Luck Is No Accident: 10 ways to get more out of work and life

Some people are luckier than others.

How many of you believe this? Why do you believe it? Are you one of the lucky ones? Or does luck seem to pass you by? And just what is luck, anyhow?

According to John D. Krumboltz and Al S. Levin, there’s no such thing as luck. In fact, they shirk the use of the word in their book Luck Is No Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career, opting instead to use “happenstance”, a term with less baggage. Krumboltz and Levin argue that happenstance isn’t something that randomly effects us — it’s something that we create out of the chance situations and encounters that run through our lives:

Have you ever noticed that unplanned events — chance occurrences — more often determine your life and career choices than all the careful planning you do? A chance meeting, a broken appointment, a spontaneous vacation trip, a “fill-in” job, a newly discovered hobby — these are the kinds of experiences — happenstances — that lead to unexpected life directions and career choices.

The key is to recognize these opportunities and to act on them. Here are some techniques the authors suggest we can use to turn happenstance to our advantage.

  1. Make the most of unplanned events. We are constantly bombarded by the unexpected. Most of the time, we dodge unplanned events in order to return to our normal lives. We fear the spontaneous. But if you can relax, open your mind, and roll with the unplanned, new opportunities will unfold.
  2. Share your interests and experiences with people you meet. You don’t need to force your story on others. But learn to strike up conversations with people you meet. Ask them about their lives. They’ll ask you about yours. In Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi notes this is a great way to form connections you might otherwise miss. In this way, you may sometimes turn a random encounter into a possible “lucky break”. (Occasionally you will be a source of luck for the people you meet, just as they will sometimes be a source of luck for you.)
  3. Always keep your options open. Goals are good. But single-minded devotion to a goal can often blind a person to other opportunities. And it’s a mistake to cling to one path out of a sense of obligation. If you enter law school and discover you hate it, quit. Don’t endure years of misery because you feel it’s expected of you. “Refuse to serve a life sentence of misery,” the authors write. You have more options than you think, but you may need to open your eyes to see them.
  4. Wake up — before your dreams come true. When I was a boy, I loved computers. Computer programmers, like those in WarGames and Real Genius, were my heroes. But when I finally became a programmer myself, it wasn’t anything like I had imagined it. It was drudgery. I gave up my dream and moved on to something else. Pursue goals, but be sure to reassess your progress and your priorities at regular intervals to prevent yourself from becoming trapped in a reality that is nothing like your dreams.
  5. Try it — even without knowing the outcome. Two of the best ways to “be lucky” are to be willing to take calculated risks and to embrace unexpected opportunities. Try new things. Go new places. Don’t just do the things for which you know the eventual outcome. I’ve learned that the best way for me to grow as a person is to do something completely outside my comfort zone. Good things happen when I do.
  6. Maintain a strong social network. “Building and maintaining good relationships with other people is an important component for job success,” the authors write. Other people can provide support in times of trouble, they can act as resources when you need information, and they can offer valuable connections to other social networks. Again, Keith Ferrazzi covers many of these concepts in Never Eat Alone, a book that explores the value of strong social networks. (And remember: it’s just as important for you to help others as it is for you to draw upon their help.)
  7. Go ahead and make mistakes. Do not be afraid to fail. It’s trite, but it’s true: those who never try, never fail. And those who never fail, never learn. “First ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen?” Dale Carnegie once advised. “Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.” If you can learn to react to mistakes constructively, you can actually improve your situation and get on with life.
  8. Take action to create your own luck. The authors offer a number of useful tips for creating your own luck:
    • Act now. Don’t procrastinate. Begin pursuing your goals today.
    • Avoid the “sunk cost fallacy”. Just because you’ve spent time and money on something doesn’t mean you can or should continue doing so.
    • Take advantage of timely opportunities. Don’t be afraid to say “yes” when a favorable circumstance arises.
    • Always do your best work, even when you think the task is unimportant.
    • Ask for what you want. If you do not ask, you cannot receive.
    • Be persistent. Don’t give up. Work hard.
    • Become a lifelong learner. In 50 Success Classics, Tom Butler-Bowdon notes that most successful men and women have made a habit of reading, and of constant self-improvement.

