BL&T No. 160: Reflecting on Luck

Personal Growth

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"It is perplexing to wonder why we ever leave the here and now. Here and now are the only place and time when one ever enjoys himself or accomplishes anything. Most of our suffering takes place when we allow our minds to imagine the future or mull over the past."

From "The Inner Game of Tennis" by Timothy Gallwey [Book]


As a teenager, I had a different perspective on luck (among other things). My dream was to have a career writing and performing music. I used to envy folks who seemed to get lucky (and the rest was history). Maybe they were at the right place and time, born into a position that gave them an advantage or happened to get noticed by someone who could help them succeed. So on and so forth.

But wow—what a disempowered way to look at the world.

I don't recall when I stumbled upon the well-known Seneca quote on luck, but I remember it hit me like a smack in the face. It goes like this:

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

This mindset flips the script entirely. Luck is not about the chance you might get an opportunity that will change your circumstances. It's about putting in the work and creating opportunities for yourself. Not only that but when the opportunity comes, it’s about being prepared.

Justin Bieber didn’t become Justin Bieber overnight. He embraced the rise of YouTube and posted one video after the next, refining his craft while gaining momentum with viewers everywhere. When one of his videos caught the eye of Usher's crew, Bieber was ready to go, prepared to take the journey. Alessia Cara, Charlie Puth—we’ve seen this story play out over and over. It can't just be luck.

As much as I wanted a music career, I became less and less prepared as I got older. You could wake me up in the middle of the night, put me on stage at Madison Square Garden, and without hesitation, I'd perform a solid 90-minute set, but that’s not what I mean. I was pursuing design in college, I was in a new relationship with my then girlfriend, now wife Dana, and so on. Music wasn’t my top priority anymore. If opportunity came knocking, I’d have to think twice about what I was willing to give up to truly seize it. Not prepared.

I was chatting with Barrel CEO Peter last week about our progress this year. Despite having a great year in terms of profitability, we've had to revisit and lower our revenue target. While we would have liked to see both on track, our situation has prompted us to look at our work and business in new ways, rediscovering our challenges, strengths, capabilities, and focus as an agency.

My conversation with Peter reminded me of Seneca’s words. As much thought went into our forecast for the year, we didn’t have the same understanding of what it would take to get there. In that way, maybe we were unconsciously banking on a bit of luck in the form of the right mix of ideal clients and projects. But even if they came, would we have been prepared?

When I look back, I see 2023 as a year of preparation. We’ve revisited accepted ideas and challenged our processes. We’ve strengthened relationships and forged new ones with our network of partners. We’ve grown the team through structure and training, better serving our clients and helping grow their businesses. These efforts have already led us to create and uncover some exciting opportunities. Many I would have felt less confident pursuing in years prior, both personally and as a team.

In this way, it's been a prosperous year, and we’re in a good position to create the future outcomes we're after. No doubt—we have our work cut out for us, but that's why I'm looking forward to the road ahead.


Where am I waiting on luck instead of putting the work to create opportunities for myself?


The E-Commerce Corner

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