Is luck a supernatural thing that we have no control over, represented by four leaf clovers and gold pots at the end of the rainbow? For The Simple Dollar's Trent Hamm, luck is defined as the result of some of the many random events in life bouncing more in your favour than before. Here, he explains how to make "life design" choices that will cause luck to pop up more and more.
Title image remixed from Minerva Studio (Shutterstock).
You can be that lucky person who gets a raise or finds a great job. You can be that person who finds a wonderful life partner. You can be that lucky person who seems to always be able to find the good situations and then take advantage of them. One of my favourite posts I've ever written was Ten Tactics for Improving Your Luck, which covered 10 simple things you can start doing right now to increase the "luckiness" of your life. Here they are again:
- Keep a notepad and a pen in your pocket at all times.
- Keep a reasonable amount of cash on you at all times.
- Don't get into a desperate debt situation.
- Be social.
- Establish relationships with many people who share your interests.
- Help others out when they need it.
- Shop at places where extreme bargains might be found.
- Have confidence that you can do something challenging.
- Know the actual value of lots of items in a particular specialty.
- When you need something significant, tap your social network instead of buying blindly.
While each of these things are great tactics for increasing the amount of luck in your life, I've found that there are many other things you can do to steadily increase the "luckiness" of your life over time. I was extremely lucky with the success of The Simple Dollar, for example. There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong with the growth in popularity of the site, but instead they went right. A lot of that was the result of efforts I made along the way, and they're things that anyone can do with almost any aspect of their life to drastically increase the amount of "luck" that comes their way.
Most of these things are what I call "life design" choices. They're things you actively do in your life as part of a daily routine. They're just how you do things, and over time, they produce opportunities and "luck". These tactics take time and diligence, and at first you won't see immediate rewards for them. The rewards come in slowly, but when they start coming in, they often snowball.
Do the task in front of you as well as you can, no matter how mundane it is.
When you're faced with a mundane task, it is incredibly easy to somewhat blow it off and do it without focus. You'll type a simple report while your mind wanders elsewhere. You'll sweep the floor while thinking about what you want to be doing this weekend. The thing is that others notice our half-effort. When we submit a half-baked report, the person receiving it can tell — and that reflects on you. When we don't sweep the floor well, the building manager notices that the floor is still dirty — and that reflects on you.
A much better approach is to strive to do every task well. Sure, sweeping that floor is boring, but doing it well means that at worst it won't be noticed and at best, if it's noticed, it reflects well on you. Yes, many of the mundane tasks you do won't be noticed by others. It's not those times that matter. No matter how well or how poorly you do a mundane task, it probably won't be noticed. However, every once in a while, it will be noticed, and that occasional notice will go a long way toward shaping how others treat you in the workplace and in life. If you're seen doing excellent work, you become known for doing excellent work, and others will come to you for help with things.
This has happened with me many different times in my life. My efforts at my first university job led to a much better job. My efforts at my second job directly led to my first post-university career path. These things didn't just happen because opportunities fell from the sky. They happened because I put forth a lot of effort on mundane tasks, and those efforts were noticed by others.
Never eat alone.
Dinner conversation is a great opportunity to build a connection with the people you're dining with. It's a great opportunity for conversation of all kinds. Every single meal you eat is an opportunity for this type of conversation. A meal eaten alone is a missed opportunity to build a relationship. If you don't have an immediate opportunity to eat a meal with someone, what can you do? I highly recommend inviting people to dine with you. See if someone wants to eat together, particularly someone that is doing something that is of interest to you. I also highly recommend eating with a variety of people. Sure, dining with the same old gang is fun, but dinner guests allow you to build new relationships, as do new breakfast and lunch partners.
Never speak negatively of others.
I've been in countless social situations where someone is being talked about negatively, usually behind their back. Almost every time, the person I end up disliking isn't the person who's being discussed, but the people who are talking. Who wants to be around a person who is just slamming someone else, particularly behind their back? I know I'm far from alone in feeling that way. Backstabbing and negative talk about others is just a big turn-off for me, so I strive to never, ever do it. (I usually succeed, but not always.)