    Follow these seven guidelines, and your “luck” is bound to improve.

  9. Enjoy yourself — the good life is a balanced life. Here’s advice I sometimes forget. A person who leads a balanced life is happier, more relaxed, more open to new experiences. If you maintain good relationships, explore satisfying hobbies, prioritize physical fitness, go out of your way to help others, and continue to pursue personal growth, you will become a well-rounded person, just the sort that “luck” favors.
  10. Overcome self-sabotage. Finally, in order to make the most of “luck” and happenstance, you must learn to face down your greatest enemy: your self. Each of us is capable of thwarting good fortune through negative self-talk. We beat ourselves up over our pasts. We tell ourselves that we “can’t” do something before we even try.

Dale Carnegie once said, “Happiness doesn’t depend on ay external conditions — it is governed by your mental attitude.” Some people might dismiss this as bunk, but research bears it out. Don’t worry about circumstances beyond your control. Learn to control the things you can, including your reaction to the world around you. How you respond to an unfortunate event is often more important than the event itself. Krumboltz and Levin write:

You have control over your own actions and how you think about the events that impact your life. None us can control the outcomes, but your actions can increase the probability that desired outcomes will occur. There are no guarantees in life. The only guarantee is that doing nothing will get you nowhere.

Luck is No Accident Inaction is the surest path to failure. You cannot succeed if you never try. My father used to tell me this, but I never took his advice to heart. I became an expert at doing nothing, at never daring to pursue my dreams. Over the past two years, I’ve begun to overcome this fear, have begun to act. I’ve begun to make my own luck.

Luck Is No Accident is a short book. Nothing in it is groundbreaking or revolutionary. Yet its common-sense wisdom is a powerful motivator. Whenever I read this book — I’ve read it three times in the past year — I cannot help but come away inspired, ready to make more of my situation, and to try new things. Is it worth owning? Perhaps not. But if you’re the sort of person who wonders why good things only happen to other people, I certainly encourage you to borrow a copy from your local library.

Photo by cimarroncat. This review first appeared in slightly different format at Zen Habits.

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There are 46 comments to "Luck Is No Accident: 10 ways to get more out of work and life".

  1. Lily says 17 March 2008 at 04:53

    So many useful tips! It’s only recently that I’ve learnt to push my luck – and even before seeing the actual results I had started feeling better. My new attitude, more open, daring, productive let me enjoy life more.

  2. Ian Wasp says 17 March 2008 at 05:08

    I have to say, this big leap of yours is swell and all but a zillion people have done it and have lived to tell the tale. You need to find something else to write about or pronto.

    And you know what? I don’t care much that you’re scared, and Bruce said, um, yeah man, I know it’s scary out there, and what not. You’re just not that interesting and your feelings about what you’re up to won’t cause a ripple in a glass of water. Heck, you’re boring. Stick to writing about financial things, which you apparently know about, and leave the writer’s life stuff to people who have more interesting things to say (and say it far better than you do).

    I don’t want to read your diary, thank you.

    • Davina says 07 January 2012 at 15:03

      You are the boring one, Ian, and we don’t want to hear from YOU so stuff a sock in it.

  3. plonkee says 17 March 2008 at 05:16

    Whilst this is all true to a certain extent (and certainly useful) it would be a mistake to think that it’s a sure thing. If bad “luck” happens to you (and it probably will) it’s not necessarily because you didn’t try hard enough. Some luck is stuff you can work at, and other luck just happens. You can (and should) try and maximise your good luck, but you can’t make it 100%.

  4. Attraction Guy says 17 March 2008 at 05:19

    I agree with you. I read a book name “Your Life, Your Legacy” before talking about luck too. There’s a different way of looking at luck too.

    When we see luck as something that is beyond our reach or something that we can’t create, we will try to make ourselves as victims and complain about others and the world. Looking at luck as ‘happenstance’ is really a powerful way to look at luck.

