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Getting Lucky

Mine that Bird, the 50-1 longshot, won the Kentucky Derby yesterday.  It was truly an amazing moment not only in sports history but also for myself personally.  Everyday i am asked "Why bother if the cards are against you?"  These are the days I feel like that 50-1 longshot coming out of the gate, and every so often I can honestly say I feel like Mine that Bird crossing the finish line.

I've always been inspired by success stories and my current read is about that
success: What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

But what i learned from Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers is that success and luck don't just happen overnight.  Thinking back, I remember a wrestler friend of mine from my Penn years.   Sharing a common wall, I remember catching him doing pushups at 3am.  "Someone else somewhere is training to beat me right now."  Two years later, Brandon was the overnight success story after he won the gold medal in the Sydney Olympic Games.  Similarly, another fellow Penn grad actor Aaron  "appeared" on the scene with the films "21" and "Disturbia," yet I remember him working with me as gangsters on Law and Order.  He was taking classes for years before he "appeared."  All of the matches Brandon wrestled in, the classes that Aaron took all contributed to their eventual success. Even as an investment banker, I spent an obscene amount of time (I remember one very big deal where I stayed up for 3 consecutive nights) making "pitch books" - these pain in the butt plastic binded flip books of graphs, charts, and bullet points.  We would finally go to the meeting and eventually my body would give out (finally a chance to sit still!) and I would pass out.  I'd wake up with some drool all over one of the books.  "Hey we closed the deal! Time to celebrate!"  Surprised and jolted, I joined in the celebration having prepared the safety net which we rarely needed (although my Powerpoint, Excel and attention to detail skills were greatly enhanced!)  Mine that Bird worked just as hard through training and practice as all of the other horses and it paid off for them. 

So you are convinced: preparation is important.  But many people are prepared.  Why are so few actually lucky? 
Math time:
Luck = preparation x opportunity. 
Yesterday we worked, and today we will work again.  The preparation part of the equation is in order. 
But can we control opportunity?  What is opportunity?   Unfortunately there's no magic formula for it.  Opportunity is created from brute force. So we can control preparation and  when opportunity knocks you better be prepared. 

Creating opportunity comes from brute force.  Yes.  No magic.  We kiss many frogs to find that prince.  We make 100 calls to get one person to say yes.  We knock on a thousand doors to get one sale.  Again, we hear of these success stories and think about how easy it is.  It's not.  All the stories of Brad Pitt becoming an overnight movie star are ridiculous.  How many auditions did he have to go thru before he landed Thelma and Louise?  Mike Bloomberg visited a ton of investment banks before Merrill said let's give it a go.  Woody Allen once said, "80% of success is just showing up."  Very true.  If you don't show up you'll never be that step closer to landing the gig, the sale, the job.  If it takes 20 interviews before you land a job and you keep getting discouraged then you will never make it past interview 5 to get to 20.  The great thing is that these guys didn't give up.  They kept at it.  They hammered away looking for opportunity all the while continually being prepared.  Improving, evangelizing, learning.  Imagine Mine that Bird said "You know what?  I'm the long shot, I'll never win" well then he never would have. 

There are many days that I get discouraged.  It's difficult.  But remember its a marathon and not a sprint.  Keep chipping away. Find your passion and preparation won't be a chore.   Before going back to our own preparation, a quick final anecdote:

I went with a really good friend of mine also from Penn to the Belmont Racetrack.  His parents had (in their own words) bought a "few hairs on the horses arse" so we had the great fortune of sitting in the owner's box.  "Coach" taught me everything I know about horse racing (which is still unfortunately very little).  But what I do remember is that he had said "bet the longshot, because you have nothing to lose".  You do have nothing to lose.  (The favorite usually pays out $2.60 on a $2 bet when a long shot like Mine that Bird payed out $103.20 on a $2 bet).  

Just show up, be ready and you'll eventually get lucky.  Remember Mine that Bird.  And please, share with me your stories of "luck."  roger at klickable dot tv

Have fun preparing and finding opportunity, and oh yeah, good luck.

Excerpts from my book and personal blog.
Photo by Jarrett Horvath (via churchilldownsflickr)

Posted: May 3, 2009

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