You have probably heard of the famous phrase, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Turning that into a formula, it would be:
Luck = Preparation + Opportunity
So what does that mean, and how can you actually create your own luck? Let’s take a look.
Let’s start with what it means. Luck typically refers to random chance. Will it rain tomorrow? Will you get that lucky roll in a game of craps or the right card on the River in Texas Hold’em? What are the odds that a hiring manager will happen to see your résumé first in the pile and thinking you were perfect for the role? Because of the millions of factors that go into life events both major and minor, it can feel like life is, in fact, one big crapshoot.
But here is the thing about random chance: attribution bias affects the degree to which you assign someone’s success to effort and skill or luck. So who is right: the successful person who attributes their outcomes to skill, or the unsuccessful person who attributes an outcome to chance? Well, both skill/effort and luck are involved, but the longer the time period, the more it is effort and skill over luck. And that is the heart of how to create your own luck: if you keep exerting effort, you keep getting chances for the success either to come from that effort or for your luck to “kick in” and help you to succeed.
But back to the formula. The part of the unsuccessful person’s bias that leads them to see success as due to luck and not effort/skill is the part where the successful person was ready when the opportunity kicked in. For example, if you are trying to become an NFL quarterback, it might be that you never had a shot to show how good you were. But if you do happen to get that opportunity and aren’t ready because you were frustrated and stopped improving, you will not succeed when your number is called. It works the same for other job opportunities, for finding the right mate, and for attaining your financial goals.
People who play $6 of lottery tickets per day are relying entirely on luck to become a millionaire; people who invest $6 in a diversified stock portfolio every day starting at age 19-21 are practically guaranteed to become a millionaire. And the unsuccessful person will look at the successful person and talk about their genes, upbringing, or other factors and say that there was nothing that they could’ve done to reproduce that success.
Similarly, people who are successful at dating continuously improve themselves. Men earn more money, build their muscles, and work on their confidence and approach to attract women more effectively. Women will use grooming, diet, and other factors to maximize their beauty and perceived fertility. Both will go out and give themselves more opportunities to meet people and find the right one for them.
And this is what you can do to create your own luck: increase your capabilities to be more successful when you get your chance, and/or increase your probability of getting a chance by putting yourself in the position to get those opportunities. For those of you who are familiar with risk mitigation strategies (i.e., Risk = Probability x Impact and you can mitigate it by reducing one or both of the components), this is the inverse: instead of reducing probability and impact of bad events, you are maximizing the probability and impact of good events.
Want a date? Make yourself more attractive (preparation/impact) and put yourself out there (opportunity/probability). Want a job? Make yourself more qualified (preparation/impact) and get your name out there (opportunity/probability). Want more friends? Join a club (opportunity/probability) and have interesting things to say at its meetings (preparation/impact). Anything in your life that you want to happen more successfully and with more frequency, you can always make yourself better and find more opportunities.
Note, however, that you want to make sure that you balance the two so that you don’t run into unnecessary risk. If you put yourself out there without having the capability to back it up, you’ll not only get rejected but might also close yourself off to future opportunities. Alternatively, if you are the best but never put yourself out there (example: imagine if Susan Boyle, who became famous on Britain’s Got Talent, continued to keep her singing a secret because, as she stated during the competition, she hadn’t tried before because she sang by/for herself and didn’t know if she was good enough to do it professionally), you will be a great person who doesn’t succeed from lack of opportunity that you could’ve done more to chase.
Finally, it is worth acknowledging that of course there is luck that occurred a long time ago that you can’t control, such as your height (i.e., genetic plus you stop growing at a certain age where nutrition no longer affects it), your parents, and where you were born. That, of course, affects everything from the language you speak to your attractiveness to your biological predispositions in life. But every uncontrollable factor has at least one controllable one related to it. You can’t control your height, but you have the opportunity to make sure that you eat well so that you maximize what height you do have. You can also leverage being “too tall” or “too short” for its advantages, such as being an effective basketball player or being able to hide behind linemen as a running back in football. People remember Muggsy Bogues for his basketball success given his height, Tina Fey for her comedic talent without paying much mind to her scar, and Bob Ross for his gentleness and passion for painting and not for his missing finger (in fact, most people didn’t even know/notice this about him). Every limitation gives you an opportunity to succeed in a new and different way that may have never been done before, and that excites people.
So if you find yourself thinking that success is luck, just remember that you will create your own self-fulfilling prophecy that way. It is easy to have bad luck—stop trying, and nothing good will ever happen. Keep a bad attitude, and you will repel everyone. When they say, “Fortune favors the bold,” they mean that you taking a chance and doing what you have to do to succeed will get Lady Luck on your side, regardless of whether it was your skill or a lucky bounce in the moment. Keep trying and getting better, and you’ll hit your own personal jackpot—whatever that might be.