If you’ve followed my blog for very long or have read Influence PEOPLE or Persuasive Selling then no doubt you’ve seen my use of this quote, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” For most of my life I attributed the saying to my high school football coach Todd Alles. A few years ago, a friend told me it was Seneca, the Roman philosopher, who first came up with the saying. I’m thankful that Coach was well read!
Last week I listened to a podcast episode from The Jordan Harbinger Show where Jordan interviewed Robert Frank about The Myth of Meritocracy. The gist of the show was simply this – much more of anyone’s success has to do with luck than they’re willing to admit.
This notion offends some people. I think that’s especially true in America because of our “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. Frank wasn’t saying success is just luck, but it plays a bigger role than we realize. Many people who never make it big work extremely hard, perhaps harder than some who do make it. The problem is, we don’t know those stories. Books aren’t written and movies are not made about the people who toiled throughout life and didn’t achieve notoriety. That would be too common of a story.
Whatever you want to call it – good fortune, dumb luck, pure chance or golden opportunities – much of my success has been outside my sphere of control. Here are three that stand out for me because they were life changing.
My First Job
As I was about to graduate college, I’d accepted a job in Akron, Ohio with a department store. The final week of school I got a letter from The Travelers Insurance Company. I knew nothing about the company or insurance but decided to go to the interview because the job was in Columbus, my hometown. If I got the job I reasoned I’d stay close to the girl I was dating, friends, and family. My first day on the job I met Jane. Within weeks I was no longer dating the other girl and Jane and I have now been married for more than 33 years. Oh yea, and insurance, the industry I knew nothing about, led to a great career!
Jane and I have lived in the same home for more than 30 years. Believe it or not, it was the first home we ever looked at. The confluence of events leading to that decision was when a coworker who lived in the neighborhood mentioned to Jane that the home was for sale. The house was unique for the area, a Parade of Homes home in 1968. We didn’t have a realtor and Jim, the man showing the house, just happened to live in the same home – the only other one in the neighborhood – which led to instant trust.
Meeting Robert Cialdini
My association with Robert Cialdini was completely by chance. After watching a video that a coworker shared, I was drawn to his work because of its application to sales, the research basis and his emphasis on ethics. When Stanford University advertised the video using the word “manipulation” I called them on it. In addition to his clear emphasis on ethical influence, my email to Stanford reminded them that nobody wants to be manipulated and no one (at least that I know) is looking to become a good manipulator. My emphasis was using the word manipulation cannot be helping sales of the video but it was probably hurting sales.
As a result of that email, Stanford changed the marketing of Cialdini’s video. And, to my good fortune, they told him about my email. He had one of his representatives call me to thank me on his behalf. That phone call led to him speaking at my former company and what turned into a nearly 20-year relationship.
Preparation + Opportunity
I do believe we have a hand in creating some of our luck. In each case I’ve noted there were decisions along that way that, if I’d decided differently, I would not have been in the position to positively interact with the opportunities that were presented.
I had to do well enough in school to be considered by The Travelers and I made the decision to take the job even though it paid less than the department store job.
With the house Jane and I had been working good paying jobs for a few years and saved some money.
With Cialdini I had to trust my moral compass and make the decision to address the situation with Stanford.
Don’t Forget Gratitude
At the end of the podcast Jordan and Robert Frank discuss the concept of gratitude. If you’re reading this, you should be grateful that you’re alive at this point in time. There’s never been a safer, more prosperous time on this planet than the age we’re living in. If you ponder other aspects of your life and consider some of the things that were outside your control that have helped you, express gratitude. I hope you take some time to check out the podcast episode because I think you’ll get a lot out of the discussion.
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only a dozen people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.
Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His second book, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller in several categories.
Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 380,000 people around the world.