    These tips are really useful and I’m proud to say I’m practicing most of it. However, I use it with the law of attraction.

    Thanks for the generous sharing. You just open a new view for me.

  5. Kacper says 17 March 2008 at 06:09

    Very good post. Playing chess learnt me to look for my own mistakes and not to blame ‘luck’. It doesn’t exist.

  6. Kent Thune says 17 March 2008 at 06:09

    “As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    “Plans are worthless. Planning is essential.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

    I believe that the act of “planning” is what enables opportunities. Following a static “plan,” however can lead us over a waterfall. We must remain flexible and open to opportunities as they present themselves. The greatest moments and achievements in my life were not “planned” but would not likely have occured without any “planning.”

    I posted on “enabling opportunities” here…

    http://financialphilosopher.typepad.com/thefinancialphilosopher/2008/02/enabling-opport.html

    Thanks for the post.

  7. Frugal Dad says 17 March 2008 at 06:18

    I don’t remeber the author, but an athlete (I think it was a golfer) was once quoted saying, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” My grandfather preached this to me in athletics, schoolwork and life in general. It is true that many people watching the success of others pass it off as “luck,” when in fact it is the result of hours and hours of preparation and hard work. Great post!

  8. Pete says 17 March 2008 at 07:04

    Good ideas, but I still maintain that luck exists, and some people truly are luckier than others.

    I swear I have the worst luck out of anyone I know. I admit, I actively need to embrace the ideas above. But at the same time, if something is going to happen, the lesser option will happen to me. I’ve narrowed it down to chronically, instinctively making poor choices, but that’s what I do. It’s like the episode of Seinfeld where George does everything the opposite of what his instinct says.

    I cannot gamble. I enjoy playing cards, but every time I have gone to a casino, and immediately lose what I came with. It doesn’t matter if it’s slots, blackjack, video poker, what. I will sit at a machine, and not win once. I’m totally OK with losing the money; I came in allotting a certain amount as an entertainment expense. But the fun is in winning at least part of the time. It’s crap if you aren’t EVER up. Heh, I even make my friends lose when I’m around them. I haven’t been to a casino since early college, and hate them now.

    If there is a choice of lines, whether at the supermarket or tollbooth or whatever, I will without fail choose the slower of the lines. Every time. My wife laughs at me, asks me to choose a line, and then we go to another one. I will always choose whatever one ends up with the slow person at the front, or some other distraction. Every. Single. Time.

    Poor choices? Pessimistic views? Sure. But it still equals bad luck. It does exist!

  9. Kyle says 17 March 2008 at 07:05

    I can personally vouch for the “maintain a strong social network” part. Every job and money-making/investment opportunity I’ve ever gotten was a direct result of a personal connection. Monster.com has never worked for me.

  10. Saving Freak says 17 March 2008 at 07:16

    Gotta disagree. I have come to see good planning as the means to good luck. By being prepared my wife and I are always ready to take advantage of an opportunity. I have friends who think I am lucky because I am always getting a good deal on things I purchase but I have the money saved and am ready to pounce on the deal when it comes my way. Bad luck is just a failure to plan for the inevitable.

  11. brooke says 17 March 2008 at 07:29

    This article fits right in with my current goals. It’s always good to stay inspired.

  12. AB says 17 March 2008 at 08:17

    Bad things will happen to you outside of your control. Good things will also happen outside of your control. This isn’t really luck, it’s just life. Life is a mix of things.

    I happen to be one of those people who others always call “lucky”. The reality of it is that I follow a lot of the basic ideas in this post. I also don’t try to force things or dwell on things outside my control. I got a lot happier and “luckier” after I accepted that there are things I can’t control. Planning for consequences and eventualities, taking calculated risks, following one’s passions all help with bringing good things to life.

    For example, me working part time and having 5 days a week to write: my friends say I’m lucky to have the time. They like to forget the 70 hour weeks I worked for a year and a half to pay off school debt and build a little savings. It’s not luck at all.

