• Bill Petrie

Success and Luck

The secret to achieving both

I imagine every single person strives to be successful in whatever they do. I would also imagine everyone defines success differently. Yet, everywhere you look, people are celebrated as successful – especially those that attain the elusive status of being an ‘overnight success.’ From YouTube to Instagram and every social channel in between, the media has made the overnight success the most believable and acceptable lie in modern times. Unfortunately, it’s also the most dangerous lie because it allows all of us to embrace – and, perhaps, even worship – the concept of luck.

The problem with luck is that people assume that it’s about chance, being at the right place at the right time, being born into a particular family, and so on. The bottom line is that people assume luck is something they simply can’t control – you either get the breaks, or you don’t. In that sense, luck becomes something on which to blame every personal and professional failure. It takes no effort to point the finger at someone who has achieved that lie of overnight success and say, ‘it’s not fair – they got all breaks!’

For every ‘overnight success’ you see, there are countless hours – oftentimes years – of work you don’t see. Over the past few years, I’ve had many people ask me the secret to my seemingly ‘overnight success.’ Each time I tell them the same personal parable:

I’ve been in the promotional products industry for over 20 years, so I’m anything but an overnight success. I will tell you, however, a secret that took me years to learn. For the vast majority of my career, I didn’t achieve much above a middling level of success. Yes, I was able to provide for my family, travel extensively, win huge accounts, and enjoy fabulous trips, but I always resented the people who were the apple of the industry’s eye. They had the public respect I longed for and, candidly, felt I deserved. Heck, I worked hard, successfully presented to Fortune 1000 companies, and networked like a boss. However, I wasn’t seen as an authority or an expert on anything – I was nothing more than a JAG: Just Another Guy.

While I was living my JAG life, I both envied and begrudged the industry thought leaders, board members, and public speakers thinking they were somehow luckier than I was. At the time, it was far easier for my ego to blame my lack of recognition in the industry on simple chance than to accept responsibility for not acting intentionally. I’d love to tell you that this was only a brief perspective I had, but that wouldn’t be honest. The truth is that my resentment towards many publicly successful industry people lasted 14 years – a number that still makes me sad.

I had convinced myself that these respected thought leaders were afforded more opportunity, born under the right sign, or were simply just lucky. Candidly, I loathed them for it – and I loathed them for it until I became a consultant (also known as “between jobs”) and needed help from the very same people I had spent years resenting. I wanted to know their secrets and how I might replicate them. What I found amazed and astonished me: to a person, none of them were lucky at all. As I spoke with them, I learned of their failures, bad hires, poor decisions, financial disasters, horrible ideas, and the blood, sweat, and tears they put into their respective businesses and brands.

While their individual stories were radically different, I realized the common thread was that they had earned their success. Luck never factored into it; neither did good fortune, kismet, destiny, happenstance, or fate. Instead, what gave them their ‘overnight success’ was the same thing that always grants success: years in the shadows grinding, being persistent, having patience, pushing boundaries, telling the voice in your head that tells you that you can’t do something to, ‘get bent,’ collaborating with like-minded people, and reveling in doing work that matters. And, once they achieved success, they kept doing it.

So, the secret to my ‘overnight success’ that took me many years to learn is the same as the people I once resented: earn it – and earn it every single day. With that in mind:

  • Stop wasting time hoping good things will happen and MAKE them happen.

  • Stop resenting others for their success and time in the limelight.

  • Stop assuming that the world is out to get you.

  • Stop blaming outside forces for your failures.

  • Stop wishing and hoping for things to be different.

  • Stop relying on fate, luck, or whatever word you want to use to make things better.

Here’s the indisputable truth about both luck and success: Neither is blind. They don’t discriminate, they don’t judge, they don’t cherry-pick, and they don’t just impulsively fall into your lap.

If you want whatever you define as success, if you want to be lucky, earn it and earn it every day.

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