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What Luck!

I see a lot of people writing about luck these days. Pretty successful people, actually. They’re frustrated because others see them as lucky when, really, they just worked hard, took advantage of opportunities, and made things happen for themselves.

They stuck their necks out and took a risk and it paid off.

The general sentiment seems to be that luck doesn’t actually exist.

While I understand the reaction, it’s not really true. Luck does exist. It exists in may forms. When we’re born, what race and nationality we are, who we’re born to, etc. is all determined by luck, and you have no control over it. Some of us get lucky and are dealt the best starting hand while some of us are handed a tough combo to play.

Luck definitely exists. Yet, underneath the whole “no such thing as luck” mantra, is a really valuable lesson and this is where these folks I’m talking about really got it right.

Luck does exist, but as soon as you rely on it, you lose.

If you think for one second that you’re not able to do what you really want to do in life because you started with a disadvantage, you’ll never have what you want because it’s impossible to muster up the motivation necessary to make it with that type of mindset.

Luck exists, you see, but it can be overcome.

Two Kinds of People

I don’t normally like to speak generally, but generally speaking, I find there are two kinds of people in the world: those who work hard, work smart, try a lot of things, and seize opportunities, and then there are people with bad luck.

You could call the first group lucky, but that’s not really the case. There are all kinds of people that worked their way to the top starting with a very ugly hand, and they did it because they didn’t believe that being born a certain way could stop them from becoming who they wanted to be.

  • They tried lots of things. They tested lots of ideas until something eventually worked. No one saw all the failures that lead up to success, so they’re labeled one of the “lucky ones.” But they know better.
  • They quit the right things. They learned to tell when they should give up and when they should keep plugging away. When something finally worked, they didn’t hesitate to let everything else go in order to pursue it.
  • They acted on every opportunity. They built big networks of amazing people and when an opportunity came their way, they said “yes.” It didn’t always work out, but it always came closer than if they’d said “no.”

Most importantly, they believed that they were the ones in charge of their destiny, so they took it upon themselves to get what they wanted. Luck really wasn’t a factor.

Take Johnny B. Truant for example. If you just look at the surface of his story you might see nothing but good luck. He came out of nowhere last year and built a six figure business around a really simple idea and instantly had connections with a lot of big names. But therein lies the problem – the surface doesn’t tell the whole story.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that just before he made it, he was moments from financial ruin, plagued with expensive health problems, and wondering if anything would work after his other failed ventures. If you’d known Johnny then, you probably wouldn’t call him lucky.

The Other Half

And then there are the rest. They think of themselves as unlucky, but that’s not really the case either. Things just seem to happen to them, and it’s never good. They’re not sure why others are enjoying success while they suffer misfortune after misfortune, but they’re pretty sure it has nothing to do with them and they don’t think it’s quite fair.

  • They try a few things here and there, but never really commit to anything. Rather than seeing failure as an opportunity to try something new, they see it as validation of their belief that they’re just unlucky.
  • They quit their ideas that actually have potential. They don’t realize that everyone who made it took three times longer than they expected to. When things got too tough or just plain boring, they gave up instead of looking for a better way to do it. They went back to the easy things that never go anywhere because it’s less work to figure out.
  • They never find good opportunities. They hang out with people that are convenient instead of inspiring. As a result, they’re only ever offered mediocre opportunities that, of course, they said “no” to.

Basically, they don’t believe that they’re in control of their life. They think that things happen to them instead of because of them.

I understand, really. Just think how hard it must be to do anything meaningful when the whole world is conspiring against you. The easier option is to just wait for some good luck to come along. The problem, though, is that it never does.

Even good luck can turn into bad luck with that mindset. I’ve read of lottery winners whose lives were ruined by the bad luck that came from their fortunes.

Shifting Perspectives

All said, I do think it’s possible to change if you realize that all you’re ever dealt is bad luck and truly want something different for yourself.

Here’s what I would do if I wanted more “good luck” in my life:

  • I would say yes more. I would say it more often to more people, more ideas, and more opportunities. It’s going to take a lot of tries to manufacture the good luck you want and saying no doesn’t count as an attempt.
  • I’d build more friendships. Not just more friends, but better ones, too. I’d stop hanging out with people who are just convenient and start looking for people who are truly inspiring to me. Your friends are your network and your network is what opens doors to opportunities. Inspiring friends = inspiring opportunities.
  • I’d push back when things got tough. Your intuition can tell you a lot about whether an idea is worth pursuing or not, but it can’t make a difficult task easy. I’d quit doing the wrong things, and I’d lean into the work that’s hard but is also the right work.

Most of all, I’d work on changing my perspective about what really makes good and bad luck.

You have to be willing to give up the idea that you’re helpless and things just happen to you. You have to replace that with the belief that “good luck” only happens when you make it happen. That’s a very powerful transition.

