d dammit Skogen”, followed by a brief admonishment for my insurrection of the moment. Yet, he would swiftly pivot to history, WW2, and a passing of the lessons he learned there onto a kid who just needed a little structure. Another was Mr. Sletten, a senior high teacher who made history a living experience. And the last was Ms. Martens, a college English professor, who ignited a passion for literature and the written word.

    I love the definition you share for “Who Luck”. Indeed, some interactions can change the trajectory of a life!

    • Great memory, Aaron! The only other teacher I remember from HS – Hey, I am older than you – is Mr Tim Little. He was my world history teacher. Rolled up white sleeve shirt every day. He went on to be a professor of history at Michigan. No slouch. He energized history for me, which in no small part accounts why I majored in it in college. Thanks for your remembrances: G-d dammit, Skogen” made me laugh out loud.

  4. Truly a lovely article, Jeff. I commented on LinkedIn and then something struck me…Mr. Walters, the teacher whose legacy lingered longest in your heart and mind did NOT linger for what he taught you in the classroom, but what he taught you about LIFE from his LIFE.

    • Right, Kevin. It wasn’t the traditional classroom; it was the classroom of life. Funny how which memories stick.

  5. Jeff, your writing is just wonderful. You capture my heart every time. I love this tale of your coach and immediately evoked the “who lucks” in my life. Thank you for inspiring the curiosity and desire to seek them out and let them know how much they’ve mattered in our lives. Just think of the ripple effect that this piece will have! That, my friend, is impact.

    • Thank you, Kimberly. The phrase has stuck with me for months, and has really made me think about various relationships – good and not so good, as our friend Sarah points out.

    • I reached out to my favorite teacher after reading this and we’ve exchanged lovely messages, thanks to you! I hope to see her this summer if the world ever opens up for travel again and I make it back to Montana.

  6. Oh, I love this story and I got chills when you told about your coach’s words!
    True and so timely for me, about reaching out and it not being reciprocated…
    At least we give it a try and you’re right our nudging and connecting, might one day make that taker realize it is through connecting that we become more fully human and beautiful.

    • Laurie — Their loss if they don’t reply. We can only control our own actions. Thanks for your comment and share.

  7. Thanks, Jeff. “The child is father to the man,” right?

    I see so much grace showing up. But I also see cynicism and opportunism. To that second group I quote Louise Penny:

    Who hurt you once
    so far beyond repair
    that you would greet each overture
    with curling lip?