🌼The 13 Rules of Good Luck
Luck is learnable
All my life, I’ve been fascinated with the question of good luck. I believe that what we call luck or fortuitous circumstance is not blind chance but rather a network of causative factors, which can be identified and cultivated.
As the 1908 occult classic The Kybalion puts it: “Chance is merely a term indicating cause existing but not recognized or perceived.” This is close in nature to chaos theory, although the word complexity might be substituted for chance.
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In matters of luck, I suggest 13 basic rules:
1. Luck is learnable.
2. Good chemistry is powerfully lucky.
3. To be lucky you must be noticed.
4. Prepared minds win.
5. Sobriety is lucky.
6. Persistence beats odds. (This does not apply to gambling.)
7. Failure can be lucky.
8. No is not always the final answer.
9. Enthusiasm and pessimism are a fortuitous combination.
10. Humiliating people brings bad luck.
11. Recognizing others improves luck.
12. You must help “fate” find you.
13. Lucky people are decisive.
I briefly explore each:
1. Luck Is Learnable
A neurosurgeon at the University of Arizona College of Medicine told me never to take notions of luck lightly: “I’ve seen many patients live or die on an operating table based on what we call luck.”
Yet we have difficulty saying what luck really is. Good or bad luck could be seen merely as an accident. Yet barring extreme exceptions, is anything truly accidental when cause-and-effect are detectable behind every event, even if only afterwards?
Obviously, no one can control myriad and vast factors behind every occurrence. Yet I have observed that certain practices and habits regularly improve good luck or put differently, sway circumstances. This is true even when the recipient is unconscious of what is occurring.
A famous actor told my friend his key to success: “Determine the things that make you lucky and then do more of them.” Implicit in his statement is the belief that identifiable actions, habits, relationships, and environments are, by their nature, lucky.
Talent and intellect matter; but I have observed, again and again, that pivotal events in people’s lives, and sometimes the arc of their entire adulthoods, result from the presence or absence of the practices and disciplines considered here.
If followed, these practices place motivated people into the current of destiny or flow of good luck.
2. Cultivate Chemistry
The company you select plays a tremendous part not only in the values you live by but also in the opportunities you experience.
Never take for granted the powers of relationship and collaboration. Things we attribute to talent alone are, in reality, due to the intangible but vital chemistry that arises from complementary efforts, well-balanced weaknesses and strengths, personal affinities, and shared visions. It also arises from being in the profit center of a particular business.
Good chemistry is good luck. Scan your life for it. When you find or already have it, value and maintain it. Flee from the opposite.
3. Get Noticed
You cannot profit from opportunities unless other people, including those of influence, know who you are and what you are doing. This does not mean becoming a slave to social media or a tiresome self-promoter. (Although I must grudgingly note that a not-insignificant number of self-promoters do meet with success.) Rather, you must honestly and plainly make clear to others your actions and enthusiasms.
A friend who works in audio publishing once told me she was having difficulty getting noticed at work. She realized that she had been concealing her enthusiasm and dedication. This may have arisen from bad advice she received years earlier. As she told it:
I don’t know why I haven’t been sharing my passion at work. It may be because a manager once told me that the way to get ahead in corporate publishing is to “keep your head down.” At the time, I thought that was good, practical advice. It was not. It was a formula for mediocrity. And, most importantly, it is not me.
My friend’s realization was right. Keeping your head down is feckless and self-defeating. And it is poor ethics: many people who keep their heads down never learn; they rarely take responsibility; and they make others carry the load for them.
Getting noticed and taking responsibility are more likely, in the long run, to place you in the stream of recognition and good luck. If you step up to take responsibility there may be times when you get saddled with blame. And there may be occasions where blame is unfairly pinned on you. But even this can be a reminder of a lucky practice: taking credit when it is given.
I once sat in a meeting where a publicist was complimented for scoring an important media hit. “I didn’t really do anything…,” he began to explain. A top executive turned to him and whispered: “Take credit. You’ll get blame when you don’t deserve it, too.”
4. Prepared Minds Win
In 1854, the pioneering scientist and germ theorist Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) said in a lecture at the University of Lille in Northern France: “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.”
Preparation heightens all fortuitous chance factors around you; it ensures that you’ll be in the proper mental state to notice, receive, and benefit from opportunities.
You should know and be reasonably versed in every aspect of your field, even as you focus on a niche or specialty within it. Be aware of current technology and developments. Above all, be an absolute expert within your area of focus. Practice your craft as a martial artist repeatedly runs a routine to the point where it becomes part of his or her innate knowledge.
