May 20, 2022 - Economy & Business

The power of pure luck

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Almost every great thing in life starts with serendipity, someone — or something — new entering your life by chance.

Why it matters: This should humble all of us. We often celebrate big names who invent companies or pull off remarkable feats.

  • But this is true too: They caught a ton of breaks and benefited far more than they publicly admit from the unsung contributions of many others — or just luck.

My life-altering dumb luck moment hit in 1993, when I pulled a full list of Wisconsin newspapers in hopes of finding an internship, anywhere at any pay.

  • Zane Zander, publisher of the weekly newspaper The Brillion News was one of my first calls on the alphabetical list. He asked me to pop up to Brillion stat for a quick chat.

Even after I explained I was new to journalism, coming off my first writing class, he asked me to run his entire newspaper for the summer — alone — with one week of training.

  • I reiterated he would be hiring a middling student with scant experience. But he was in a jam: His editor needed the summer off and Mr. Zander needed an immediate sub.
  • 🧀 He gave me an offer no Cheesehead could resist: $300 per week, a car, and his cottage on a pond loaded with bass, with a fridge loaded with cold beer.
  • There’s little chance I would be writing this today absent the master class Mr. Zander put me through.

All of us have stories like this. We should cherish them. And be well aware of ways to position ourselves for — and take advantage of — luck and happenstance:

  1. The more, the merrier: It’s not totally true we make our own luck, but we sure as hell can help. The more you take chances, talk to others and throw yourself into opportunities, the better your odds of catching an unexpected break.
  2. Heads up: Lots of luck gets missed because we’re not watching or listening. If you recognize that you don’t know it all, you’re more likely to latch onto a game-changing gem.
  3. Pounce on luck: When something seems like fate, it just might be. So seize the moment and squeeze as much wisdom and joy from your fortuitous turns. Life planning is overrated. Roll with the wild twists instead.
  4. Luck begets luck: If you surf one wave of luck, it often seems another comes crashing along to ride.
  5. Be grateful: Give thanks to those who help you along the way and look for every chance to give others their big break.

Thanks, Zane.

Go deeper