Why Some People Seem Luckier in Their Careers

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What does it mean, really, to “get lucky”? For those of us who haven’t experienced it, one of the most annoying things a successful colleague can say is “I was just in the right place at the right time.” You think, “Sure, okay, but what really happened?” Because it can’t be that simple, right?

Well, it turns out that luck really does figure into success—meaning, yes, there are people who are luckier in their careers than others. But research also shows that even if you’re not someone who regularly “gets lucky”, that’s okay—you can make your own luck, too.

Why Career Luck is (Partly) Outside of Your Control

There’s a reason we have a word for luck. Sometimes, success really does come out of nowhere, and that’s true with careers as well.

Countless studies have found interesting correlations between work success and seemingly random facts. The most jarring one is that wealth is largely determined by where you live, which researchers believe explains in part why the global economy is so unequally distributed. But there are other less depressing stats, too—like the fact that if you are born in June or July, bad news: you’re much less likely to become a CEO than a person born in other months, or that scientific discoveries don’t align with how intelligent the scientist is but are rather pure chance. Interesting, right? But also a little frustrating.

Still, Most “Lucky” People Share a Few Traits

The good news is that you can manipulate your luck, no matter how little or much of it you have.

When you think of the word “luck”, you probably think of good things just happening. But if you tease out that idea, it starts to sound a lot like optimism. Researchers have found that people who have the most luck—in their careers and life—are often the most optimistic people out there. They believe good things will happen, and then good things do happen.

This may sound familiar to you if you’ve ever read about the notion of “manifesting” or the Law of Attraction, which argues that if you focus your attention on what you want, you’ll attract it (here’s a primer on career manifesting if you’re curious what that looks like at work).

The idea isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Think of it this way: if you believe good things will happen in your career, you’re more confident, more willing to take risks (because you’re less afraid of failing), and generally more open to saying “yes” when those moments come. So, optimism leads to luck, luck leads to optimism, and just like that, you’ve created a perfect loop for success.

So how do you shift your perspective? According to Inc. lucky people share the following traits, which you can work on in your own career, too.

  • They keep an open mind — Often luck comes from taking on a project, job, or opportunity that’s not your “norm”.
  • They look on the positive side — Again, think positive, manifest positive.
  • They regularly do something out of the ordinary — Getting stuck in your routine prevents you from noticing or embracing new opportunities. So, Inc. suggests trying something new every day of the week. Whether that’s switching up where or how you work or spending a Saturday at a museum, give it a go.

Some Other Ways to Make Your Career Luckier

Beyond changing your perspective, there are other actions you can take to make your own luck. Here are three of the best ones to start working on today:

  • Hang out with lucky people. There’s a reason why CEOs love hanging out with other CEOs. It’s the best way to get immediate insights from the most successful people in their fields. It also inspires and challenges you. So, rather than avoiding the person at work who seems to have all the luck, head straight for them. They’re not as intimidating as they seem, and you’ll get a lot out of the time you spend with them.
  • Communicate more. Often, you’re not getting places because you’re not asking to get there. If you don’t have regular and proactive check-ins with your boss about how your career is going, start now by requesting a review. And don’t go in unprepared. One of the best things you can do is walk into a meeting with ideas for where you want to move your career. Do you want to get promoted eventually? Do you want to take on a leadership role? Tell your boss you’re looking to grow and ask them how you can start planning to get there.
  • Don’t avoid failure. Luck comes from risks, so get outside your comfort zone. Take on that project you’re not quite sure you’re equipped to handle. That’s not to say you should get in over your head, but often you need to take on something that feels challenging to move forward. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing. And what’s lucky about that?

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