The truth is, bad things happen to everybody. The only difference is the lucky people take it upon themselves to step up and do something about it so they can get back to being lucky.

If you’ve had some terrible things happen to you in life, I feel for you. I know how hard it can be to see opportunity in what feels like hopelessness. But here’s the thing, every failure really is an opportunity.

Everyone I know that’s ever done anything interesting has failed many times figuring it out. I spent a whole year writing a blog that went nowhere before starting Riskology.co and finding success. And that was at the most downward looking moment of my whole life.

Believe in luck if you like, but rely on it at your own risk.

So here’s what to do now:

1) Leave a comment letting me know what you can do to start “producing” more good luck in your life.

2) Take a second to share this post on Twitter, Facebook, or Stumbleupon. I’d really appreciate it.

3) Sign up for free email updates to get my 5 Risks That Made History email series and never miss an article.


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What smart people are saying about this...

  1. I don’t totally agree on the luck thing, but I do agree that…

    Pushing back in tough times is incredibly important. So many folks get all fired up and inspired to accomplish amazing things …then something “bad” happens and they quit.

    It’s unfortunate because they never realize the strength and inspiration that comes from conquering those roadblocks.

    • Exactly, Andy. It’s a learned behavior. It’s important to quit the wrong things, but when you quit the right ones, it just gets easier and easier to keep doing that.

      • Great article! It has helped me to realise that I can make my own luck although after years of bad luck that feels and seems hard.

  2. ah, good ol’ luck and risk! such a central theme in my life. nice to hear it rings true for others, too. perspective makes all the difference…until i chose to view the events in my life as something i had a hand in and was in some way or another responsible for, i couldn’t harness the good luck that was available to me. when one is floating in a sea of non-commitment and self-pity, the waves of bad luck always seem to keep you down. rise up, lovelies, ride the waves of divine creativity!

    think i mentioned this before in a comment here, but i have the words “luck” and “risk” tattooed on my knuckles. here’s a link to a poem i wrote just before getting inked (january 2007), and a picture of my tattoos: http://quimbalicious.wordpress.com/2007/01/17/luck-and-risk/

  3. It has taken a long time for me to accept that I hold my own self back more than anything or anybody. I think folks are either born pessamistic or optimistic. The DVD “The Secret” really hit home with me. It’s central message is to be open to the good things that the universe has to offer to you (aka the good luck) and more positive things will happen. While having accepted this in theory, old habits are very hard to break. I’m addicted to approval and I’m a failure phobe. Being around more positive folks helps. It just often feels like the darker side to me is dominant, not that I’ve given up or anything, but when I think of my life in the broad spectrum, I only see uphill. Not the victory dance at the top, but that constant carrot I seem to be chasing.

    • You know what, Jules, I really identify with that. There are many times when I feel like life in general can be a huge uphill battle, but I get past it by reminding myself how much I’ve accomplished already (whether it actually is a lot or not) and remembering how much I enjoy looking back on some of the tougher times in life that have shaped who I am.

      I think a lot more people can identify with what you’re talking about than you might realize. :)

  4. i live by the notion that every time i get ‘lucky’, it’s because i did something ‘good’ before that. i even named my blog after that philosophy.

    to answer your question, tyler: i’d have more ‘luck’ if a mustered up more courage for things that won’t be put in motion unless i myself give it a nudge.

  5. Hey Tyler,

    Great article. I am one of those people who says Luck does not exist. But you are absolutely right; where we are born and who we are born to can help. In that sense I am very lucky.

    But i don’t intend to rely on this notion, and I am pushing myself to be the best that I can be. The articles help!! thanks dude!

    • I think the trick is to recognize and appreciate that you started with an advantage or accept that you didn’t and simply move on. Dwelling on it one way or the other doesn’t move anyone forward.

  6. The one thing I’d add is that sometimes, being dealt an “unlucky hand” at the outset can be a great advantage. You don’t normally see great things from people who have had it easy. It’s adversity that makes people hungry enough to do whatever it takes.

    I did a great interview with Copyblogger Associate Editor Jon Morrow for my course Question the Rules. Jon says that what people often need is a “gun to the head.” Jon was born with a gun to his head in the form of a condition called spinal muscular atrophy. He can’t move from the neck down and has almost died over 20 times in his life.

    Bad set of cards? Maybe. But I’d put Jon’s accomplishments up against pretty much anyone’s, and I doubt he’d have done as much if he’d had things easy.

    Good stuff, Tyler!

  7. Tyler,

    It’s interesting because when I graduated from Bschool I was dealt what some might consider 8 months of bad luck. I couldn’t find a job to save my life. I was 31 living at my parent’s house and I felt like I was on the verge of disaster. But, it was a year of writing on a blog almost every day, connecting with people in the online community, and taking consistent action towards changing my situation that made things turn around quite dramatically. It’s really easy not to see the effort went into somebody’s success and forget that almost everybody you know today in the online world was once a nobody. Good stuff.

