Luck. It’s indefinable. It is the unknown, the ineffable, and for many, that makes it terrifying.
Who can blame them though? The idea that the paths our lives take are ultimately paved by a force greater and more random than ability, focus, or faith is disturbing. After all, if we are willing to believe that even some of our success comes from good luck, doesn’t that mean that same luck could undermine us at any moment and undo all that it gave us?
Not if we make our own luck.
We might not be able to control luck itself, but we can certainly control that from which luck is borne: opportunity.
It’s not rare for Keira Knightley’s success to be blamed on luck by detractors. Her parents were esteemed actors, so they knew the tricks of the trade. Knightley got her first agent when she was six, and received some minor starring roles in the mid-90s. In 1999, she was offered a job on Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Not as a star. Not even a co-star. Her character, Sabé, was essentially a body-double to Natalie Portman’s Padme Amidala. Her lines were even dubbed by Portman. Other actors, as egotistical as their kind can be, might have turned down what could have been seen as a downgrade in their star power. Knightley, however, took the opportunity, and is now known across the world.
Richard Branson might be considered pretty lucky too. He takes great risks, the kinds of risks many of his competitors would nervously circumnavigate, and yet remains one of the most successful and prolific business magnates in the world. Naysayers would say that makes him lucky, but they’re wrong. Branson doesn’t take the risks because he’s lucky; he’s lucky because he takes the risks. In an extract from his book The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership hosted on Business Insider, Branson explains how his perseverance in selling Mike Oldfield’s record Tubular Bells to Atlantic Records led to the album receiving international attention.
“…one day while Ahmet just happened to be playing the album in his office (presumably still trying to figure out what all the fuss was about) in walked movie director William Friedkin looking for backing music for a movie he had in the works.
By an amazing stroke of good fortune, before Ahmet (Ertegun, head of Atlantic Records) could turn it off, Friedkin heard Tubular Bells, instantly loved it and that was that: he had his backing track and we had our U.S. deal with Atlantic. Oh yes, and the movie he was working on just happened to be The Exorcist, which was destined to become one of the greatest box-office hits of the day, and so it also helped introduce Tubular Bells to a global audience.
You could call it luck if you want, but there again I’d spent a lot of time yammering away at Ahmet and if he hadn’t been intrigued enough to listen to it one more time it would probably never have been playing at that critical moment in time.”
Branson saw the opportunity. He pushed for it. Success followed.
It’s a viewpoint mirrored in a 2015 study by Harvard Business Review, entitled Are Successful CEOs Just Lucky? Researchers found that while CEOs were no doubt talented, intelligent individuals, it wasn’t these factors that made the good ones effective. More important was an incalculable element. Namely, luck.
Just look at Lars Sørensen, the head of pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, who employs the phrase to describe how the company helped fund a non-profit organisation, World Diabetes Foundation, to help moderate the price of insulin around the world. The organisation was created in response to controversies surrounding the price of HIV-AIDS drugs in South Africa. If that controversy had struck Novo Nordisk’s insulin drugs, which account for 85% of their business, it would have been a completely different story.
On a more general level, when discussing everyday luck, the difference is that the lucky focus on what luck they have, while the unlucky focus on the luck they are lacking. Such an outlook gets us nowhere.
Look around you. Do you have running water? A job? An education? A roof over your head? A meal at dinner time?
Then you are already one of the lucky ones. These basic necessities allow for opportunities billions of people have never even imagined exist. Take them, and make your own damn luck.