The Role of Luck

I’ve been hanging around a lot of creative spirits lately and found myself in a discussion with one of them about the role luck plays in success.

Are some people successful just because they are lucky? Do people make their own luck? Or is it a combination of the two?

Here’s an example based on a true story.

A woman is flying home to get a visa to extend her stay in a foreign country. On the plane she starts talking to the man sitting next to her about her career aspirations in marketing. After listening to her, he tells her to send him her resume. A bit surprised, and suspicious, the woman asks who he is. He answers that he heads marketing for a well-known brand.

Now was she just lucky or did she make her own luck?

I would say that both are true. Of course she was lucky to be sitting next to the marketing head of any company. But if she hadn’t known her story and been willing to share it, he would never have requested that she send her resume (by the way, she got a job with the company).

I think Seth Godin says it well:

Good at the beginning
…is another word for lucky. Someone needs to get lucky, and it might even be you, but luck is not a strategy.

Becoming good in the long run, that’s the result of effort and tenacity and smart practice.

Not just the individual, the kid who doesn’t learn to walk the first day, or the violinist who doesn’t win a competition at the age of eight, but organizations and their projects as well.

The people who are good in the long run fail a lot, especially at the beginning. So, when you fail early, it might be worth realizing that this is part of the deal, the price you pay for being good in the long run.

Every rejection is a gift. A chance to learn and to do it better next time. An opportunity to figure out how to bounce, not break. Don’t waste them.

Sometimes, getting lucky at the start means that you fail to learn resilience and tenacity, and you lack the tools to get better. The long run is a lot longer than the start is.

Good at the beginning — Seth Godin

I think that those people who we think of as lucky (because they happened to be in the right place at the right time and have been successful for a long period of time) were able to make it due to effort and tenacity. The woman I just told you about had been looking for such an opportunity for a long time and had faced rejection. But after each rejection, she had worked to create a better story. So by the time she told the marketing head on the plane her story, it had morphed into a winner.

If you get lucky from the get go, that’s great. But remember luck is not a sustainable strategy. It’s more like being a one-hit wonder.

And if you think others are luckier than you, remember the above and the below.

If you’ve been rejected, learn from it. What haven’t you done that the “lucky” group did. Have you really thought out your idea?Is it appealing to your target audience? Do you have a good story to tell?

And keep you eyes open for opportunities. Share with others. If the woman had been quiet during the entire flight, she still would not have gotten the job.

It may take a little longer for you to reach your goal than the “lucky” but if you learn from your experiences, you’ll still be there way after the “lucky” candle has melted.