Success: However you choose to define it--because how you define "success" is definitely a choice--we all hope to achieve it. 

Ask any incredibly successful person how they became successful and you'll get different answers. Mark Cuban often points to sales skills. Steve Jobs credited the power of belief. Warren Buffett feels the difference between successful people and really successful people is saying "no" to almost everything.

But the one thing every incredibly successful person I've met says played an important role in their success?

Luck.

And while that might sound self-deprecating, science says they're right.

Researchers at the University of Catania in Italy identified a number of skills and attributes generally thought of as critical to success. Talent. Intelligence. Skill. Risk-taking. Hard work. Perseverance. It's hard to argue with that list.

But here's the thing: They determined that intelligence, talent, and other personal qualities follow a normal distribution among the population. In short, there are plenty of smart and talented people.

Yet wealth--which in this case served as a proxy for success--follows a very different distribution, with a large majority of poor people, another chunk of middle- to upper-class people... and a very small number of billionaires. 

Which means, as the researchers write:

The largely dominant meritocratic paradigm of highly competitive Western cultures is rooted on the belief that success is due mainly, if not exclusively, to personal qualities such as talent, intelligence, skills, (etc.). 

... if it is true that some degree of talent is necessary to be successful in life, almost never (do) the most talented people reach the highest peaks of success, (but are) overtaken by mediocre but sensibly luckier individuals.

Which, in non researcher-speak, means that intelligence, skill, and hard work will certainly get you far... but the most successful people are never the most talented.

And the least successful people are never the least talented.

Because luck does play a part.

You Can Make Your Own Luck

All of which is both depressing... and oddly inspiring.

Talent, expertise, determination, perseverance: Applying those qualities will result in a certain level of success. That's a good thing.

But if you want to go farther, you'll need a little luck. And that's also a good thing.

Take me: I'm decidedly average. I will always try to be smarter, more skilled, more talented... but I can also work to be luckier. 

Because, while an element of chance is involved, where luck is concerned what matters more is action. What you choose to do. Whom you choose to meet. Being at the right place at the right time, meeting the right person, reacting to an opportunity in the right way... seizing a "lucky" opportunity doesn't really involve luck.

Because you can't control what happens to you.

But you can always control how you think, act, and respond.

How to Be "Luckier"

Making your own luck is actually easy.

The key is to stop thinking of luck as something that only results from chance, but is actually the result of starting to do the right things, over and over again.

Like:

1. Start meeting more people.

Every once in a while you met the right person at the right time. The person who inspires you. The person who changes your perspective. Who opens a door, bridges a gap...

How can you make that happen more often? 

Simple math: Meet more people. The more people you meet, the greater the odds of meeting the right person at the right time.

Think of it this way: Every person you know knows someone you should know--which means the more people you know, the greater the odds they'll know someone you should know.

And, just as importantly, you will know someone they will know.

Because while you can never control whether you'll meet the right person at the right time... if you try, you can often be the person that someone else meets at the right time.

Which is also lucky for you.

2. Start doing more things.

On a whim, I decided to start riding a bike to improve my fitness. I didn't have a grand plan. In fact, I wasn't even sure I'd like cycling. (At first, I didn't.)

But in time I grew to love cycling. I've met some great people. I've gone to cool places. I've had amazing experiences. And, "luckily," cycling probably saved my life.

None of which would have happened had I not given a bike a try.

Most "lucky" people never stop trying, and doing, new things. Sure, many of those things don't pan out.

But a few do. 

Take chances. Stretch yourself. Try something you don't think you'll like. 

If nothing else, you'll learn from the experience, both about whatever it is, and also about yourself--which will make you even more prepared to seize the next "lucky" opportunity that comes your way.

3. Start giving more.

When you're sincerely generous, other people--at least the people you want in your life--will naturally respond in kind: with advice, with connections, with assistance... 

Giving creates relationships.

People often say something like, "I'm lucky she's my friend." When you give, sincerely and without the expectation of return, you won't be lucky that someone is your friend.

You will have earned that friend.

Which means luck had nothing to do with it--even if you do feel incredibly lucky.

4. Start asking more.

Was Steve Jobs lucky? According to the researchers, assumedly so. But he also made his own luck.

I've never found anybody that didn't want to help me if I asked them for help. 

I called up Bill Hewlett when I was 12 years old. "Hi, I'm Steve Jobs. I'm 12 years old. I'm a student in high school. I want to build a frequency counter, and I was wondering if you have any spare parts I could have." He laughed, and he gave me the spare parts, and he gave me a job that summer at Hewlett-Packard... and I was in heaven.

I've never found anyone who said no or hung up the phone when I called. I just asked. And when people ask me, I try to be responsive, to pay that debt of gratitude back. 

Most people never pick up the phone and call. Most people never ask, and that's what separates, sometimes, the people who do things from the people who just dream about them.

Of course it's not easy to ask for help. (I hate asking for help.) Asking makes you feel insecure. Asking makes you feel vulnerable. 

But those are good things. 

Ask for the sale. Ask for the job. Ask for the opportunity.

Ask.

Many people will say no. 

A few will say yes.

Will you be lucky that they said yes? Maybe so.

But you will have made that luck.

Because luck isn't something you can control. Good luck, bad luck... luck happens. But you can always control how you respond to what happens.

And you can always control whether you put yourself, as often as possible, in a position to be "lucky."

Published on: Jul 16, 2019
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