    • Yes, exactly Srinivas. When you see a success story, you usually don’t see the background and the hard work and failures that lead up to it. Most “overnight success” stories are actually months or even years of hard work that finally paid off.

  8. Excellent points. I am pretty sure that I’m falling short on the ‘knowing inspiring people’ bit of luck. I’d already realized I need more than just me to improve my luck, now I just have to figure out how to meet the people I need!

  9. I believe it was Norman Vincent Peale (?) who once wrote, “If you can conceive it & believe it,then you can acheive it.” “ABC” in reverse~conceive, believe, achieve. Positive thinking, risk-taking, evolving healthy as individuals or communities of people. Luck? Good or Bad? It all begins first within oneself.

    • Dianne, Yes! You have it! Conceive,Believe,Achieve! I was born into a family that abused me physically and wished me dead from the get go.
      Horses carried me through those years, school provided nourishment to my brain and the wilderness provided me with spirit to my soul. I have survived thus far and I will
      conceive new ideas for growth in the future days to come. Risk is what it is all about. Dream your dreams and it will come true. Just be willing to dream that next dream.

  10. I like to use songs and different mantras to keep me on track. The song “tightrope” by Janelle Monae sums it all up.

  11. Well this is all so hit home for me. I am in a similar boat or at least one of transition. I left a job that dragged me emotionally with early retirement. That meant not enough money but also came with the negative of bad luck I can’t succeed mantra. My brain want’s to think it’s karma. Therefore it’s very good to hear Tyler’s perspective and the actions of the people on here.

    Tyler knows that I am a climber because I sent him an e-mail about his 7 summits goal. One of my favorite tag lines from a gear maker’s ad from years ago is “Actions are loud”. So that is what I can do to produce more good luck in my life – say yes more to action steps like posting my (needs work) website on here – as well as taking those steps Tyler recommends. Thanks.

  12. I’ve definitely been guilty of looking at someone else’s success and wishing I was as lucky as them. It’s so true that we never know what’s going on under the surface. Likewise, other people may be looking at you and thinking how lucky *you* are. Anyway, here’s what I’m going to do to produce more luck: Push myself to take bigger risks, Connect with people and form more relationships & Stop listening to my Negative Nelly.

  13. There is a cliche of You have to be good in order to be lucky. This is achieved by working hard + smart, being opportunistic, and making things happen.

    When you attempt enough things, there’s a convergence in one of the following patterns: (1) depending on luck = professional gambling. That’s what professional gamblers in casinos say. (2) A successful endeavor comes from a lot of failure trials.

  14. Nice post, Tyler!

    Mindset plays an important role here.

    For me, the answer to your question is – I have to remind myself that I’m the bus driver.

    In other words, it’s my life and I’m the one in control of it. It’s easy to get caught in the “I’m not lucky and nothing goes my way” mindset when you’re in the middle of a tough period. Getting yourself out of that mindset is the key.

  15. Great post. One of my favorite quotes is “Luck is not to be confused with skill.”

    Breaks come the way of those who lay the groundwork, are educated about new trends and opportunities…and then are open to scaring the hell out of themselves when those opportunities arise. Change is never easy, but it sure makes you feel alive!

  16. I absolutely agree that while I am very fortunate and blessed to be given the opportunities that I have been, my “luck” (in which I lived in New Zealand for 18mos, and have travelled quite a bit in addition) is because I’ve managed to have a strong career, make hard choices and even a few sacrifices all in the name of getting where I need to be.

    I’ve made mistakes along the way but I when I hit those walls I know that eventually I have to be the one to make changes to get things going again; the universe isnt going to do it for me.

  17. My career,health and business took a dive.Its like up and down and at the moment its very down.Need some inspiration and drive to move up again .Am very tired and dejected at the moment.

  18. Well two steps forward and three steps back is my life theme. Im sick of being broke and having to. Live with someone and cant provide for my son

  19. i’m the most unlucky woman on earth no matter what i do and how i change every thing the bad luck is my only friend ,so i believe that i was born unlucky … and i finaly accept myself and after accepting myslef i feel free and relax some how .

  20. Wow, thank you so so so much! I’m a college student pursuing a career in nursing. I’m going through a rough time. As much as I can’t stand to be wrong or take criticism, the part about the other half described me completely and helped me realize what I need to do to better myself. Really great article!


  21. One can show people a ‘way of life’ as that is easy and only possible solution. You are one of them like many other. Luck refers to those events that one do not control goes against them. So luck has nothing to do with ‘way of life’. However for common man it is hard to differentiate.

Founded with love by Tyler Tervooren

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