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May 8, 2014 at 1:00 AM

Leveraging luck as part of a career success strategy

Most successful people, if they are being honest, acknowledge that luck played a substantial part in their rise to the top.

Yes, hard work and determination matter, but every CEO or millionaire entrepreneur can tell a story of when just being in the right place at the right time made all the difference — in other words, when they got lucky.

This might sound a little unfair if you are one of those people who believe that we are either naturally unlucky or naturally lucky. But the truth is that luck can be cultivated. Here’s how:

  1. Build a “reputation for excellence” by being insanely good at your work and consistently doing more than is asked of you.
  2. Be willing to recognize when what you are doing isn’t working out and to try again from another angle.
  3. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.
  4. Don’t freak out when you fail; rather, look for the lessons in it.
  5. Be open to suggestions from even the most unlikely sources.
  6. Put yourself out there (i.e., cultivate a wide circle of friends and acquaintances).
  7. Set clear and realistic goals that you know you can accomplish.
  8. Be curious, ask questions, get to the bottom of things.
  9. Keep your skill set current.
  10. Be open to new experiences.
  11. Be open to meeting people.
  12. Admit your faults and mistakes, apologize quickly and move on.
  13. Accept that there is never a “right time” to do anything; just take the plunge.
  14. Be generous with your time, resources and knowledge; it feels good and it will come back to you.
  15. Be able to sum up what you do or want in one sentence so you’ll be ready in case anyone asks.
  16. Train yourself to notice opportunities when they arise, and act on them.
  17. Don’t be afraid to tinker or pursue side projects.

Finally, remember that lucky people fail a lot more than unlucky people because they try so many things, which increases their odds of success. (And when you do succeed, everyone forgets the failures and says, “You’re so lucky!”)

P.S.: Don’t forget to let go of those past failures yourself.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at wg@karenburnsworkinggirl.com.

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: career advancement, motivation, networking, self-promotion

Blog contributors

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

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