A couple years ago, Caitlin Burke won a Wheel of Fortune trip to Grenada. But she didn’t win like normal:
Burke solved a 27-letter, 7-word puzzle with only one apostrophe showing (she had it solved in her mind before she asked correctly for the ‘L’). And it’s not just the fact that she solved it, but the speed.
Did she cheat, get lucky, or experience an unrepeatable moment of inspiration? Was this a con, a fluke, or a miracle? Or might there be some other explanation for what longtime host Pat Sajak suggested might be the most impressive solve in his Wheel of Fortune tenure?
Within days, Chris Jones from Esquire wrote a piece documenting the process Burke used to navigate the labyrinth. Turns out that Burke has been watching Wheel of Fortune for years, not as some gaming hermit isolating herself from the outside world, but as an engaged fan who intentionally developed a process of elimination based on the English language and WOF tendencies.
Said Burke: “I really believe that luck is preparation meeting opportunity.”
It’s easy to watch happenings like this, whether dominant game show contestants or Olympic gold medalists or rocking musicians or influential preachers, and to admire the moment or the gifting or the sheer good fortune of it all. It’s easy to be inspired in a way that separates the object of our inspiration from the normal categories and processes of life.
But most often these moments are more about the history than the highlight, more about the backstory than what we find on the front page.
It’s not the place of wisdom to wait for the wheel of fortune to turn our way, or to look at those who accomplish great things and simply hope for their muse. “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap” (Ecclesiastes 11:4). Better to keep your feet on the ground and your hand to the plow; better to till the land, sow the seed, and let the sky do what it may. Because typically, the cumulative effect of hard work, over time, in the same direction, is a full harvest.
Surprising opportunities are great. Consistent preparation is better. And if someday the two meet up, the latter will enhance the former. If we’ll just check behind the curtain and glance backstage, Caitlin Burke can teach us that.