What do you do when there's a negative conversation about someone? I usually avoid it. If I'm drawn in, I usually just say the person isn't all that bad and try to come up with something positive to say about them. Over time, people realise that you're not going to knock them down behind their back — and they come to respect and value that. It's all about reputation, and you want a positive one. The best way you can do it is to not push others down — because you often fall right down with them.
Cultivate skills during your spare time.
Few people are luckier than those who can step up with a needed skill in an important situation. The people that are able to do this are highly valued and opportunities come their way all the time. Of course, the way to be in that situation as often as possible is to have a plethora of skills. The more things you can do, the more often you'll be the person who can provide the right skill in a necessary situation. Spending your spare time building skills is a strongly effective use of your time. Learn how to play a musical instrument. Learn how to fix a hole in drywall. Learn how to dismantle a PC and replace the parts in it. Learn how to fix an overflowing toilet. Learn how to replace a bathtub drain. Learn how to properly fix the printers in your workplace. The list goes on and on.
Each of those skills can pop up at a key moment when you really need it. There are always opportunities where a particular skill will come through, and the more skills you have, the more likely you are to be able to jump on an opportunity when it arises. Call it luck if you will, but I call it preparation.
A question is a beautiful thing. It represents interest in the subject. It represents interest in the person presenting the subject. It represents involvement in the moment. It represents a desire to learn and to gain knowledge. These elements combine to make a question into a very valuable thing. Questions can launch new areas of discussion in workplace meetings. Questions can show your interest in another person or in a topic. Questions can get a dying conversation back on a lively track. Questions can be the glue that binds together personal and professional relationships, and those relationships are often the ones that carry opportunities to your door.
Get involved in the community.
I've been involved in several different community organisations over the years. Simply because of that involvement, I see people I know all the time as I walk around town. I've been invited to dinners and eaten countless free meals. I've been offered some employment opportunities, as well as several different opportunities to promote my books. My kids have received free music lessons and many other nice opportunities. That's on top of the benefits I get strictly from community involvement, where I know I'm giving my time to help out a worthwhile cause. Opportunities rain down on you when you have a lot of community connections, and community involvement is a great way to build a lot of connections.
Know your neighbours.
Much like community involvement, knowing your neighbours provides many different opportunities that might not otherwise come your way. A good relationship with our neighbours has meant an extra set of eyes on our home when we travel. It has meant children watched in emergencies and meals prepared when people are sick. Even more important, it has meant that some potential employment opportunities have been passed along, as well as news of a few estate auctions where huge bargains were found. Your neighbours live in the same area you do, but their experiences do not necessarily overlap your own. A good relationship with them means exposure to many more opportunities all around you. Don't miss out.
How can you put humility into immediate practice? Minimize the number of times you use the word "I" in conversation. If you avoid the word "I", the conversation won't focus on you. You won't find yourself monologuing on things that matter only to you. Instead, the conversation will more naturally steer itself to other people and to the interests you share. That's a conversation that more people are going to want to participate in. In other words, by using less of the word "I", you attract more people — and attracting more people means attracting more opportunities.
Give of yourself. Give your time. Give your talent. Give your money. Don't expect anything in return when you give. The most amazing thing happens when you give. You feel pretty good about yourself, for one, and that reflects out into the rest of your life. At the same time, others notice your generosity and still others notice that you're happy about life.
The end result? You attract other generous and happy people into your life. They just enter naturally, and before you know it, your social circle begins to fill with people who are just as interested in helping you as you are in helping them. That creates opportunity for everyone.
Don't spend time or money on events of pure chance.
Spend your time, money and energy on things that actually return some sort of positive result for you — or at least have a strong chance of doing so. Buying a lottery ticket might feel like taking a chance on a dream, but that five-dollar bill is much better spent saving up for schooling or paying off a little bit of debt or buying a book at a garage sale. Instead of looking at money and time as something you can purely take a chance with, look at each moment and each dollar as an opportunity maker.
What can those minutes and dollars do to help you build a sustainably better life? What can that time and that money do to build your skills or reduce your financial footprint or put you in a situation to grow a social network or help the community around you grow? The more you commit to spending your time, energy, and money in that way, the more you open the door for real opportunities to come into your life.
Designing a Lucky Life [The Simple Dollar]
Trent Hamm is the founder of The Simple Dollar, a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two. His new book is The Simple Dollar: How One Man Wiped Out His Debts and Achieved the Life of His Dreams.