How to be lucky and succeed professionally

Nir Zicherman was an average law student who couldn’t find a summer internship. On his way to an interview, he entered the elevator and joked with the lady next to him who was holding a tray of coffee cups.

“You must really like coffee,” he told her. This moment changed his life.

The woman turned out to be a NASA legal recruiter he was supposed to be interviewing. She liked his joke and offered him an internship. During that summer, Mr. Zicherman learned to code, changed career paths to tech, and eventually created a start-up. In 2019, he sold it to Spotify for several million dollars.

“As if everything was because of this passage in the elevator,” confides the young man who became an entrepreneur and writer.

We like to think that our success comes from hard work. However, many of us knock on wood, consult cards and read horoscopes or repeat affirmations to make our happiness a reality. (Of course, TikTok has a term for this: “Happy Girl Syndrome”).

Sometimes we feel that our future depends on circumstances, coincidences or even a little magic. But we have more power than we think to be lucky.

You can create your own randomness, says Richard Wiseman, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in England and author of the famous book on happiness. He and his team studied several hundred people who considered themselves happy or unhappy. The former used to be cheerful, optimistic, open to others and resilient. The others had their heads down, unable to notice and take advantage of the opportunity.

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“When you’re stressed, you’re worried, and you’re worried, you’re kind of in a tunnel,” says Wiseman.

In one experiment, participants had to count the number of photographs in a newspaper. The unfortunates scanned half a page of ads that revealed the answer to the exercise. Instead of quickly completing their mission and getting their reward, they continued to scroll through the journal.

Change your thinking

Invoke positive, expansive visions by creating a “happiness journal,” suggests Wiseman. Write down a positive thing that happened to you during the day or a bad memory that didn’t happen again. Because emotions are contagious, your good humor and optimism can be passed on to others, he says. These people could do things for you: fund your idea, make an exception for you, or connect you with the love of your life.

Next, try eating something new, watching a movie outside of your usual routine, or moving the furniture. You prove to yourself that you are a flexible person, the professor continues. Unhappy people tend to see things one-dimensionally. The lucky ones set a goal and explore ways to achieve it.

Luck is as important as talent

The power of luck

Bad news for die-hards: intelligence and skill aren’t everything.

“Luck is as important as talent,” says Alessio Emanuele Biondo, a professor specializing in economic policy at the University of Catania in Italy.

In a paper published in 2018, the researcher and his co-authors created a computer simulation in which 1,000 people were exposed to 1,000 random events over a 40-year career. Half of the events were positive, represented by green dots. The other half was negative, symbolized by red dots. Each individual was assigned a different level of intelligence, ability, and effort.

The simulation revealed that those who were the most successful were not the most talented. The big winners had rather average talent, but were mostly lucky and managed to collect more green points. Many factors, such as where we were born or our family, can influence the trajectory of our lives, notes Mr. Biondo.

Laura Knight, an art director who works in toy packaging, is the eldest daughter of a single immigrant mother. Obsessed with achieving a level of financial security, she always turned down risky opportunities. For example, an entrepreneur joined her — his start-up ended up being very popular. The film manager also promised him a job as a screenwriter after high school. She also refused. Today, she regrets not taking advantage of this opportunity.

“I was scared,” admits the 43-year-old, who lives in San Antonio.

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This summer, she had the courage to fulfill a long-held dream: launch her own mermaid-themed card game. It was a shock when she saw the orders piling up. Turns out Netflix just released a series, Sirens of discord, at the same time. Believing in myself paid off in the end.

Create a connection

Serendipity is just a matter of connecting with others, says Christian Busch, a professor at the University of Southern California and author of the book. Serendipity Thinking.

Instead of introducing yourself with your job spec, provide three pieces of information that reveal several aspects of your personality, she recommends. You’re passionate about black holes, plan to take up canoeing, and don’t yet know how to educate your two-year-old. This approach, which Mr. Buscher calls the “hook strategy,” increases your chances of making a deep connection with someone or making coincidences happen.

If you’re nervous about talking to a stranger or presenting a project, the professor suggests asking yourself: What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t do this?

If you encounter an obstacle while working toward a goal, try to think differently, he adds. Instead of seeing the problem as potentially detrimental to your project, consider it a detour that is part of your plan. We are often convinced that everything is the work of luck and then we realize that the obstacles are actually pushing us on a new and wonderful path.

A few years ago, when I was planning my budget for a trip to Europe, I was shocked to find that the beach hotel I had dreamed of in Barcelona was fully booked. Disappointed, I switched to another company.

I was doing well. The second hotel was nothing special. But I met a man in the common room. We happened to be at the same university and graduated a few months apart.

Now we are married, we have two children. I still can’t believe how lucky I am.

Translated from the original English version by Lola Ovarlez

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