Motivational writer Dale Carnegie (1888–1955) began his career as a teacher of public speaking. A former actor, Carnegie grasped that public speaking was a vital skill for business success in the years following World War I. When preparing for a talk or pitch, Carnegie observed that you should amass so much material that you discard ninety percent of it when speaking. The very fact of your preparation gives you the confidence and power to speak without notes and to deliver a relaxing, enthusiastic, and freestyle performance.
Carnegie’s formula is a recipe for good outcomes in all areas of life. Ardent preparation makes you persuasive. Your actions are natural and effortless. You can pivot. You gain childlike exuberance. And, as Pasteur alluded, things have a way of reaching you that would otherwise go undetected.
5. Sobriety Is Lucky
A New York City prosecutor once told me: “If you want to avoid violence, keep away from places where large amounts of alcohol are served.” He saw a repeat connection between booze and accidents or violence. A majority of cases that crossed his desk, he said, occurred at clubs, sporting events, picnics, or parties where lots of alcohol was consumed.
I enjoy booze and weed and I am not puritanical on this question. But it is self-evident that either going clean or taking an extended break improves productivity, dependability, safety, and earning power.
Sometimes the simplest and most impactful thing that you can do to heighten your abilities and avail yourself of opportunities is to get sober, even if for a fixed time. The best part: it is among the few life choices completely in your hands.
6. Persistence Beats Odds
I once knew a seasoned editor at one of New York’s largest publishing houses. In truth, he was one of the least talented people I’ve ever met. His every utterance seemed predicated on consensus opinion. He conceived of (and often encumbered) book titles by stringing together lists of stock phrases. His ideas centered on copycatting whatever worked somewhere else.
Yet for years I witnessed him survive in a fairly competitive atmosphere. Why? I believe the answer is persistence. If you stick with something long enough and manage to avoid the swing of the thresher, you inevitably experience runs of good luck. And bad luck — more on which in a moment.
In the case of this person, a few of the books he published were hits just because of the odds of the wheel of life. Life is a continual ebb and flow. Consider: If a mediocre person can benefit, or at least survive, through the dice roll of chance imagine how much more a truly talented person stands to gain by sticking with a task.
If persistence possesses some hidden power, it is this: runs of luck, whether good or bad, always reverse. And in work situations people are far likelier to recognize you for the good runs than the bad. One success can outweigh several failures. That may be irrational but it is how many workplaces function.
Hence, it behooves you to stick with things. Or at least those for which you are well suited and personally enjoy. The wheel of fortune will inevitably turn your way. And the gains you reap — especially as a prepared person — outweigh what you lose when the opposite occurs.
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7. Failure Is Lucky
This isn’t some cute statement. I can think of numerous times when a seeming failure proved lucky for either one of two reasons:
A) It protected me from a job, relationship, or course of action for which I was unsuited or from an environment that may have been on the perch of bad luck. I twice lost job bids and felt hurt — but the outcome was lucky. One was at a political magazine whose celebrity editor soon died in a tragic accident, plunging the publication into disorder and failure. Another time it was to head a publishing house that had recently been acquired by an inexperienced buyer who proceeded to gut and nearly wreck the place.
B) Other times failures or setbacks lit a fire within me by highlighting my own weaknesses and missteps, which drove me to more intelligent striving and long-term realization of cherished aims. This again touches on persistence.
Too much success, too soon, can be self-destructive. I witnessed a talented author get catapulted to sudden notability. Perhaps unprepared, flawed in some deeper way, or both, his success made him insufferable to nearly everyone around him; he took advantage of his status; disrespected people and commitments; and soon grew sufficiently self-satisfied so that his work suffered. Struggle served him better than arrival.
Peaking at a young age, which is a different kind of success, can also prove disadvantageous. In addition to issues of emotional preparation, this is because your run of luck arrives early, almost inevitably reverses, and you spend years ahead trying to regain past glories. At one point in my publishing career, I noticed that nearly every writer I worked with who produced books of depth and posterity was already in middle age. They worked all the harder — and extended their runs of luck — because they never took success for granted.
8. ‘No’ Is Not Always Final
A businessman I admire was trying to reach a colleague to get together. But the colleague ignored him or put him off. Finally, they did get together — and connected well. My friend asked his formerly hesitant companion why he had resisted meeting.
“Well,” the other man said, “you’re someone who has a reputation of not taking no for an answer.” In other words, he considered my friend pushy and wasn’t sure he wanted to meet.
My friend responded pensively: “You’re right. I don’t take no for an answer. But it’s because conditions can change and then the answer changes.”
Always remember: Conditions can change and then the answer changes.
This doesn’t mean being a pest or badgering people — much less sticking around people who don’t appreciate or get you, which is distinctly unlucky. It means keeping open lines of communication and maintaining sound relationships so you can always reapproach someone.
