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  • Writer's pictureGirish Karnad


The room was large. I could make out that there were actually four rooms, with their in-between partitions collapsed. There was a subdued buzz in the room, as the election officials went about their duty of counting the votes. Like me, there were other contestants who had come as observers of the process. I was part of a panel of contestants vying for the position of a Director with the second largest urban co-operative bank in India. In the evening after the counting was over and the results were declared, a wave of emotion hit me. It was a moment when I missed my father the most. He had been a banker all his life and was instrumental in inspiring me to greater heights in my career. But I was not a banker and never would be one – a statement I had made to my father years ago, which brought a smile to my lips now.

The days that followed brought in congratulatory messages from my network of friends and relatives. A few of them were my colleagues from my previous organization. They had been keen to know what trajectory my career would take after leaving them. A few months ago, one of the founder Directors of the organization called me to know how I was doing. With great enthusiasm I started narrating to him my role as a Director, my HR assignments with public sector giants and my lectures at B-Schools. I was soon cut short by his terse reply, “You got lucky!” For a moment I felt a sense of disappointment and outrage, and it took me a few seconds to regain my composure. That conversation kept bothering me for several days – do lucky people get what they want or is it the other way round? I was determined to find out.

It’s easy to assume that successful people are just luckier than the rest of us. Take Bill Gates: lucky enough to go to one of the few schools with a Teletype connection so he could learn how to program. Or Paul Allen: lucky enough to stumble upon an article that led to the idea to convert Basic into a product that could be used on an Altair computer…and lucky enough to be friends with Bill Gates…who was lucky enough to be at Harvard and with access to a PDP-10 computer, which was used to develop and test the new operating system.

But were Bill and Paul simply lucky? Of course not. Luck isn’t just a random gift from the universe. It actually has less to do with what happens to you and more to do with how you think and act.

Whether we like to admit it or not, at some point we have all read an article or two about the mythical “keys” to success. I have read through as many of the best “how to be successful” articles and bits of advice I could find and noticed they, all of them, bear some striking resemblances. So what is it that makes people “lucky” and successful? Is there a single factor that we can point to?

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes an apparent phenomena which he calls the “10,000 hour rule”. The rule appears to hold true across a variety of fields ranging from music, to writing, to acting, to sports, and the like. This rule states that it takes 10,000 hours to master any particular skill. Just imagine – 10,000 hours – that’s quite a lot of blood, sweat and tears!

I recollect Bruce Lee’s famous quote, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

No wonder most people settle for mediocrity. How can anyone keep their eye on the prize for that long? The answer is passion.

No one – not even the most determined – can grin and bear it for 10,000 hours without passion. To practice something unabated, day in and day out for the years or decades necessary to reach the target is impossible unless you are passionate about the thing you are practicing. The old cliché that if you love what you do, you never have to work is true. Well, sort of.

While passion is the key factor for achieving success, it is not the only one. Accomplishing great things is difficult, and in the end, it’s always more difficult to achieve great things than you guessed it would be at the beginning. You knew it would be hard, but not this hard. Ambitious goals require a high tolerance for pain, monotony, and boredom as well as a large amount of patience and determination. Anyone can be focused for a week or a month. And some can even be focused for a year, but that’s not true determination. True determination lasts multiple years, decades and lifetimes. That’s what it takes to be the best at something. That’s what it takes to achieve greatness. The “overnight success” is a myth, the “born natural” is a myth and the “prodigy” is a myth.

Mozart is an example of what people wrongly call a prodigy. A thorough examination of Mozart’s history – along with the history of every other so-called prodigy – clearly reveals them to be incredibly hard working people, who, yes, had some natural talent, but nowhere near the amount that people like to claim or believe. Skill goes hand in hand with determination and passion. You cannot become really skilled at anything difficult without putting in a lot of time and effort.

