“Any successful person in any field who, in discussing their career, doesn’t use the word luck is a liar."
— Paul Newman (via Larry King)
Frankly, it’s a miracle you’re reading this right now.
Think about it.
For that to happen…
A rock that we now call Earth had to be orbiting its star at the perfect distance for its water (which is essential to life) to not boil away or freeze.
A random collection of “dead” complex molecules floating around in Earth’s water had to combine to become a “live” organism.
These tiny single-cell organisms then had to group together into larger and more complex animals… plants, fish, reptiles, mammals, and dinosaurs.
Several millennia later, an asteroid the size of Manhattan had to strike a planet cruising around the sun at 67,108 mph… taking out the dinosaurs so our smaller mammal ancestors could thrive and dominate.
Apes descending from those mammals had to figure out how to use language to coordinate with thousands of other apes to build tools, huts, villages, and eventually cities. (While also having the good fortune of not having a huge asteroid disrupt their progress.)
Oh. And while we’re at it… all this is only possible because the fundamental physical laws that govern the universe ended up exactly as we see them today. Otherwise, atoms would never have been able to bond together to form stars, planets, or life.
Basically, the chances of all this happening are impossibly small.1
Researchers compare these odds to the likelihood of a bunch of monkeys recreating the full works of Shakespeare… by randomly hammering away at typewriters.
And when you consider the fact that monkeys actually don’t type out purely random characters (they often press the same key over and over)…
Or that they tend to get bored and give up after just a few pages of “typing”…
That gives you a sense of the crazy odds we’re talking about here.2
But let’s zoom in to a time-frame that’s a bit more closer to home – stuff that didn’t happen millions and millions of years ago. In fact, let’s even ignore most of human history and just look at the last few generations of your family tree.
The slightest tweak in circumstances could have caused your grandparents or parents to never meet. Or it could have changed when (or if) they had the children they did.
It’s not that hard to come up with scenarios where you wouldn’t have been born.
And yet somehow, after a whole bunch of crazy “coincidences”3…
Of course, we’re still not done.
Because if you look at your life (or even the last few years), you can still see a tremendous amount of chance at play. You can find lucky events that led you to where you are today.
Successful people talk about this luck factor all the time.
For example, Larry King tells the story of his early days in his career. He was walking down the street in New York and ran into a guy who used to work for CBS.
That guy advised King to go work in Miami, telling him that it was a great place to break into the radio business.
So Larry King did.
And that’s where he got his start.
Would he have become as successful or famous without that advice? Possibly. Maybe he would have gotten that advice from someone else. Or maybe he would have figured out how to break into radio in New York.
But as King says himself, “What if I didn’t meet him? Where would my career have gone? I bumped into him on the street. […] That’s luck. Now, I took advantage of that luck and got in, but there was luck."
I bet you can think of similar moments in your own life…
Moments where someone gave you a life-changing piece of advice. Where you got an opportunity that ended up being a “big break”. Or even things like simply having the parents you did… or not getting killed in a war or car crash growing up.
Where would you be without those moments of “luck”? Probably somewhere very different.
Now let’s be clear. I’m not saying your actions don’t matter. They do. You still have to act in the face of the luck you’ve been given.
In fact, I believe our actions matter even more because of all the luck we’ve received.
One, with the incredible amount that you have no control over, it’s vital to pay attention to those few things you can influence: Your character. The skills you learn and develop. How you take advantage of opportunities. And so on.
And two, having a posture of “being lucky” changes how you live…
It forces you to be humble – to remember Rule Number 6 more often.
It makes you grateful and appreciative for this miracle of life we’ve been given… and be more intentional about using that gift well.
It makes you ask, as the writer Craig Mod puts it, “Am I maximizing this so-called respect for my being alive or not? Does my work pay dividends in making me more empathetic, curious, kinder, smarter?"
And, it even makes you more lucky. Scientists have found that people who believe they have good luck actually have better outcomes than people who don’t. And that they feel more in control, optimistic, and less anxious.
However, how this perspective changes you personally is only the start.
There’s a deeper level.
When I look over the “positive chance” in my own life – such as having exceptional parents who modeled what it’s like to be generous and wise; or such as getting introduced to a great mentor in 2013 who transformed my copywriting career – one thing stands out clearly…
A lot of my luck was caused by other people.
And that’s the opportunity I invite you to consider today. To pass on the good fortune you’ve received to others.
Be someone who CREATES “positive chance” for others.
How you do that is up to you.
Part of the answer may be woven into the foundation of your life work and mission. Maybe you’re running an organization that gives new opportunities to people who haven’t gotten the same lucky breaks as others have. Perhaps you’re creating a business or product that creates new possibilities for your customers (and all the people who work for you). Maybe you’re making a piece of art that elevates or touches someone in a powerful way.
All of that is great. But don’t forget the “smaller”, but equally significant opportunities too.
Maybe you can make a quick introduction to two people you think would benefit from meeting.
Perhaps you could give some generous advice or feedback… or say thank you to someone who touched you.
Or maybe it’s as simple as being cheerful with the security agent at the airport and making their day slightly better.
There’s lots of options.
But regardless of where you end up, the key is to just start by simply asking the question, paying attention, and consider how you can be create more luck for people.
So take some time and reflect…
What would your life look life if you acknowledged how lucky you are? What opportunities do you have to create “positive chance” for others? What would it look and feel like to spend life hunting for them?
You can call them “acts of God” or “fortune” or whatever. The ultimate point is still the same. You had no control over the circumstances that brought you into being. ↩︎