    Also, JD, ignore the likes of Ian Wasp… I think it’s great what you are doing and writing about. I enjoy how you relate personal finance to your own life, it makes the theoretical tangible. The posts are plenty interesting. Thanks!

  13. commonsense says 17 March 2008 at 08:50

    shout out to Keith Ferrazzi and all the other fellow Sigma Chi’s who are members of this forum!

    In hoc,

  14. Tiruvan says 17 March 2008 at 09:31

    Luck = Things that aren’t in your control

    That part where you say “Don’t worry about things that are not under your control” is what luck is all about. So it does exist.

  15. Heidi says 17 March 2008 at 10:28

    Great post. I’m another one who’s friends always call “lucky” (usually with a certain amount of jealousy in their voices). I admit that “luck” has played a certain role in my current circumstances, but only to the extent that I’ve been “lucky” to be faced with opportunities to better myself… I, however, am the one who stepped up and made something out of those opportunities.

    For example, about 6 years ago I was working as a waitress. I hated my job, and every day I woke up and said to myself “I wish I had a job where my biggest complaint was that I had to get up in the morning.” A few weeks after this “mantra” started, I happened to be window shopping in my local downtown district, when I just happened to overhear a shop owner tell someone else “I wish someone would walk up to me and say ‘Merry, I want to work 4 days a week.'” Now normally I am NOT an outgoing person, but I walked out of the store I was in, right up to Merry, and I said, “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation, and Merry, I would really like to work 4 days a week!”

    That job has led me to some amazing opportunities, and many people think I’m very “lucky” to have that job… but ultimately it was my own actions that got the job, not “luck”.

  16. Starving Artist says 17 March 2008 at 12:03

    I totally agree–there are a million opportunities we can take advantage of every day, and it’s just a matter of chosing wisely. that makes the difference.

  17. John says 17 March 2008 at 12:30

    Good advice, however the sales-pitch is just word play. Luck, happenstance, etc., they’re all the same thing. “Making your own luck” is really just giving yourself the chance to maximize your benefit when good luck comes your way and minimize the detriment when bad luck comes. It’s no guarantee that you’ll “win” any given round or come ahead in any finite period of time. You’re just trying to shift the weight or value allocations of a set of random events that have set probabilities of happening.

    And in the long run, that makes all the difference.

  18. Stephen Martile says 17 March 2008 at 13:14

    Hi JD,

    Congrats on making the move to being an online infopreneur. I’m on the same path…

    I would sum up your article with one word,
    – Focus –

    Focus on the things you want and desire to manifest. In my opinion, luck does not exist – there are no accidents or coincidences. All of us are a part of this cosmic soup that makes up the Universe. The soup that is always listening, watching and giving us exactly what we want.

    Focus on what you want and it will be presented to you.

    Best,

  19. Kathy says 17 March 2008 at 14:06

    Luck does favor the prepared mind

  20. zach says 17 March 2008 at 14:52

    This is an AWESOME post! Exactly what I’ve been trying to live day to day. And it’s even more important to take advantage of unforseen opportunities when you are at the bottom of the socio-economic scale, like I am.

    The only thing I would add is that you create your own consequences, both good and bad, so set yourself up for good consequences in the future. In a way this works something like karma- a good deed gets paid forward and comes back to you in the end. To some this is a sentimental statement but to me- this is the reality of my life, and in many ways the only way I’m even above water.

    Great post.

  21. Atish says 17 March 2008 at 16:50

    Nice work, I wish you good luck. Start volunteering in the local school, library is also a good place o=to socialize.

  22. Dividends4Life says 17 March 2008 at 19:33

    Ironically, I have found that most “lucky” people are diligent hard works. Go figure. 🙂

    Best Wishes,
    D4L

  23. Truck4Sale says 17 March 2008 at 20:42

    I think large component of luck is how one perceives life. One example I heard that illustrates this is, a man gets in a terrible car accident and breaks his arm. If he is a lucky man he says “wow I was so lucky I lived” whereas if he is an unlucky man he says “I’m so unlucky to have been in an accident and now I have a broken arm, if I would have taken a different way home this wouldn’t have happened.” This is something I heard on NPR one time, so maybe it is even from the same book

    When people say that they are considered lucky by their friends, I think it reflects what they remember and talk about it. The lucky person might forget to mention to their friends (because they probably forgot themselves) how they ran out of gas on the freeway the other day. If you see the good things in life and forget the bad, then those are the things you talk about and what people remember about you.

