I consider myself to be truly lucky.
You might not expect me to feel that way, given my background. I grew up very poor; sometimes we couldn’t afford food. My mom was a single mom who worked as a waitress, so raising two children was a challenge on a very limited income. The area where I grew up was in rural California and the majority of the kids from there never went to college – in fact many never even finished high school.
In many ways if someone was to place a bet based on demographics alone, no one would have guessed I would become a VP at 27, and have several advanced degrees – the cards just don’t fall that way.
But, throughout my life, I’ve encountered people and opportunities that gave me the chance to grab on and level up to the places I wanted to go. Here are just a few example (you can skim over these if you are just interested in the useful parts of this post – I just liked the list so much I had to add it in)
- My next door neighbor was like a second mother to me, time-sharing me with my mother and who set an example of a strong, courageous woman, who broke every mold of what a “woman” should be. I grew up watching her fix carburetors, manage the money, tear through science fiction books, and drive tractors – there was nothing she couldn’t handle.
- One of my teachers in school would let me sit in the faculty lounge, protecting me from the other kids who teased me mercilessly, and while I was there taught me about computers and how to play bridge – giving me an early interest in computers and games.
- I had a college professor who saw my potential and opened doors for me – for internships, research projects, and even job interviews.
- When I got fired from my first job, I found another one 2 weeks later – which was a good thing because I hadn’t yet learned the value of an emergency fund (and wouldn’t have been able to make ends meet).
- I had an amazing boss at Amazon who continuously recognized and rewarded; which was especially good since I made the mistake of *not* negotiating my salary and therefore had compensation that was much below my peers.
- People that I have met were willing to take a chance on me, even when I didn’t have the credentials or pedigree to justify the risk – from consulting projects to job offers, so many people have given me opportunities.
- My BFF always makes time to talk with me and listen to my problems. He has proofread more blog posts, articles, and proof of concepts that you can imagine (and never complains). And even though I don’t see him often I know he is always there for me. (Come on, someone who will read and review everything you create and never expect anything in return? How could you get any luckier? Thank you. )
- I finally managed to find a date, and a husband. And he is one of the only people who can put up with all my quirks; from eating too much candy, insisting on working on sunny summer days, to being completely unable to sit through a whole movie. I don’t know how I managed to find someone as patient and supportive as him.
I think the concept of luck is tricky for a lot of hard-working professionals, especially in technology, to completely grasp. It’s not logical. It’s easy to over-simplify, and think, “Why would it be better to be someone who lucks into something than to be someone who is dedicated and works hard to be the best?” For people who have always strived for high achievement, the idea that being “lucky” would matter more than striving to be the best doesn’t make any sense.
That’s not exactly how I see luck, though. I know that honing your skills and working hard are important, but being able to find “lucky” opportunities and put yourself in a place to make the most of them matters too. Opportunities and unexpected connections happen all the time, but whether you are in a place to notice them or take advantage of them is another issue.
Ignoring an opportunity that comes your way through happenstance – whether it’s a next door neighbor, an internship, a new company – is something that happens all too often, and can be the thing that ultimately stands between you and where you want to end up.
No matter if you’re a kid growing up in a tough situation or an executive longing for that next step, luck is all around you – you just have to notice it.
A Certain Kind of Luck
Throughout history, prominent entrepreneurs and business leaders have attributed their success to luck. Warren Buffett famously pronounced that much of his success has been based on luck – that he was born into a time and a society where his financial savvy actually meant something was not something he could control, but which still enabled him to achieve wild success, he considers quite lucky.
I can’t even count how many times I would consider myself lucky in that way too.
This kind of luck depends not just on a lucky thing happening to you, but also identifying it, acting on it, and using it as a tool for growth. This aspect of luck is almost entirely internally produced.
Having a “lucky attitude” is a key reason for being the kind of person who can identify and pursue situations where lucky opportunities come your way. A lucky attitude is all about believing in luck – if you’re looking for opportunities, you’ll see them when they come your way.
Self-created luck is a huge factor for achieving success. What I mean by this is that having the most advantages does not necessarily correlate to the highest levels of success; the greatest success usually goes to the people who are willing to keep their eyes open, take a risk, and pursue an opportunity they think could take them where they want to go.
Where do you want to go?