Essayist Elbert Hubbard (1856–1915) wrote in his “Credo” in 1912: “I believe that when I part with you I must do it in such a way that when you see me again you will be glad — and so will I.”
Conditions in business and other facets of life change or reverse all the time. If you have the capacity to reapproach people, and the presence of mind to do so, you can benefit from those changes. Or as a music industry executive once told me: “Be a pest, but be a nice pest.”
I know a successful movie producer who has a talent for not taking no. He is unerringly friendly to nearly everyone. He offends no one and knows when to back off — temporarily. Hence, he is always ready to revisit plans, pitches, and opportunities.
When conditions shift in your favor, and someone replaces a no with a yes, accept your good luck gladly — and never remind someone of his or her previous refusals.
9. Do Not Confuse Enthusiasm with Optimism
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) famously wrote in his 1841 essay “Circles”: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Absent enthusiasm, every task is menial. But never confuse enthusiasm with blind optimism. Indeed, enthusiasm coupled with watchful wariness forms a potent combination.
I know a lucky minority of people who continually check and recheck their work. They do so well past the point where another person would stop. When unexpected glitches occur — and they always occur — they catch them before harm is done.
You will never regret giving in to that creeping feeling that something may be off. Assuming the worst and rechecking or resaving work will, at one time or another, rescue an important assignment, presentation, legal matter, or exam. Luck favors the pessimistic enthusiast.
10. Humiliate No One
When you insult or disrespect someone you will forget it a lot sooner than he or she will. In fact, when you really humiliate someone — in a meeting, on social media, or at an event — that person literally never forgets. Emotions form memories.
And human nature holds that most people will, at an unexpected moment, strike back if given the opportunity. Life has hidden tendrils of connection.
The same holds true in supposedly private emails or texts. Rid yourself of the notion that anything is truly private. Confidential communications are shared all the time. And all of us have had — or will have — the experience of mistakenly hitting “reply all,” or copying the wrong party, maybe even the party you’re talking about.
I know at least three people whose jobs were lost due to such innocent errors. Before you hit send, ask yourself if you’ve written anything that would embarrass or harm you if it got read in public. A boss once told her staff never to include anything in an email that they wouldn’t want read aloud in a court of law while sitting on the witness stand.
When you’re posting on social media, the temptation to be snarky and sarcastic is omnipresent. People feel disinhibited by distance or anonymity. Always remember that online comments are forever. Anonymity may afford some protection but I have my doubts. And, believe me, when you insult someone online that person remembers it — always. The injured party may circle back at an unexpected moment.
An entrepreneur once told me, “When you have the opportunity to be a smartass — don’t.” It could save your job and peace of mind. There are other good reasons too, such as invisible shame and damage to self-respect.
11. Recognize Others
Rather than merely avoiding offense, you should actively buildup people — sincerely and when properly due. Get in the habit of thanking people and recognizing their contribution to a project, and do so in cold, hard cash when the occasion calls for it.
Saying thank you is not just a matter of courtesy and ethics, although it is both. By recognizing other people, privately and publicly, you allow them to feel that they benefit from your success and you give them a stake in its continuance.
In 1896, philosopher William James (1842–1910) wrote in a letter to his students: “The deepest principle of Human Nature is the craving to be appreciated.” People hunger to be seen. Never underestimate the power of simple recognition.
The opposite is also true. If you fail to recognize people, they won’t necessarily hinder your work but they will feel apathy (if not antipathy) toward your needs. I have been thanked innumerable times and truly appreciated it. But, in full disclosure, I more keenly recall when I have not been appropriately thanked. It is a fissure of human nature that we are more likely to recall expectations unfulfilled than fulfilled. It might have to do with some primal need for safety.
In any case, it should always be remembered that “invisible helpers” appear based on whether we have thanked and recognized them. Recognizing people is homage to the gods of luck.
In matters of money, you can and should additionally remunerate valuable people. But even if you cannot, or have reasons for not doing so, you can accrue similar benefit by paying them quickly. I cannot fully emphasize the goodwill engendered when you pay a contractor, employee, or helper quickly — preferably on completion of a task. That is how you pay a barber or stylist. Why not a freelancer? Quick pay often means as much or more than the fee itself.
I know a publisher who pays people by electronic transfer 24 to 48 hours after delivery of a project. It breeds tremendous loyalty. It is also good ethics. Speed is free. Its dividends are invaluable.
12. Help ‘Fate’ Find You, or Show Up
Are you reliable? A large part of what makes someone reliable is the simple but vital act of showing up and doing so on time. You have no idea how fully other people notice and judge you by this.
