Be your own lucky charm

luckSeven years ago, I was fundraising for a nonprofit with great success until a number of key donors and funders unexpectedly stopped their support. When asked why, they stated that while our work was stellar – even exemplary – they simply wanted to put their investments elsewhere. Confounded, I did not know how I would lead my team forward. What do you do when working hard and being great doesn’t always produce results?

Then I came across this quote from Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Seneca’s point – good fortune doesn’t just happen to us; we generate advantage through planning and readiness – was a big “aha” moment for me. This notion became a winning approach for my team and a personal strategy for shaping and guiding my career.

If you’re starting out in your profession, or finding yourself in a slump, here are some ways you can put the principles behind “luck” into action, and uncover possibilities you never imagined.

Preparation: Know the players
Knowing the leaders and key players in your field is a great starting point for creating luck. By knowing, I don’t just mean name, face, and title: I mean taking the time to research these leaders’ backgrounds, interests, and involvements. While you’re at it, invite them out for coffee so you can get to know them personally – and allow them to get to know you. You’d be surprised at how many opportunities to support and be supported come from a simple interaction.

Preparation: Expand your horizons
It’s a good thing to know your industry, and it’s even better to know how your field interacts with, supports, and complements others. Let’s say you work as the marketing assistant for a small theater company. One of the ways you might expand your knowledge base is to think about all the fields, industries, and sectors your work touches. There are the obvious: marketing and the arts. But what about tourism and hospitality, education, transportation, and economic development? Take the next step by learning about the topics, issues, and trends that are important to each of them, and figure out if there are any points of intersection.

Another exercise I use to broaden my understanding: Read the headlines in the local business paper, and draw connections between top stories and something you’re working on. This not only helps me to stay current, but trains me to see my work from different angles, sparking new ideas.  

Opportunity: Leverage your knowledge
Once you have a broader view of your work and a handle on who’s who, you can start connecting the dots to create opportunity. How? Get out of the office. Attend events related (or unrelated!) to your work. Network, network, network – and share your ideas. Join a committee or serve on a board, and consider taking on a leadership role. Contribute articles to blogs. Speak on podcasts. And always follow up with any new connections on LinkedIn and social media.

While these practices have served me well, there are numerous ways to prepare yourself and seek opportunity. Always look for new ways to engineer career luck: Your pathway to success lies in your ability to create your own fortune.

Good luck – you’ll make it!

Heather Infantry is executive director of Generator, a non-profit ideas social house, whose mission is to bring people together to generate ideas that shape the future of cities.

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