The word fortune is derived from the goddess of luck and fate, Fortuna, in Roman mythology. She’s often portrayed as being blindfolded, meaning she is impartial–she doesn’t care about the recipient. Instead, she is an agent of chance and a symbol for the unpredictability of life. She can bestow upon each of us not only good luck and fortune, but also disaster. That is what the ancient Romans believed: luck, whether good or bad, is something that just happens to us. Some people are born under a lucky star, and some are not. We cannot–and should not–interfere.
But, it turns out, this view about the world is mostly incorrect. I am here to convince you that we all can – at least to some extent – be the architects of our own fortune. We can change our stars. We can learn how to be lucky.
Prepare… Be There… Express… Say Yes!
The truth is: I’m a lucky guy. I got to speak at a TEDx conference in Bergen, Norway recently. I wasn’t even invited to speak. I was just a regular guest. One of the speakers cancelled but instead of extending the break, the organizers addressed the audience and said: “OK, we’re going to split up those 18 minutes by 3. If you feel like giving an impromptu five-minute TEDx talk, write your name on a piece of paper and put it on the speaker’s desk during the next break.” So, I put my name on the desk.
Lucky me – my name was drawn from the stack and I gave my first TEDx talk.
There certainly was an element of luck at work. Ten or twelve slips of paper were on the desk. My chances were roughly at 30 percent. But it takes more than being lucky. You have to be there in the first place. You have to buy a ticket and show up. This is straightforward, but nevertheless crucially important. You also have to be brave and optimistic and write your name on that slip of paper and tell the world what you have to offer. And then, when your name is actually pulled from the stack, you have to say, “Yes.” You have to go for it.
But that is not the whole story. You also have to be prepared. You need to have knowledge. You have to be ready. And there we have four essential building blocks for being the architect of your own fortune: Prepare, be there, express, and say yes!
The scientist Louis Pasteur famously said: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Back in his time, Pasteur was referring to scientific discoveries – but isn’t that just a special case of being lucky? You have to be able to understand what you see when you see something. You have to be able to connect the dots, discover a pattern – and make sense of it. And this ability in turn is based on training, prior knowledge, expertise. Therefore, we tend to get luckier the more we learn and grow.
Mr. Woody Allen says “80 percent of success in life is showing up.” And I think he’s absolutely right. We have to go places, meet people, we have to be curious. We have to be present, open and mindful. Luck seldom happens to us when we are at home alone. Luck mostly comes to us in the form of other people. Luck favors those that go out and mingle. If you do not apply for the job of your dreams, you are definitely not going to get it. If you do not talk to the beautiful stranger, you won’t “get lucky.” We tend to get luckier the more curious and open we are.
Now let’s look at some science: Richard Wiseman is a British psychology professor who published “The Luck Factor.” He’s got a lot to say on the topic, but for now let’s just look at a sentence from the summary section: “Luck is not a magical ability or a gift from the gods. Instead, it is a state of mind – a way of thinking and behaving.” One thing that he found in his experiments is that lucky people mostly are not really luckier, they just try harder. They display more grit. An important behavioral trait of lucky people is expressing yourself – and let others express themselves. We have to show the world what we have to give. And we have to listen to what others have to say and to give. We tend to get luckier the more we express ourselves.
Finally, we need to say yes! Sir Richard Branson is often quoted saying “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” And that, once again, has a lot to do with the TEDx talk in Norway. Five days before the talk, I got a message and was asked if I would be able to come to Bergen. A proper German should have said “Oh, Norway? This Saturday? That’s tough. You know, I have to do the grocery shopping on Saturday, and then there’s soccer on TV… and it’s a really long trip.” But I said yes… We tend to get luckier the more we say yes, instead of no!
I firmly believe this is also the reason why some people are luckier than others. By going out and learning, and talking to people, and saying yes, we enlarge our personal sphere of the adjacent possible. We create an extended space of possibility and make possible what for others is impossible. We get to be the architects of our own fortune. Prepare, be there, express, and say yes!
Nico Rose is a psychologist with a doctoral degree in business administration. Nico has authored articles, appeared in German newspapers, and is a regular keynote speaker at human resource conferences. His latest book is “Lizenz zur Zufriedenheit – Positive Psychologie in der Praxis” (License for Satisfaction: Positive Psychology in Practice). He blogs about Positive Psychology at www.mappalicious.com. – Photo Credits: (top) Flazingo Photos – CC
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