We love stories of long odds—those lucky, defining moments that inspire and amaze you. These moments are the foundation for some of our most popular stories, real or fictional. It’s the young go-getter landing the dream job after unwittingly helping out the CEO’s cousin; the guy meeting the perfect girl after a chance encounter; or getting the breakout acting role because you unleash your rage on an innocent bank teller in front of a casting agent (true story—this is how 19-year-old Charlize Theron got her start). Believe it or not, you have more control over luck than you think. You might be wondering: How can I create these moments? And when golden opportunity knocks on my door, how should I respond? We get some tips from the co-authors of How Luck Happens: Janice Kaplan, (author of The Gratitude Diaries), and Dr. Barnaby Marsh (renowned academic and director of the ‘Luck Lab’ at the Institute of Advanced Study). As it turns out, you can make your own luck—you just need someone like these two to compare a few thousand stories from all walks of life for you and run the data first. Here’s what they found.
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Get Lucky in Your Career
Go to every party & have a few good stories
Just being good at something isn’t always enough to be lucky—especially in today’s world. The break you are looking for will likely come from another person, usually through networking. Every acquaintance you make has the potential (or knows someone who does) to help you reach the break that defines your career. Go to every party, talk to people at the bus stop, have a couple of good stories ready and chances are you’ll find someone that can help you along the way. For the introverts reading this, don’t worry—being social is required for making connections, but research tells us that introverts form more loyal alliances through one-on-one time, so use that to your advantage.
Capitalize on your opportunities
In Charlize Theron’s case with the bank teller and the casting agent, she was in the right place at the right time. Pure luck, right? It’s more inside your control than you think. The overarching lessons from How Luck Happens all point to the optimization of opportunity. We can look at Charlize Theron’s bank outburst and say, “that’s one in a billion, I could yell at bank tellers every day for a year and still work my day job.” And you wouldn’t be wrong, but here’s the difference: She put herself in the right place to be lucky (downtown Los Angeles), she recognized the opportunity, and had the work ethic and talent to capitalize and make one lucky break into an Oscar-winning career. Without her recognition of the opportunity, extremely hard work and natural ability all working together, it could have been nothing but another dead end.
Get Lucky in Love
Cut down on your options
Renowned psychologist Dr. Barry Schwartz became famous for his research on the paradox of choice. In short, the paradox is this: We think that having more choices will make us happier. The more, the merrier, right? In reality, it leaves us with a sense of dissatisfaction. With so many options, we are left thinking about all the alternatives, the what-ifs and could-have-beens. This is especially true in looking for love. There’s no perfect answer—in the same way, there’s no perfect person to be with. But starting with a smaller pool of options will take some pressure off your mind and, intuitively, make the choice easier and more satisfying. (Hint: Cut down on the Tinder matches.)
Start with the similarities
The chief scientific advisor to Match.com has some input on how to get lucky. She writes, “The brain is powerfully built to find love, and anthropological studies tell us that 90 percent of any interaction is nonverbal. When you’re with someone, the ancient human brain will click in and tell you it’s right.” She agrees with Dr. Schwartz in that too much choice will just be confusing. Here’s her solution: follow your own beat. Love concerts? Go to concerts and start a conversation in the beer line. Love running? Join a running club and take your pace buddy out to coffee. Love the opera? Go to the opera and chat up your neighbor. The best luck in love comes from the strength of the connection, not the number of options. Start with the similarities.
Get Lucky in Life
Take risks to make that next step
In How Luck Happens, Dr. Barnaby Marsh describes a model developed by examining hundreds of stories called the ‘local hill-climbing strategy.’ In other words, if you have reached a peak in your life, whether in love or work, and you want to get to another, higher peak, you have to take risks and climb down into a valley. A big career change or messy divorce are examples of a valley in this model and can be terrible misfortunes. However, the journey through the valley can lead to higher peaks than you might have thought possible, with either new work opportunities, a better relationship, or just a healthy dose of perspective. In short, even our absolute worst rock-bottom moments can still turn out to be a stroke of luck. And even the luckiest life has valleys. To be truly lucky in life, you have to accept that you might go through some unlucky times before you shine.
So, make your own luck. Work hard. Talk to people. Climb that hill. Keep your eyes open, and prepare for that big break.
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