When I was twenty-something, I thought I was ready for what the world had to offer me. But, with an undergraduate degree from Stanford and a masters from the University of Michigan, I was fired from my first professional job. What I learned next has served me well all these years: luck isn't chance.
Against family and friends' advice, I accepted a temporary position at minimum wage in an industry I knew little about. I decided the way to enjoy the position was to learn everything I could and contribute all I could. Four weeks into a ten week assignment, I was unexpectedly offered my first management position - a position that led to five promotions in the next seven years. It turned out I was creating my own luck, although I didn't know it at the time.
Until then, I'd always confused luck with chance. But chance is me getting a hole in one. It's "something that happens unpredictably without discernible human intention or observable cause," according to Webster. We're benefactors or victims of chance - finding a ten dollar bill, being in a fender-bender, getting in the shortest, but slowest line at the grocery store.
We're at the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time. Chance is out of our hands. Newspapers are filled with comic, tragic, frightening, and astonishing chance occurrences. Philosophically, it is what it is and can profoundly change lives.
But luck? Luck is different. We have everything to do with it.
The quality and quantity of the work you do, the impressions you leave, and the results you get influence future ones. Webster defines luck as "a force that brings good fortune or adversity." It's "the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual." And what I've come to know is we're that force for our own lives.
Are you unlucky if you get lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking? Yes compared to millions of smokers who don't. But, a smoker has a luck-factor less than someone who never smoked. Just like my husband, a committed runner, has a healthy heart luck-factor higher than couch or mouse-potatoes his age.
We control our luck-factor. We increase or decrease its likelihood by what we do, or what we don't do. Many of us settle or opt out of creating luck by failing to do simple things that could increase the probability of our success.
Of course, simple doesn't mean easy and knowing isn't the same as doing. It's simple to understand that if you expend more calories than you take in, you'll lose weight. But if it were easy to consistently do it, there wouldn't be an obesity epidemic and I'd be a size six. Knowing how to differentiate performance and create luck will get you as far as it does knowing how to lose weight. Nowhere.
In the scheme of things, what I've learned is this - it's not the knowing we need, it's the doing. And that's the first and most important component to personal luck creation. Doing. Thomas Jefferson put it this way, "I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it." That's what I've found, too.
Adapted from Nan Russell's book, Hitting Your Stride.
(c) 2013 Nan S. Russell. All Rights Reserved.
Nan S. Russell is the award-winning author of "Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way." Her third book, "The Titleless Leader," was published May 2012. More about Nan and her work can be found at www.nanrussell.com. Sign up to receive Nan's free monthly eColumn at: www.intheschemeofthings.com