What Matters Most is Luck. Not!
During my battle-tested career, I have always heard, “Krach, you are just so lucky.” I look down at the ground and shrug my shoulders and say, “Yah, I guess I’m just lucky” or, “I was just at right place, right time.”
I am certainly blessed. Born into a loving family, growing up in the heartland of this great country in a simpler time and humble manner. I learned to appreciate the value of hard work and I grew up with an earnest desire to make a difference in the world. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life thinking about the concept of luck and what that word really means. Is it flipping a coin at a fork in the road or being dealt the right card at the right moment? Whether you choose to believe it’s karma or a blessing, there are divine moments that protect and shape us. But most of the time, I believe that we make our own luck. Luck is self-propelling and a magic that we can generate and magnify. I believe the definition of luck is when preparation meets opportunity. The harder you work, the luckier you get. I call it the Frank Wilson Theory.
When Frank Wilson joined our basketball team in 7th grade, I thought he was the luckiest guy I had ever met. He immediately emerged as the star of our squad, scoring on average a sparkling 18 points a game. I was baffled though. He could barely jump, let alone dribble, and his jump shot was extremely ugly (sorry, Frank). He was a lefty and he would awkwardly short-arm the ball toward the hoop. I just couldn’t understand how this guy could score so many points. I figured he was just lucky.
Then one day, the father of one of our teammates brought a 16-millimeter video camera to shoot one of our games. We played well and won the game, thanks to another game-winning shot from Frank. The next day at practice, the coach invited us all to watch the tape of the game. While everyone else followed the action of the game, I kept my eyes focused on Frank the entire time. As the tape played, it hit me like lightning. What Frank could do better than all of us was what he did when he didn’t have the ball. The act of getting in the right position at the right time was what mattered most. He would use his smallish frame to duck around picks and slide into open positions just under the hoop and in the corners where, when someone passed the ball, he could hit his little duck-shot with perfect accuracy.
I began to see Frank in a new light. I also began to watch him at practice. While the rest of the team was lobbing up half-court trick shots and goofing around, there was Frank running drills, by himself. What I realized, it wasn’t that Frank wasn’t lucky when it came to playing basketball—he was prepared. When the opportunity presented itself, Frank was right there, ready to make his own “luck.” That was how Frank taught me a profound lesson:
What matters most in life is what you do when nobody is looking.
Thanks to Frank, I now have a deep conviction of the importance of preparation and constantly sharpening the saw. One of the most tangible examples I can share relates to how I approach public speaking. Whether it’s for a commencement address or a quick TV appearance that will generate a mere sound bite, I will spend hours preparing for a delivery that will take just a few minutes. There have been times when my team has witnessed me spend an entire 90-minute car ride getting ready for a short 3-minute after-dinner speech. I prepare for any question that could come my way. People might applaud me for my great improvisational speaking skills without realizing how much work actually went into making it look casual and spontaneous. So if it looks like I put my foot in my mouth, there is a chance that I meant to put it there.
Similarly, anytime I go to a conference or attend an event, I take the time to memorize the LinkedIn profile of the attendees. There is no better way to meaningfully connect than jumping to the heart of finding something in common with people you “just happened” to meet. I’m fairly confident that if Dale Carnegie were still around to write an update to his classic book How To Win Friends And Influence People, he would have certainly included a chapter on memorizing not just names, but LinkedIn profiles as well (you’re welcome, LinkedIn.)
As Thomas Edison so aptly put it: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” So, Frank, if you are reading this, I’m sorry I ever thought you were lucky. Your example taught me one of the greatest lessons in life—what matters most is what you do when nobody is looking—and that is a wisdom that I have shared with many. So Frank, wherever you are in this world, I thank you. And I wish you all the luck in the world, knowing full well you don’t need it.