    It seems like luck might be an area where perception and reality get blurred.

  24. tracy ho says 17 March 2008 at 20:56

    I do believe in Luck + oppotunities that come into our lives , do grab it & make your “Dream ” come true .

    Good luck from me ,

    Tracy ho
    wisdomgettingloaded

  25. rachel @ master your card says 18 March 2008 at 05:24

    I was particularly taken with your point about being careful as your dreams may come true. I use goal setting a lot and often find that there are certain goals which I seem to be making no progress towards. When I reassess them I realise that I no longer want that particular thing. It is very important to keep on top of your goals and make sure you really are striving for what you want.

  26. Anonymous says 25 March 2008 at 08:03

    I can’t believe I didn’t see this discussion when the post came out last week. I’ve posted on this topic before, and my opinions are pretty clear — luck is not sufficient for success, but it is absolutely necessary. Anyone who says there is no such thing as luck is defrauding themselves and anyone who would be foolish enough to listen.

    It is because of the role of randomness (luck) in our lives that we work so hard. The book JD writes about is essentially about taking actions to maximize your exposure to positive random events while minimizing your exposure to negative random events — something that you actually have to work extremely hard at in order to put yourself in position for success. Only in hindsight do events look inevitable — individuals and societies aren’t really any better at predicting than they’ve ever been. By understanding this fundamental randomness we all deal with and taking actions to put it to work for you, you actually put yourself in the best position to succeed and avoid disaster.

  27. LD says 31 March 2008 at 19:05

    Good post- engaging writing… keep it up!
    LD

  28. Learner says 31 March 2008 at 19:45

    I was very wisely told that Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. The challenge is recognizing when opportunity comes your way.

  29. jeremy beasley says 01 April 2008 at 09:02

    good read.

  30. Raj says 18 July 2008 at 07:34

    When you plant a mango tree, water it for years until its fully grown and ready to give you friuts, – OK STOP here m8, you have done all the possible hard work. No matter what in world, no one can deny it.
    Now if you get good mangoes out of it or it gets infected by insects is your LUCK.
    Dont give me all the pesticides crap… and try to understand the point. Working is your duty but getting fruit is your luck.

  31. ResortAtSquawCreekTAHOE says 18 April 2009 at 07:53

    Prepare for luck. It’ll always find you.

  32. Oleg Mokhov says 22 October 2009 at 15:25

    Hey J.D.,

    Luck isn’t given; it’s created by doing.

    Set an intention to do something. Make everyone aware. They can help you, just like you would help someone you know is doing something relevant (“Hey, I know this person who…”).

    Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is just finding out what doesn’t work. The opposite of success isn’t failure, it’s giving up.

    Just do it. You don’t get opportunities by sitting around thinking about it. Choose the most important task towards getting to your goal and just start. Opportunities (ie. luck) will come your way.

    Even at its early stage, my site Lifebeat is growing because I’m just doing it, not afraid to make mistakes. I can fix and tweak things later, but because I’m out there posting articles and leaving comments on other sites I’m gaining readers and opportunities. The more I do the more “luck” I can get.

    There’s not better time to start than now. What are you waiting for? Just do it, and let luck enter your life.

    Thanks for the awesome tips on creating your own luck. So true how it’s about doing, not thinking or hoping,
    Oleg

  33. Jiang says 17 December 2009 at 20:13

    About social network, it will depends on what is your personality and your skill sets. I found all my jobs on Monster.com and I did zero social networking. I am a software engineer and I love to be left alone and I hate to socialize for the sake of gaining something, either favor or job leads. For me, a strong resume and background get the recruiters ring my phone off the hook. I enjoy talking with people with no intention to gain something from me and I have nothing to gain from them, just enjoy talking when we share a common interest. Unfortunately, there are too few people who share my interests in politics, international affairs and history.

