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Making Your Own Luck

The science of making your own luck

Why is it that some people seem to have all the luck?

  • Casie has the best boyfriends. They treat her well and aren’t high maintenance. While not everyone works out, it’s as if Casie simply flows onto the next one. Or she’s happy being single. You, on the other hand, can’t seem to find someone when you want to, and get trapped in difficult entanglements. It’s not right.
  • Jack’s looking for a job. It seems that whenever he wants one, something appears. You, on the other hand, send out resume after resume, with little to show for it.
  • Stacy’s kids seem to get every opportunity. They’re no brighter or talented than yours, but things seem to go their way. They get more attention in Ballet or Soccer. Even teachers seem to favor them.

Now, there is no tried and true way to make your luck. But, there are many ways to ruin it. Some people cheat by using connections and favors. Yet, you’d be surprised at just how much power you have in making lady luck work for you and your family.

Time: It starts with valuing time in a different way. Often opportunities come up. You get an invitation to a networking event. There’s an email out about helping with a school project. A friend of yours needs attention and you go.

Or, since you’re busy, you say to yourself; “not today.” You think; “there’s always another opportunity to go or to help.”

Here’s the rub. Time is relentlessly unkind.

An event that you turn down now is an event that will never – ever – happen again. There may be a similar opportunity in the future but it is not same opportunity – and you are not the same person. Time changes us.

Opportunities are like windows in time. You can choose to ignore them. But, they don’t come back. Or, you can choose to jump into them, and you never know what you may find.

Optimism: This brings us to the next critical concept, optimism.

  • Casie is friendly to everyone. She enjoys her boyfriend, Timothy, but that hardly stops her from connecting to people. Is she a flirt? Not really; she talks with men (and women) without suggestion, because she enjoys the connection. Tim is her man, but she’s in the world. When Tim gets a new job in London, Casie’s upset, but balanced. She tells him; “Look, if it’s meant to be, we’ll know. If it’s not meant to be, we will also know.” They opt to date others. And, Casie moves on.
  • Jack goes to a dumb reunion, when he would rather just hang out at home. He meets George, a guy who looked up to him in High School, who now works in his field. Jack brings optimism and curiosity to the moment. He’s happy to connect with George. It opens another window in time. And, as it turns out, George has a connection that will, in turn, open more doors.
  • Stacy is an active mother. Some are jealous of her. But, it’s not all manipulative or shady. Stacy simply takes being a mom very seriously. When a window in time opens, she often jumps through. This may not be easy for those with shyness or depression; but Stacy does it even when she’s feeling down. It’s a habit. In grade school she showed up to help the teachers. In middle school she schlepped her nine year old son, Jason, to chess matches after he showed a smidgen of talent. Stacy also went to lectures on child development and such. People who could help Jason stepped up; they naturally did so with a smile on their face. Stacy made that kind of impression.

Casie, Jack and Stacy have something in common. They engage opportunities with optimism and good will.

As Tali Sharot in The Science of Optimism, tells us:

“Optimism starts with what may be the most extraordinary of human talents: mental time travel. That is, the ability to move back and forth through time and space in one’s mind. To think positively about our prospects…”

And that’s exactly it - by being optimistic, by envisioning positive thoughts and nursing good feelings we can give ourselves a gift. Optimistic thinking can bring about surprisingly optimistic realities.

You need to be realistic in life – but add a tad of optimism. It could do you well.

Openness: Optimism leads to a kind of openness. You don’t know what’s coming and that’s okay. There are many people who need to strategize all aspects of their lives. This may work, but it is not the good energy of trust that characterizes making one’s own luck.

Once you walk through a window in time; be open to other opportunities that you may never have thought of in a million years. Each window may open to new opportunities. Sometimes, it’s a dead end, but often you’d be surprised.

Take the information you learned, the contacts you made, the new idea that was sparked and document it. Perhaps you will contact that person again. Or, you get triggered to go along another path. Or, you just plain decide that the night was a bust. Be open. Too many good things can happen. And, sometimes, we get in the way.

It’s okay to be a bit in awe of the world. Breathe deep. Each moment is a world.

Generosity: People who make their own luck are generous. They understand that sharing often makes for more good energy and more connections.

  • Jack tells a colleague about his experience with George. After a friendly laugh, they huddle and think about the possibilities together. Two days later, the colleague shares an insight that is directly connected to the George conversation. Trust and generosity have trumped competitiveness and they are off to make something happen.
  • Stacy, in her own way, brings other mothers and fathers along with her. One single dad, Larry, now joins her to chess tournaments. His daughter, Leah, is amazing. Soon, Jason and Leah are a great team. They become friends for life.

A good amount of research has been done on the effects of generosity and pro-social behavior. The research suggests that acts of kindness, giving and sharing have great benefits for the person performing the acts of kindness. When you’re generous to others you may experience a psychological, hormonal or emotional lift.

Generosity often breeds good will in others. Now, you don’t want others to take advantage – you may run into a narcissist or two. But, by and large, when you offer good will, doors of trust often open. It’s not a Machiavellian decision; as in you are generous in order to obtain opportunity. No, it’s about being generous; and interesting things happen, almost as a byproduct.

Flow: I want you to get the sense of flow in this process. A person takes a step, opens up, stays curious and connects. Things happen that are impossible to predict. That is flow. It works against every obsessive compulsive bone in your body. The more controlling you are; the harder it is to participate in flow. In fact, I’m leaving this piece deliberately detail free in order to give you a sense of flow. Opportunity can only be seized if you see it. And, you often can’t see opportunity unless you have opened countless time windows along the way.

Think about all the love missed out. That night with that great guy; something big could have happened, but you said to yourself, there’ll be another time – there wasn’t.

Skill: Making your own luck often pushes you to develop new skills that you never imagined. I remember a friend of mine leading a five day hike in remote Turkey (at least remote to me). While I wasn’t in terrible shape, it scared me. I said yes and prepared. The experience was amazing; it opened me up to that place in the world and to the simple grandeur of a real trek. Later, I wrote about the experience, which was one of my early trials at magazine writing. One door led to another. It was a moment in time taken.

According to Gary Player, the Hall of Fame golfer - The more I practice the luckier I get.

Flow Again: And, then you flow again. Casie, Jack and Stacy are in the habit of opening windows as they come by. Their openness and optimism attracts people to them. And, opportunities come their way.

Imagine each window you crawl through. You have moved from habitual time into actively engaging time. You take a look and see another window or two; openings that you would never have know about. You choose one; and move onwards.

Going Home: You can’t go through every window of opportunity, just like you can’t dance at every wedding. Some opportunities turn into busts or worse. And, sometimes, you have to go home; life, after all, needs to stay in balance.

Yet, I bet that you know folks like Casie, Jack and Stacy; regular people who make their own luck. You don’t have to be a committed extrovert to make it happen; consider taking action, staying optimistic and maintaining curiosity in the moment.

People like this are really alive; like adventurers in an ordinary life.

Perhaps that’s what makes them extraordinary.


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