Even when you are passionate about what you’re doing, there will still be times when you simply don’t feel like practicing / training / writing / playing, etc. You won’t always be in the mood. But you cannot let that stop you. You must not wait for the lightning of inspiration to strike, for if you do, you will waste your life staring up at the sky. Pick something you love to do, set your sites on it, then create a practice schedule for yourself and stick to it no matter whether you feel like it or not. Remember, today’s struggle is tomorrow’s strength.

So do you still believe that you need luck to achieve whatever you want? Many of the super successful people will agree that you must have some degree of luck to reach the greatest heights of success. That luck can come in many forms – genetic, social, timing and other similar factors. Even the capacity for hard work may, to some degree, have a lucky biological or genetic element.

Are there any specific practices that make people lucky? How can you create your own luck? Do what other lucky people do!

Try a lot more things.

You would love to sell to bigger customers. You never will unless you try. A lot.

You would love to connect with influential people in your industry. You never will unless you try. A lot.

You would love to land a better job. You never will unless you try. A lot.

Most incredibly lucky people are incredibly persistent. They try and try and try some more. Many of their efforts don’t pan out. A few do. Is that luck or persistence, and a willingness to learn from what didn’t work so that next time you are even more prepared, more skilled, more talented, and therefore luckier?

Take chances. Reach. Try. When you succeed, others will think you are lucky. You will know you weren’t – you will know you made your luck.

Meet a lot more people

Think of someone you know who got lucky and met the right person at just the right time: the hiring manager your friend met at a party, just days after she had lost her job; the angel investor your friend met at a fundraiser just days before his startup would have run out of operating capital; the CEO your friend met at a school play whose company became his company's biggest account.

Luck? Yes and no.

You can't get lucky meeting the right person unless you meet a number of people: The more people you meet, the more your odds of getting lucky increase. If what you need involves people – to buy, to connect, to mentor, to advise, to anything--then you can only "luck" into the right sale or relationship or partnership if you actively try to meet the right kind of people.

Get out. Meet people. Talk to the guy beside you on the plane. Talk to the woman behind you in line. Send a complimentary note to someone you don't know who did something awesome. You never know whom you might meet, especially if you assume good things will happen.

Fortune favors the brave, but fortune also favors the prepared. When you assume good things will happen, you will be primed to seize the opportunity when you meet – and in time, you will meet – the right people.

Greatly expand your boundaries

Doing the same things day after day typically yields the same results. Take on a side project. Learn a new skill. Open up to different experiences. Do something you assume (but don't actually know) you won't like.

The more you do, the more likely that good things will happen.

Quick tip: Next time you're at the newsstand (real or virtual), pick a publication that you normally wouldn't read. Something out of your immediate industry. Read the articles and the ads.


Birds of a feather do actually tend to flock together. Mediocrity tends to flock with mediocrity; exceptional tends to flock with exceptional; only fools tend to suffer fools gladly.

And giving people tend to associate with other giving people -- and by giving, they make each other "lucky."

Giving creates relationships. When you're sincerely generous, other people respond in kind: with advice, with connections, with assistance, with everything.

When you give out of sincerity and without the expectation of reciprocity, you won't have to hope you'll be lucky in your friends.

You will have earned your friends -- and the luck that comes with them.


Luck often comes down to the right person saying yes: to your idea, to your startup, to your pitch, to your proposal, to your request. No one can say yes until you ask, though.

Unlucky people wait to be discovered and given what they want. Lucky people discover themselves and ask for what they want.

Want the job? Ask for it. Want the sale? Ask for it. Want the investment? Ask for it.

Many people will say no. A few will say yes.

Other people will assume you got lucky. You will know you made your own luck.

One confession: I am terrible at asking for things. Really, really bad. If you are like me, try to give more instead of asking.

Here's the bottom line: Luck, true luck, is something you can't control. Luck, bad or good, happens to us.

What we can control is how we respond to circumstance or chance and, more important, how often we put ourselves into positions where we can be "lucky."

You know the old phrase "It's better to be lucky than good"?

I disagree. It's better to be good -- because then you will also be lucky.

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