It's often said that luck is when opportunity meets preparation.
That may very well be true. But all the big lucky breaks that got me to where I am today, and I mean every single one of them, happened when opportunity met an open and receptive mind. And I'm far from alone in that respect.
You see, it's no accident that necessity is the mother of invention. Or that opportunity just seems to happen when you're down on your luck or you've just experienced crushing loss or defeat. Those are times when you question your assumptions. When you're emotionally available. When your mind is open to other possibilities.
Sure, there are lots of factors that contribute to your life, your career, and your business success. But I don't believe that luck happens entirely by accident or that you have to be prepared to create opportunities for yourself. It has more to do with your state of mind at the time than people realize. Here are a few stories that illustrate how that works.
"One word ... semiconductors"
When I graduated from college, in 1978, I had a degree in physics that was essentially useless. I couldn't get a scholarship to a good Ph.D. program, so that was that. I was stuck. So I moved back into my parents' tiny Brooklyn, New York, apartment and got a part-time job earning minimum wage at a local bank. I felt depressed and lost.
Then my girlfriend's father took me in his Porsche to visit a high-tech start-up where he was chairman. The guy told me that digital electronics--semiconductors--were going to be big. It was just like that scene from The Graduate, you know, "One word ... plastics." I had no idea what he was talking about. But I loved his Porsche.
While roaming around the building, I struck up a conversation with an engineer, a young guy about my age. He was new there. He wore blue jeans and sneakers, said he was making 20 grand a year (that was a lot at the time), and pointed to his brand-new metallic blue Firebird outside.
That was it. I was hooked. I went home, called the university, and went back and got a master's degree in electrical engineering. By 1980, I was an engineer at Texas Instruments. And the rest, as they say, is history. But if I hadn't been so down and adrift at the time, I almost certainly would have missed the high-tech revolution.
Sometimes, you're better off just giving up and taking a break.
By 1988, I'd been through a few relationships that didn't end well, including one botched engagement. Lonely and disillusioned, I swore off women for good. Really. I actually told a friend, "Put a fork in me; I'm done with women." It felt good to do that. It took the pressure off. Finally, I was free of all those expectations I had set for myself.
The very next day--I kid you not--I met my future wife. We're still married.
It never hurts to ask.
Like so many people, I spent a few years lingering in what I like to call the middle-management abyss. I needed someone to give me an opportunity to break into the senior executive ranks but had no luck.
In Silicon Valley, circa 1994, the chip industry was booming, but my career was stuck in the middle-management abyss. For years, I'd wanted to break into senior management, but it was starting to look as if that would never happen. Not only that, but the company I was working for had seen better days.
One day, I decided to just get out of Dodge and chill out, so I set up a trip to meet with some key customers and partners. For me, that was fun and relaxing. One meeting was with a midsize microprocessor company that was fighting an ultrahigh-stakes battle with archrival Intel.
Throwing caution to the wind, I asked what strategies they had in mind to take on the industry leader, Intel, and what I could do to help. You could almost see the light bulb go on in the guy's head. Then he said something I never expected to hear: "You know, we can really use someone like you."
That led to my first vice president of marketing job. A big, high-visibility one, at that.
So now, I've got a question for you: How open are you?