There’s the sweet version of a friend who encourages you, reminds you of all the amazing things you’ve done with your life, how great you are for just being yourself , and how limitless your potential is in comparison to most other average people. That’s one kind.
The other kind reminds you—sometimes by just their presence—everything you've accomplished from getting as far away as possible from their terrible view on life—their mildly toxic mindset, their limiting self-talk and a negative attitude. But they still remain in your circle and within your orbit because you still care for them.
I ran into one such person recently. "Wow, you're so lucky that you get to do with your day as you please. No job, no boss…just…you do all this wonderful creative stuff!", she said. I shuddered.
This idea of Luck is difficult to agree with because it immediately signals that any significant results aren't possible without divine help, or chance. It's easy to explain away any skill, effort or intelligence. When she talks about luck, she equates her efforts and mine: the only difference is that I had luck, and she didn't.
Luck is the thing that makes the spectators feel good about themselves without a clear explanation of how something can be done through hard work and perseverance. It absolves them of their own responsibility for success, and makes an easy explanation for why they are not getting results in their own life.
But in an oblique way, people do get lucky with their career or entrepreneurial project, in their wonderful relationships, or in finding their life's calling. But the Luck in this case is not as straightforward as chance. For a professional, there's a method to “getting lucky”, it requires doing a few things consistently:
There's the healthy kind of stress that makes you work just under a threshold of overwhelm, it makes you deliver great work. And then there's the other, more disease-inducing, debilitating kind that comes from being overwhelmed for long stretches of time, where basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing are constantly threatened. Being overwhelmed by stress forces you to focus on solving the basic problems of living before you can think downrange clearly into the future, toward thriving. For some, even after going through unlucky times and coming out with better circumstances, the impulse to obsess over basic needs can remain a habit. This can inhibit some of the essential aspects of luck, such as noticing and grabbing opportunities outside your immediate needs, or actively positioning yourself for a bigger idea or considerably better life.
The key, instead, is to stay calm, to think of the bigger picture and work steadily toward it.
Finding opportunities is a skill developed by paying attention and looking for patterns. In any environment, if you're calm and asking the right questions, you're more able to benefit from meeting key players or seeing innovation in its first stages of development. Connecting the dots between different ideas and processes, and tying them up into something new—this all requires a clear, relaxed mind that shows up consistently to put the puzzle together.
It's easy to hold biases about the information we consume. Biases become important—they're shortcuts when we need them—but it's important to remain aware of them, to not let them calcify into dogmatic thinking. It's important to keep an open mind.
Finding opportunity is less about finding and more about re-organizing in an innovative way. The most interesting ideas happen at the edge of their fields, and often at the intersection of other fields. Artists routinely turn to their non-art sources for inspiration in their art. With fresh eyes, they go down an old path and come back with a new perspective. Bruce Lee, for example, was a child actor and a champion cha cha dancer, in addition to being the consummate martial artist. It's easy to see in retrospect how his knowledge in all three areas produced such a high level of prowess and commercial success. Artist Richard Serra , known for his large scale steel work in the Process Art movement, worked in a steel mill and experimented with various materials before working with COR-TEN steel. Similarly, Barbara Kruger 's bold, slick advertising-style messages were informed directly by her work as a graphic designer, working for Condé Nast and Mademoiselle magazine. Staying open to things outside your art can and should inform your art—if you dive deep enough and pay attention.
Creating opportunity is about innovation but it is also a matter of effort, and a lot of it. If you're a painter, those first three or seven paintings will suck, will not be ready to see the light of day. You will feel like an aging hack that should really give up and go back to yourday job. You'll stare at the mirror and say “I can't let this go out into the world with my name on it” and you'll want to paint over them...and you'll be very correct. You'll go back to the canvas and make it better. With enough persistence, you'll think to look back and you'll see a body of work. But it will be different because it will consist of only your best ideas, the things that should bear your stamp of quality. At this stage you're still at the foot of the mountain, staring upward at the summit. You're just starting and there's still work to do.
Understand that it might be a while to be a while before the critics, the market and the collectors pay attention. It takes persistence to continue to make things as you ideally see them and a separate batch of stamina to market and sell the work. It's up to you to show up with enough gas in the tank to do both successfully, and do it better than the rest of the people in your field.
But something else will also happen as you get the work out there: your reputation will be different, it will reflect a high level of care and quality. Somehow you might find yourself in a conversation with people who understand instinctively what that kind of care takes, how high your standards are—from their own experience in their own field. They know how difficult it is to come by. If you're lucky, they'll decide you're the kind of person they'd like to work with. In other words, they'll make you “lucky to live your creative life, to do with your time as you please” while the rest have to go back to their nine-to-five gig, talking about how lucky some people are.
And that's how you'll be lucky.