In today’s culture, people feel at ease bailing on commitments, whether family, social or work-related, for nearly any reason. The need to run an errand is not a sufficient excuse. Busyness is not a sufficient excuse (at least usually). Nor is feeling a bit under-the-weather. We as a culture are, I believe, too self-coddling. We deem things urgent that are merely passing. As philosopher Jacob Needleman (1934–2022) told me: “The only real emergency is a medical emergency.”
One night I was speaking with a group of successful photographers. These were people who had distinguished themselves in the hard-knuckled world of photojournalism. Many of them knew each other when they were younger and working as interns at Time magazine in New York. As the night went on, they started trading “war stories.” To laughter all around, one recounted when he was tasked with bringing important film from news coverage across town. On the way he got into a car accident, which wasn’t grave but was serious enough so that an ambulance was called and paramedics removed him from his car. Asked how he was feeling, he replied in halting terms that he needed to get this film across town.
The group of photographers laughed at what seemed an absurd mismatch of priorities. The speaker himself was good-natured about it and, since no one was hurt, it was the kind of story that one could look back on and laugh.
But consider how few people demonstrate that kind of instinctive dedication. (As it happens, the film did arrive.) Certainly, you could say that it was going too far or that he displayed an unhealthy degree of one-sidedness. But is that really so? Wouldn’t you want your surgeon, nurse, pilot, or caregiver to demonstrate that kind of dedication? The example is perhaps extreme but it highlights the character of those who distinguish themselves.
Every photographer who sat in on our discussion had a similar attitude or story.
13. Act Quickly
“Time dissipates energy,” a powerful agent once told me. When presented with a good chance — move on it. Slowness dampens or negates opportunities.
Quick and decisive action should not be confused with impulsiveness. If you are following all of the rules laid out here you will not fall victim to blind impulse. You will have sufficient information about yourself and your surroundings so that you can act intelligently and quickly when the wheel of fortune stops where you are standing.
Intuition arises from amassing and storing a huge amount of information so that when chance arrives the prepared person has “data banks” on which to rely.
Jacob Needleman once asked me: “What do you do when someone offers you a gift?” I looked at him blankly. “You accept it!” he replied. When something good comes your way — an offer, a job, an opportunity — do not dither.
And if it’s the wrong opportunity, handle it with a quick and courteous refusal. But the unluckiest thing you can do is demonstrate half-heartedness, delay, or silence. No worthy employer or backer respects that. He or she wants to know that your dedication matches their own. When chance arrives, act.
In closing, I offer 13 Aphorisms of Good Luck:
1. Good luck is not a happy accident. It is more often a selection of habits and techniques that can be cultivated to maximize desirable events that enter your life.
2. Watch for fruitful collaborations. Valuable chemistry is irreplaceable. In areas of your life where it already exists, honor, cultivate, and maintain it. Good chemistry is at the root of good luck. The opposite is also true.
3. Luck reaches those who are seen. Act with dignity and decorum but ensure that people are aware of your work, passions, and contributions.
4. Luck favors the prepared mind. You can seize chances only when you detect them. The prepared eye notices things no one else does.
5. The decision to quit drinking and drugs — even if for a fixed time — is one of the most powerful you can make. Sobriety increases your effectiveness, output, and opportunities. It is one of the few decisions placed wholly in your hands.
6. Runs of luck always reverse. A fertile period replaces a fallow one. And back again. In workplaces, successes are often remembered more than failures. Hence, persistence beats odds. (This is not true in games of chance.)
7. Failure or setback may rescue you from contact with the wrong people and circumstances. It can also rouse your urge toward self-refinement.
8. “Conditions can change and then the answer changes.” Watch for chances to revisit missed possibilities — and keep your relational ledger clean so that you can revisit them.
9. Never confuse enthusiasm with optimism. Check and recheck your work. Mishaps will be averted. Entire projects are saved by pessimistic enthusiasm.
Read also: How to bring out the fighter in you
10. Any time you humiliate someone you run the risk of laying a hidden timebomb. People rarely forget and sometimes avenge humiliations. (Plus, it’s better not to be a dick.)
11. Thanking and recognizing people — publicly, privately, and sometimes financially — helps them feel a shared stake in your project. They may assist you at subtle and important moments. Neglecting this invites others to feel apathy (if not antipathy) toward your efforts.
12. Luck shines only on those it can reach. Show up. Keep commitments. Be in the flow of life.
13. Opportunities dissipate. When they arrive, act quickly and decisively. If you are prepared, this isn’t impulsivity. Decisiveness is lucky.
Contributed by Mitch Horowitz
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