Setting the Stage
Becoming lucky is all about creating a life where luck has the opportunity to knock on your door. Being dedicated to your work is one way to find success, but so being open to the idea that success can come your way in many forms. Stay positive, and you’ll find that positive things come back to you.
But – you can’t just wait for opportunity to knock.
A lucky mindset is also one in which you are always looking – thinking about “what could be next?” and never getting comfortable where you are now. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a great job while you’ve got it, but always take time to consider where you could be doing more. If you’ve got the career you want, have you considered working on your personal brand? If you’re in a field you don’t enjoy, are you making connections people who are doing what you want to be doing?
Keeping an active, open mind is essential for making your own luck. Every situation is influenced by how you frame it, and any situation can be one that leads to personal or professional growth, as long as you’re looking for it. Don’t wait for a situation to force you into a “what’s next” moment; always know what you’re working towards, and how you want to get there.
Your Lucky Network
If you’ve ever read my other writing, you know I believe the power of relationships cannot be underestimated. Being a person that people think well of has great power, and is often more important than the smartest, fastest, or most-skilled person in the room.
Building a network of people who you respect and admire, and maintaining that network, is perhaps the biggest ingredient of building your own luck. Opportunities come from people; the more people you have pulling for you, the better your chances of having someone think of you when they hear about a great job.
Surround yourself with greatness. They say you are the average of your 5 closest friends – who are you spending your time with? I learn so much from the people around me. This means choosing jobs where you can work with the smartest people; that is a big part of the reason I love working at Decide - everyone is brilliant.
Be on the lookout for new members of your network all the time. While having people in mind who you’d like to meet and have coffee with can be helpful, it’s the idea that anyone can have something to offer that helps you build a meaningful network.
Don’t Let Bad Luck Stop Your Good Luck
People who are lucky don’t encounter good luck exclusively, but they handle bad luck with grace and positivity. No one who has accomplished anything great has done so without facing a major setback, either from an outside source or through a mistake of their own.
Lucky people can take any situation and learn from it. If you’re too busy focusing on what you lost and how poorly you did, you’ll miss the incredible learning opportunity a failure can turn out to be. Don’t let stress overwhelm you in the face of difficulty; instead, choose to rise to the occasion. More often than not, if you keep looking for solutions and ways to improve, you’ll happen on to a great idea.
Trust me, life is never just peaches and cream, but each rain cloud *can* have a silver lining – you just have to find it.
Trust Your Gut
Listen to your intuition when you feel yourself drawn to an interesting person at a conference or hear about a peer’s new business venture. If it piques your interest, it can’t hurt to find out what’s going on.
Lucky people follow their guts, and it usually leads them somewhere they never would have gone if they’d only weighed out the rational pluses and negatives of the situation. Not only does trusting your instincts make you feel more relaxed, because you’re doing something that feels right, but it also can open your eyes to something you might have written off as unpractical.
Don’t get caught up doing mental calculations over every situation. If your instinct tells you it might be good, give it a chance.
Lucky people are nothing if not proactive. Thinking of being “lucky” in the traditional sense implies a kind of passivity; if you’re lucky, good things will happen to you. But the real lucky folks are active and making good things happen!
Richard Wisemen, who spent years studying what it means to be lucky, had this to say about lucky versus unlucky people:
“Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives. For example, one person described how he thought of a colour before arriving at a party and then introduced himself to people wearing that colour. This kind of behaviour boosts the likelihood of chance opportunities by introducing variety.”
Staying comfortable is the number one way to stay exactly where you are. If you’re driven towards something, why not take a leap?
The Ways I Capitalize On Luck
To close, I want to include some of the ideas that drive the way I live and work. This is how I capitalize on luck, and how you can too.
- Work incredibly hard – people won’t take a chance unless they have some sort of evidence that you will deliver on their promise.
- Be nice to everyone. You never know when paths will cross. I totally believe in karma and that everything that goes around comes around. Treat others how you want to be treated.
- Apologize when you screw up. Own your mistakes. Think about relationships for the long term and be the bigger person when you can.
- Forgive others when they screw up; it is all about empathy and second chances. People can change. I have changed so much, and the risks I have taken on people have often paid off.
- Show gratitude. People will help you once, and if you are thankful and grateful they may be willing to help you again.
- Give more than you get. Every time.
Other ideas or great lucky stories? Leave them in the comments