When you look to people you admire for one reason or another, you might think that some part of their success — whether it’s their corner office, their new TV pilot or their beautiful vintage furniture — comes down to dumb luck. And while certainly some things in their life were out of their control, they also created some of that luck themselves.
It is possible to attract your own luck. According to Tina Seelig, a professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford and author of 17 books, luck doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of hard work and introspection.
In fact, making a few changes in your own life could make you luckier, according to Seelig. Here’s what she suggests.
Many of us think of luck as something that’s completely outside of our control, according to Seelig; simply up to chance. But she sees it as something different, more malleable.
“Fortune is things that are outside of your control, things that happen to you,” she says. “Chance is something you have to do; I have to take a chance. It requires action on your part in the moment…Luck is something where you have even more agency. You make your own luck by identifying and developing opportunities in advance.” (Emphasis hers.)
By reframing what you consider “luck,” you might be able to turn it in your favour.
Practice Appreciation, Risk-Taking and Embracing Crazy Ideas
Seelig says there are three big things people can practice that will translate to better “luck.”
First, show appreciation: “Most people are not appropriately appreciative of what other people do for them, and they take it for granted,” she says. If you are properly appreciative, more opportunities will arise for you.
Second, take risks: You’ll never accomplish anything if you never try anything. Think about it: Would you look at Serena Williams and say she got where she is because of luck? Of course not. Picking up that tennis racket was a risk the first time, and it paid off tremendously. You can’t be scared to try new things. Suggests Seelig: “Go up and say hello to somebody you don’t know. Try a sport you haven’t tried. Go somewhere you haven’t gone before. Each of these opens up the door to possibilities.”
Third, embrace crazy ideas: You have to be willing to experiment and try the crazy-seeming or impossible things that come your way. Think of improv’s “Yes, and” rule or Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes. Essentially, say yes! Embrace the things that come your way instead of immediately thinking of all the reasons you can’t or shouldn’t do something. Make the default that you can.
Hard Work Matters, As Does Resilience
While much of this has to do with working hard and acquiring the skills necessary to pursue your dreams, a major component of luck is resilience. To get back to the Serena example, how many times have you tried something only to do a poor job the first time around and then never attempt to do it again? (As a recovering High School Perfectionist, this is something I think about often.) “If you can extract the learnings from mistakes and failures, you’re going to move forward much more quickly,” says Seelig. You’re going to be luckier.
In terms of your career, that also means being honest with yourself about what will work. Rather than just parroting the “follow your passion” platitude, consider where your passion, skills and the market meet. “That’s where your sweet spot is,” she says.
Consider the Consequences
Every single action has a consequence, no matter how seemingly insignificant they seem at the time.
That includes big things, like your job and skills, sure, but it also includes more mundane things, like who you spend time with and where you live.
But if you’re just running through your life on autopilot, hanging out with the same people who don’t inspire you, in the same job where you learn nothing, and hoping to get lucky sometime, it isn’t going to happen.
Instead, you have to “craft” your life to your liking. You have to think about the consequences of the way you’re living. Says Seelig:
I think that so many people limit themselves, they make a box around themselves that’s much smaller than it needs to be. Then you read stories about people who go off and live in interesting places and you say, “How did you do it?” and they say, “I just did it.”
So go do it. Luck will follow.
How to Get Lucky | GQ