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Luck. It’s that annoying success component the professional elite loathe talking about.
Love them or despise them, most superstars and billionaires worked hard to reach their status. But if they’re honest, they’ll acknowledge the role random chance played in their rise to the top.
If you dig into the backstory of most successful people, you’ll find instances of luck contributing to their big break.
You can be a great talent and produce groundbreaking work, but without a lucky break the world may never know. That’s what nearly happened when the song, Music Box Dancer by Frank Mills was released in 1974.
When Mills originally released Music Box Dancer, it bombed — not surprising for an unknown Canadian pianist without a commercial track record.
The song would have faded into the netherworld of forgotten music were it not for a string of improbable events four years after its release.
Mills signed with a new record company who put the song on the “B side” of a new single and sent it to easy listening radio stations across Canada.
By some quirk of luck, the record accidentally landed at a pop radio station. The program director dismissed the “A-side” of the record as unfitting for a pop station, but then the second stroke of fortune occurred. Something compelled the program manager to play the “B-side,” Music Box Dancer. He fell in love with the tune and put it on heavy rotation.
Five years after its initial release, the record surged in popularity, going gold in Canada and prompting a re-release in the U.S., where it reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song is now considered one of the iconic instrumentals of the 20th century, appearing in various movies and television shows.
That success would never have happened if the record hadn’t accidentally ended up at a pop radio station, and if the program manager hadn’t played the “B-side.” Mills wrote and performed a beautiful tune, but it took a few happy accidents before it became a hit.
Even the super-talented need a little help from the universe before hitting it big. But where does that leave the rest of us? Can we get lucky? Of course. It happens all the time. You can’t control it, plan it, or predict it, but you can attract it.
How to make luck easier to find you.
If you’re a struggling artist, entrepreneur, or employee, you’re probably already working hard. You’re probably frustrated. It’s tempting to pout over the luck others seem to attract. We get to play the victim, which feels good, but it’s not productive.
While you can’t create your own luck, you can attract it by focusing on what you can control.
You control your work ethic.
Most people who have achieved success worked hard to get there. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but they’re rare.
Whether you admire or despise the multi-gazillionaires, athletic superstars or artistic trophy-getters, they could not have achieved success without working their asses off. That’s true of the nice ones and the assholes. Being a jerk and a hard worker are mutually exclusive qualities.
You control your priorities.
If becoming a best-selling writer, musician, or entrepreneur is your dream, you need to make it your priority. Find time for it. Don’t wait for the stars to align in your favor. You can always find a reason why now isn’t the right time. If that means waking up at 5 AM to get your work done, then that’s what you do.
You control how much effort you put into improving your skills.
I can’t speak for the business world, but for artistic endeavors, I write this with certainty: you’re never good enough at what you do. You always have to keep improving and growing.
The more skillful you become, the better your chance of getting noticed. The more people who notice, the more likely your work spreads through word of mouth. The more it spreads, the better your chance of winning on the good luck roulette wheel.
You control how much rejection you’re willing to face or how many risks you’re willing to take.
To get anywhere in life, you need to put yourself in a position of getting rejected. The more you do, the greater your chance of success.
When I started writing, rejection was my biggest fear. I kept my words in a private Google Docs folder. I refused to let anyone read or critique my work, reducing my chance of success to zero.
You can’t win the game if you’re not willing to play.
You control how you respond to setbacks and success.
I’ve had plenty of ups and downs during my writing career. I’ve had moments where I thought I was on the verge of superstardom only to find myself back where I started — well, not exactly, but you know what I mean.
Whether you’re torching the competition or drowning in failure, always go back to the basics. Never rest after a victory and never quit after a setback.
You control statistical probability.
Getting the timing right is near impossible. And random chance? They call it “random chance” for a reason. But the more opportunities you pursue, the greater your statistical chance of getting the timing right and landing a bit of luck.
A year after I started publishing online, an influential designer shared one of my stories, and it went viral. I had written over two-hundred forgotten stories before that. Then, the right person saw it at the right time—total luck.
Like the story of Music Box Dancer shows us, a masterpiece can languish for years until a clerk accidentally mails a record to the wrong radio station. Keep taking your shots. Even blindfolded, you’re bound to hit the bullseye once.