What do you mean ‘good luck’?

Saying goodbye to a friend last night, we were about to hang up the phone when I acknowledged a medical procedure she has scheduled for later this week.  "Well, good luck on Thursday," I told her.  This launched a little conversational reprieve as I explained how awkward saying something like good luck makes me feel.  I can say good luck to a fellow Breast Cancer Blog-Off contestant, I can tell it to a friend before he plays lacrosse and I can even dit bonne chance to a friend going off on vacation, but it’s times like last night when I think that for all the words we have, we really don’t know how to say what we want to.

It reminded me of a discussion that took place on a message board I used to frequent.  Someone there had posted that they hate using the phrase "I’m proud of you" because they feel like saying that somehow gave some credit to the speaker for whatever accomplishment the recipient had made.  She tried very hard to explain her feelings, but I can’t help but think that it was all in vain.  I still don’t really get what she was saying, but she must have made some kind of impression because 2+ years later, I’m still thinking about it.

My discomfort with the use of good luck is much more obvious and understandable.  I hate saying it because I hate that unspoken implication that things may not be okay, the innuendo that luck will be needed if this person is going to survive whatever they must endure.  This first came to my attention in my work as a doula.  Faced with a scheduled induction, or even just giving birth in general, I can’t count the number of times that I saw a mother/father/couple sent off with those quick two words from family/friends/medical staff while all I could do was stand there and think of the long list of much more appropriate and encouraging things to say. 

Maybe I’m a pessimist, but when someone says to me "good luck!", it just brings to mind the obstacles that may be in the way and the struggles I may need to overcome.  Now really, who needs to wish the thought of that on a friend??? 


15 Responses to “What do you mean ‘good luck’?”

  1. robyn Says:

    My Mom always said, “The harder you work, the luckier you are.” I have kept that in mind for many, many years.

  2. Vanessa Says:

    I think the first thing I think when someone says good luck is…”hey, what I am doing is going to take a lot more than just luck buddy.” I was smirking about people telling a woman giving birth good luck…Good Luck? That is cynical if you start to take it apart.. Good luck squeezing that watermelon through that lemon…I think though, people just say it without thinking. It is just a common easy thing to say. Perhaps, it also is so common that it shows how little we are aware of the persons tribulations…Maybe something more caring? I must say, it can be so hard choosing the right thing to say. I usually just tell someone how I really feel about what they are going through and what I hope for the,….But, that can be annoying too..So, back to the question…. What do you say?? Good one!!!! Gets my mind flowing….

  3. Laurie Says:

    I agree with you here though sometimes it’s just hard to find the perfect words. We have to fall back on the old standbys

  4. Sharlene Says:

    It’s funny that you should make this post as I was faced with this issue just yesterday. I took Ava to the Dr’s yesterday and she saw the other female Dr in the office that my Dr job shares with. Obviously pregnant and due to give birth in just a few days, the Dr quickly asked when my induction date was and the reasons surrounding my induction. After quickly giving her the information she had just requested in her questions, she said, “good luck” and then left the room. Already nervous about delivering (you’d think I’d be more calm since this is my third go-around), I stood there thinking about all the possible complications and the reasons I needed “luck” in my delivery. Good thing I have this amazing friend named Carly who is a doula and plans to attend this birth.

  5. Rachael Says:

    I’m with y’all. “Good luck” is not the most appropriate or encouraging of statements. I stopped telling people “good luck” a long time ago and instead I’ll usually say “I’ll be thinking about you” or something like that.

    Whenever I hear people say “good luck” or someone tells me “good luck,” it makes me think of that part in Happy Gilmore when one of the ridiculous characters is doing something so obviously stupid and Happy tells him “good luck with that.” Happy turns away from the guy with a look on his face that says “that guy is f*cked.”

  6. Grady Says:

    The use of “Good Luck” doesn’t always connote the unsaid “You’ll Need It.” There are, however, a couple of instances where “Good Luck” is probably not OK.

    A medical exam or procedure is probably one of those instances unless the person acknowledges that they need luck first. To generalize, “Good Luck” is probably not OK when the subject mater is highly emotional because that is when people take the negative connotation out of it.

    “Good Luck” when playing a game is cool. “Good Luck” when doing something difficult (but the consequences aren’t so dire) is perfecltly OK too. Always wish someone good luck when taking an exam because one would always rather be lucky than good (both would be better, however).

    I reality, I think that “Good Luck” is one of those statements that people say so often that they really don’t look into the motivation behind who is saying it.

    It falls in the realm of “Bless You” when sneezing. “Bless you” implies “God Bless You.” There are many people who don’t believe in God or who have negative reaction to the mention of God that this could be a very offensive statement. Although, I have never known of an athiest (even a militant one) to get offended when someone says “Bless You” to them.

    Anyway, now that I have beaten the proverbial dead horse, I will return you to your regularly scheduled program.

  7. dawnmarie Says:

    I think the saying of “good luck” is often something people say when they can’t find the actual words they want to express. Especially perhaps in a medical procedure when the person saying “good luck” is probably a loved one, and is frightened and may not have words to express those fears, and so they use the fallback, “good luck”.

    As for the woman and the “I’m proud of you” I can hear what she’s saying, but I couldn’t express it myself either.

    I wonder if I made any sense…

  8. Say Rah! Says:

    i don’t believe in luck. i mean, really. what kind of concept is luck?

    i still say “good luck” all the time, like just 4 minutes ago, i wished dawn luck with cleaning her spare bedroom. isn’t it wholly up to her if she’s successful or not?

    same thing with a medical procedure. who wants to think it’s all so completely random that it could come down to a shake of the dice? silly. and not very encouraging!

  9. Kristin Says:

    Funny how words…as simple as that…can have such different meaning to each person. I am sure your friend felt encouraged just by your acknowlegement, knowing that you care enough to say something.

  10. Evey Says:


  11. ~G Says:

    Popping in to read your post for the blog-off. I was going to say…ummmm…good luck. But now I….hmmmm…break a leg? 😉

  12. kelly Says:

    Being the incredibly sarcastic and bitchy person that I am, I usually only say “Good luck” when I’m being a you-know-what. It usually comes out more like “Uh, well, good luck with that” and a smirk.
    I like Grady’s comment best.

  13. Tara Says:

    I’ve often thought the saying was flippant but never thought it also implied that something could go wrong, but good point. How about break a leg? 😉

  14. rocketstar Says:

    “…using the phrase “I’m proud of you” because they feel like saying that somehow gave some credit to the speaker…”

    — What I think she may have meant is that, “I am proud of you”, can denote that “you” have
    surprised “I” in that “I” didn’t think you could do it as “I” have already mastered it???

    “… hate saying it because I hate that unspoken implication that things may not be okay,…”

    — Interesting, I feel uncomfortable saying it because Luck doesn’t exist, it’s an empty gesture even though the speaker does not mean it to be an empty gesture. So I say it anyway. Hopefully they are not insane like I am.

  15. LJP Says:

    I totally agree with you re: “good luck”. It’s a bit like saying “don’t f%@# up”

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