At many points throughout my career, people have told me how I was just lucky and, honestly, I have thought this about others too. Although I am not claiming to be able to explain away the luck phenomena completely, I am going to discuss what is known as the luck factor. Read on if you want to get lucky…punk.

Psychologist, Rick Wiseman is the author of the book, The Luck Factor, based on a decade of research into luck and superstitions. His research found that 72% of the population had a lucky charm or some other superstition they believed to deliver them to lucky opportunities; however, none of these subjects were any luckier than those without a charm. He did find that the two greatest factors delivering “luck” were chance opportunities and being able to handle the misfortunes in their lives.

Chance Opportunities: “Man that guy was just in the right place at the right time.” is something we have all thought at one point. Maybe it is even something we have thought about an event in our own careers. One of my favorite career events ever appeared to happen by chance on the surface, but it was more preparation than luck. I was selected to be a part of a crashed C-17 investigation and recovery effort that received a lot of attention and was an amazing challenge. What many didn’t realize is that I was the third choice out of four people.

The number one choice was our most experienced Pro Super, but he was deeply involved in another project. I was the second most experienced Pro Super and supervision wanted to keep me on station since number one was tied up. The third guy was not trained and the fourth was not trained or capable. By default, I was selected.

The Roman philosopher Seneca had said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Think about some of the moments you felt lucky. These might have been a moment where you seemed to be the only one who knew the answer or you were the only one able to do a particular task. I’d argue that you weren’t luckier than the others, you were just better prepared.

How do you become better prepared for opportunities that may come your way? One way is to go above and beyond. Are you the first person to leave after a training session or are you the one who stays back to ask some other questions? There have been times where I saw peers stay behind and what they learned made them better prepared. When we do the bare minimum, we are no better prepared for an opportunity than the next person.

Handle misfortunes: Our ability to deal with the things that do not go well in our lives is a very powerful skill to learn. I hate to say it, but all that resilience training might actually be useful. We all know bad things are going to happen in our careers. We may be passed over in the forced distro selection, maybe someone else is selected as NCO of the quarter over us, maybe we have to do a short-notice deployment or a multitude of other things. How you deal with these events makes the difference?

No one enjoys when things don’t go his or her way; however, when we realize it is just a season, we can grow and get past it. I don’t know about you, but when I look back to the times I was passed over or forced to make an unwanted sacrifice, I have almost always came out better on the other side. Sometimes just having the knowledge I was able to endure made all the difference in the next challenge I had faced.

In his book, Resilience, Eric Greitens teaches, “not all of us are strong at the broken places [misfortunes]. To be strong at the broken places is to be resilient. Being broken, by itself, does not make us better.” We have to reflect why we weren’t chosen. Was it because we were not the most prepared? Was it because no one knew we had such talents? Was it because we were whining and spreading negativity about our misfortunes? When we learn from our experience, we are better prepared for future opportunities.

One thought

  1. Neat leadership “tidbits.” I like your quote from the Roman philosopher Seneca, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

    I have told subordinates and those that I mentor to always be ready for the next opportunity (because I have been told that by others, not cause I came up with it). You never know when your “dream opportunity” will come up. If you have all your ducks in a row by fulfilling all the requirements to meet your goals, you may be “the one” who is selected to fill a position because you ARE ready. Sometimes this looks like luck from an outsider, but it is essentially being prepared.


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