  34. Dollars Not Debt says 18 February 2010 at 09:39

    Luck doesn’t exist. Some people have had fortunate or unfortunate things happen in their lives but that is not luck. Prepare.. seek opportunity… contribute… work hard and “luck” will find you.

  35. Alin Dunhill says 23 March 2010 at 06:32

    I was taught the mnemonic:
    L – Labor
    U – Under
    C – Common
    K – Knowledge

    I also added Y for Yes.

    If you are or consider yourself “Lucky” say Yes!

    Great post!

  36. mvm71 says 03 September 2010 at 22:33

    Many who succeeded in their lives I believe got their success from the effort, time and dedication they placed into it. I don’t believe that it was “luck.” I can still remember my parent always telling me if you would only put your heart, mind and effort into something that you’ve been wanting then at the proper time you will have it.

  37. Vic says 27 October 2010 at 11:54

    I don’t personally believe in the term luck, but I believe in results. I also believe in the universal law of cause and effect. Thus, for me success is an output that we must create a process. Good process equals good output.

  38. desiGuru says 09 January 2011 at 10:28

    Luck Exists- People who are unlucky know more about it. Do not get me wrong, I believe and do work Hard . But “Luck” exists. Its just that some times you do not know it.

    Even your existance as a Human being is luck.Millions participate in a lottery but one get it (even though he might be a random pick), but to him it is “by the stroke of Luck”.

    One might be lucky to have parents who could afford good education, but where as another one does not have parents at all, a orphan, may be dieing of hunger some where.

    We should all thank god for how lucky we are and if possible help the others.

  39. bemoneyaware says 19 September 2011 at 22:08

    Inspiring post. As they say “The harder you work, the luckier you get ” Planning to introduce them one by one in my life!

  40. brandon pipkin says 11 December 2012 at 18:47

    Having interviewed 21 millionaires to find out how and why they did what they did (www.21for21.com), I can unequivocally state the importance of luck in success.

    That said, indeed one can help luck along through hard work. Two of the millionaires said, in effect, ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get.’ and I had a boss whose father used to tell him, “The universe rewards the brave.”

    Those who take action, work hard, and are open to opportunities find luck. J.D. is spot on with his analysis.

  41. Stacie Walker says 03 May 2013 at 15:36

    Like my mom and dad always taught me. There is no such thing as luck. Set goals, learn from others, apply what you observe from others to your life, evaluate your progress and repeat this process time and time again.

    Thank you for sharing this awesome post. I look forward to future content.

    To Your Success,
    Stacie Walker

  42. jon says 24 December 2013 at 00:21

    Luck is real, I am unlucky unfortunately. I am thirty years old, I have an ostomy. I also have severe dermatitis on my face. I also have a mental illness. I’ve tried so hard to get into paid employment, anything, but it never happens for me. I wish I was never born, I wish I could stop my life now before it gets worse, I know what will happen and am hopeless in stopping it. My friends are lucky, earning six figures or close, with high school education, good for them. I have a degree and am borderline poverty.
    Some are lucky, I’m not, wish I could never have to wake up to my life again.
    Merry xmas to you and Jesus.

  43. Mandy says 05 February 2014 at 16:33

    I like the example about computer programming turning out to be very different than in WarGames and other movies. I know that I held tightly to a career goal for many years and only recently have accepted that it isn’t what I actually want for my life.

  44. allindiaupdates says 28 January 2015 at 23:56

    Very good post. As of my knowledge Luck does favor the prepared mind.

  45. The Improvinator says 14 March 2015 at 07:40

    One of the most important tips you presented in your article is to “strike up conversations with people you meet.” While this is a great idea, I don’t think it should be done in a haphazard way. There are right and wrong ways to do it, and doing it wrong can result in either annoying the other person or wasting time and energy. This topic could comprise an entire blog post or article, and I may take a crack at it on one of my blogs. Overall, though, I got a lot of value and inspiration from your article. You obviously put a lot of thought into it.

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