Is Luck Even Real?

By eric

I hate having one of those days where you just missed the train after skipping breakfast to run out of the house only to realize you forgot to charge your phone the night before. Or maybe I actually charged my phone only to realize that I forgot my headphones and the crazy person on the subway chose me to sit next to. Either way, it is going to be one of those unlucky days. And as much as I’d like to say, “don’t worry, be happy,” I think we all know that’s kinda bullshit.

This is about the point where I scrap my micro view of how the day is going to go and start thinking big picture. Because overall, I’m generally a pretty lucky person. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that I not only view luck differently than most, but I also make my own luck whenever I can. So how about a definition? Like the Roman philosopher Seneca, I consider luck to be when preparation meets opportunity. In order to be lucky, you have to be ready for it. Sounds great, right? And if you are wondering how that translates into real life, keep reading…

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. -- Seneca

How Does Someone Get Lucky

For me, the answer is to constantly be preparing. Stay with me for a moment here because this isn’t just about constant effort. This preparation can come in many forms. But the primary focus is that of honing your craft(s). If you are an artist, then you would regularly be practicing drawing, painting, sketching, etc. If you are scrolling through Instagram or on Youtube, some of that time would be spent thinking critically about how other artists execute their craft or what their pathway to notoriety was. You would read articles on the positives and negatives of different tools of the trade.

Another example might be if you are an MMA fighter waiting for a fight. You are constantly improving your weaknesses, honing your strengths, (hopefully) recovering and healing so your body is ready for war. You may also be watching videos to improve your techniques or study what works and doesn’t work for people of various body types and why. For every path to success, there is the first preparatory step. You just have to figure out what preparations are needed for your journey.

How Do I Get to Where I Want to Be

If an opportunity presents itself to get me closer to where I want to be, am I ready to seize that opportunity to the best of my ability? This is a simple question with a nebulous path to an answer. I always try to do my best to make sure that answer is yes. My professional focus is on technology and company building. So I try to make sure I’m up to date on the latest technologies as well as the tried and true methodologies that people use to build systems. I regularly read up on how product and technology interact in successful and unsuccessful companies to see what I can learn. If I want to be able to deliver on the promise of being a Swiss Army Knife of company building that I claim to be, then my knowledge base and experience should be reflective of that assertion.

As an example, if I know I’m going to be talking to or working with a company in a specific industry, I do my best to research successful and unsuccessful companies in that space. I talk to other people I know working in similar industries to see what I can learn or what pitfalls need to be avoided. Everyone learns hard lessons, I just aim to avoid always learning them the hard way. I try to avoid blindly doing the research on my own by talking to other folks in the space to ensure I am preparing with the right materials.

This is all a grandiose way of saying that being prepared is ultimately attempting to be the best version of myself that I can be when opportunities arise. But even when you are as prepared as you can possibly be, you have to know how to spot an opportunity or make one appear. In other words, try to make your own luck.

Making Your Own Luck

Most of the time, opportunities don’t just present themselves. So you need to make sure you can tee up those opportunities for yourself when you are ready for them (and even when you aren’t). Be open to what’s going on around you. The more focused you are on yourself or the task at hand, the less likely you will be to see anything else. I will grant that some of this is more intuition than anything else. But if you aren’t open to possibilities, then it doesn’t matter whether you have good or bad intuition, you won’t get the opportunity to use it.

I also like to consider the notion that tangential preparation is a contributing factor. For example, I always try to make sure I can speak about a broad range of topics even if only at a superficial level. Engaging with people on their terms is the first step towards opening up new pathways. For example, I may not be super into skateboarding, but I know the parts of the board and have done enough of it to know that I am not capable. But I do know that I have the ability to have a conversation about skateboarding if that’s the topic of discussion. This is primarily a networking skill that has served me well and endeared me to people enough times to advance whatever my cause may be.

Overlapping Definitions

Now we’re ready for an opportunity and have taken advantage of it. It’s not always obvious when it’s ok to feel good about the situation. This is where having some clear personal definitions come in to play. I think where my definition of luck overlaps with others is in the outcome. In other words, most people seem to define luck as the actual having of a great opportunity on your doorstep. At times, it might just be random chance that something presents itself to you and you are Johnny on the spot to take advantage of it or not. But I think luck has more to do with preparation for that moment. Be able to recognize the opportunity, know how to seize the moment, and then be able to follow through and deliver on what that opportunity or moment had to offer. And while you will likely never be 100% ready for any moment or what’s in store, the closer you are to being ready, the more likely you are to get the desired outcome.

Consider You Own Definition of Success

Ultimately, it’s unlikely that you will get too many things you want if you don’t prepare for them. I want to be clear that this isn’t a missive about being professionally or personally successful. It’s about being able to build the kind of life you want. If you want to be lucky enough to find your soulmate, you need to be ready to have another person in your life. You need to be open to looking for friends instead of only soulmates. You need to be looking outside of what you think is your perfect mate because great things don’t always come in the neat little packages you expect them to. If you want to be lucky enough to land your dream job, then you need to be ready when you meet the hiring manager (or the person that could introduce you to the right person). I think you see where I am going with this. So get off your ass, and get going on being ready for the things you want. Putting in the work isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.

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