Thursday, October 17, 2019

How Much of a Factor Does Luck Play?

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I was trading texts with an old friend after my "Self Reflection" post (by the way, that is a VERY rewarding component of this endeavor--just getting direct feedback that these posts are not only being read but that the content is connecting somehow). He's going through a similar career and life exploration, partially caused by an unexpected change of plans in the company he's been working for.

Not necessarily as a cheerleader, but I mentioned how he had busted his butt in the early years to land a coveted job at a high profile entertainment company. (By the way, I'm being intentionally vague here because 1. It's his story and not mine and 2. It's really the situation that is relevant anyway) He says to me, "That was pure luck."

Which got me thinking about the role that Luck plays in our lives. Capitalized intentionally for emphasis. In some regards, it's an actual proper noun.

My response to my friend was, "You put yourself in position to receive good luck." That's more than a catchphrase or slogan. I truly believe in this. In his case, it absolutely was not pure luck. He moved to New York, took on any job involving a camera that he could find, and made it clear to his entire orbit that he wanted to be in the business. The specific job that resulted from a perhaps lucky encounter only happened because he was driven to be in the space and was in the right place to take advantage of that lucky break.

I look at my own career path. I got my first career job at Diamond Comic Distributors in late 1991 (I started in mid-December, so effectively, it was 1992. In a bit of life foreshadowing, I got the job, worked about a week, and then had a week off for a previously planned ski trip out west somewhere). But how did I get that job? I had answered a classified ad in the Baltimore Sun with my resume--the posting was for "Trading Card Buyer," or something similar. With my family background in comics and cards in the 70's and 80's, I at least had some knowledge of the general world I was attempting to enter. As it turns out, I was actually the second choice for the job. Some time after I was hired, my boss, Tom Stormonth, told me this. I don't recall the context but probably just some casual conversation over a beer. Had the original candidate taken that job, who knows where I might have landed? I was actually interested in pursuing some kind of career in outdoor sports.

The point of that story? My hiring was the direct result of luck. But had I not submitted my resume and had at least a second-best interview, I would not have been in position to take advantage of that luck. What I did with that position and the subsequent career path was up to me, of course.

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I regularly listen to the podcast How I Built This With Guy Raz. It's a series of conversations with all kinds of entrepreneurs (many of whom are self-described accidental entrepreneurs--a parallel term to my entire premise here) and he is a great conversationalist. Highly recommend. Anyway, towards the end of every interview, he asks his guest(s), "How much of your success is attributable to hard work and how much is luck?" I have yet to hear one who does not credit some significant portion to luck.

I can come up with all kinds of other examples in my own journey:

  • I was lucky to be at a friend's party in Baltimore when I ran into a girl I sort of knew in college. That conversation has led to a lifetime together.
  • I was lucky to be introduced to a series of people who prompted me to go to Japan in the mid-90's for several different, unrelated business opportunities. Those trips were not only professionally rewarding but some of the most amazing personal trips in my life. 
  • I was lucky to be invited on a ski weekend in my senior year of high school. That two-day trip ignited a passion for the mountains that continues to this day. 
  • I was lucky to be interested in producing toys right at the time that China factories came up with a technique to significantly lower the barrier to entry for manufacturing. That was at the same time that a generation of kids who grew up playing with Star Wars action figures were now young adults and wanted to have that nostalgic form factor but in other brands. Action Figures as Desk Ornaments. 
  • I was lucky countless times in my career to be at some conference, trade show, consumer show (or bar in the after-hours) and meet someone who would later become an influence, partner, teammate, supplier, friend or some combination of the above. 
  • I was lucky to have been able to move across the country, not once but twice, having amazing experiences as a part of those decisions. 
The commonality of all of those events? I put myself in the position to capitalize on those lucky breaks. And will continue to do so as I continue down the road. 

My mother always referred to me (lovingly, mind you) as The Golden Child. What she meant is that things tend to work out for me. I've gotten myself into all kinds of jams over the years and always find a way out. (It doesn't only relate to unjamming jams; she also meant that I've been able to make a nice life with a wonderful family and countless other positive aspects along the way) While that's a nice sentiment and in dark times can be a bit of a beacon of light, I also know that I can't rely on that luck. So I keep putting myself in favorable situations so that when that lucky moment pops up, I can take advantage of it. 


  1. Mike the comment was over several beers ( I don't think we ever had just one; and I think the context was something like "we were so lucky to get you... you weren't our first choice... etc". Tom

    1. Yeah, I knew it was like that and not a "Too bad we didn't get the first person" kinda deal. It would be interesting to see whatever happened to that person.

  2. It's a skill to be in the right place, at the right time - I firmly believe that - but happenstance is a thing also. Keep writing - loving it!

    1. Thanks! It does help to know someone’s reading!

  3. Agreed on all points ...and you were lucky to be my younger brother as well !! Love your posts and look forward to working with you on the Entertainment Technology business(es) we are helping to develop !

    1. That certainly helped! My only support in those early years, in fact.