The Luck Illusion
Creating Opportunities is the Secret to Success
As both a software engineer and an actor, I often hear about incredible success stories, from big breaks in acting to 7-figure exits in the tech world. Should we attribute these accomplishments solely to luck, or is there something these individuals are doing that sets them apart?
Big Breaks in Acting
On the acting side, we frequently hear stories of actors getting discovered at their very first audition or landing a huge role due to a fortuitous set of circumstances. While these instances of pure luck do happen, they are incredibly rare. Most actors work their entire careers in commercials, TV, and films without ever landing leading or high-budget roles.
I would argue that the majority of these success stories are not a result of luck, but rather manufactured circumstances. Let me explain.
More Opportunities through Community
Think of everybody you know. How many of those people have ever auditioned for anything big, let alone something that would be considered a fame-making role. Don't get me wrong, there are a whole lot of actors for a small number of roles, but if you reorient "fame" and frame it in the world of people who act, then the world gets a whole lot smaller.
This smaller acting community lends itself to opportunities. As you take classes and collaborate with others, you create connections that can later prove valuable. When you are part of a community, the chances of stumbling upon a great opportunity increase. I'm still on the very fringes of this world, but have already met influential people who might someday think of me when casting their new project. What may seem like luck is often the result of years of networking and persistence. Wow, lucky!
Ideas for Creating Opportunities
To manufacture your own luck and create opportunities in your field, consider the following ideas:
Network by attending industry events, joining online communities, and reaching out to professionals in your field.
Keep improving your skills by taking workshops, online courses, or teaming up with friends on projects.
Be proactive in finding new projects and challenges to show off your abilities and build a strong portfolio.
Stay in the loop about industry trends and developments to spot potential opportunities early on.
By taking these steps, you can increase your chances of encountering those "lucky" breaks and transforming them into real success.
I’m a huge introvert so networking can be exhausting for me. I’ve found most of my success in networking by joining classes, doing workshops, and through projects. Play to your strengths!
In the software engineering world, I've seen similar situations. Some people start a side project that blows up, leading to an early retirement on a beach somewhere. Others join a start-up on the upswing, receiving stock options that pay off when the company goes public.
Again, while there’s definitely a component of luck to this, the chance of blowing up grows dramatically by just showing up. Day after day.
I know a lot of software engineers. Some of them have side projects, but only a few take them seriously. Most are content to work a salary position and enjoy a pretty great life (nothing wrong with that!). But the ones who venture out to try to have their side project become a big deal are the only ones who have an opportunity to ‘blow up.’ They bought their lotto ticket.
The multiplier for their lotto ticket are the connections they’ve made by being involved in their field. The connections they’ve made suddenly become promoters or purchasers of their product.
The Role of Resilience
Resilience plays a crucial role in overcoming setbacks and achieving long-term success. Build resilience by:
Developing a growth mindset that sees failures as opportunities to learn and improve.
Practicing self-compassion and realizing that setbacks are a natural part of progress.
Surrounding yourself with a supportive network of friends and mentors who can offer guidance and encouragement.
Establishing healthy habits, like exercise, to help manage stress and maintain a balanced perspective.
I’ve met people who keep a spreadsheet of self-love. When someone compliments their work, they add it to the spreadsheet. And whenever they feel out of their depth, they revisit their spreadsheet.
By building resilience, you can better navigate the inevitable ups and downs of your career and stay focused on your goals.
The Truth about Luck
Not all luck is manufactured. Some people work hard their whole lives and never have things go their way. Others are born into circumstances that make their life much harder or much easier. We can't change the hand we were dealt.
However, we can enter that hand we were dealt into so many pots that we're bound to hit a full house sometime. It can be hard to persevere through loss after loss. But anybody that's able to show up, day after day, and put in the work are the people who we'll later admire as an overnight success
So take each day one at a time. Show up. Multiply your odds.
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