The Role of Luck in Career Planning

Like It or Not, Random Circumstances Can Play a Part

By Published on .

Alex Kniess Alex Kniess
As I approach graduation day, I am able to reflect over my past experiences and draw conclusions on the paths I have taken. Remarkably, I think that I can identify the one defining moment of my freshman year that put in motion every other capitalized opportunity that followed. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and the debate between free will and fate rages on. There is one thing, however, that has remained constant. Whether through my own eyes or those of my peers, luck has certainly been a key contributor to my experiences.

Looking forward, though, I'm trying to determine how exactly this "luck" will play out for me as I start my career. After all, you can't rationally bank on luck alone to find you that perfect job. So I turn to the success stories in the industry for guidance and ask them: "How did you get where you are today? How can I start my path to similar success?" During a branding workshop this week, I asked these questions of Stu Redsun, senior VP-marketing at Sony, and Scott Bedbury, founder of Brandstream.

Their answers were not what any of us wanted to hear. That's because there is no formula for being a successful advertiser or marketer. Obviously there is a path to become a dentist, doctor, lawyer and even an electrician. But to be successful in the communications industry, there is no solid ladder that you can climb rung by arduous rung.

Listening to the success stories of Bedbury and Redsun led me to a not-so-enlightened epiphany. Circumstance and luck are, more often than not, the catalysts for incredible world-changing careers. I'm not discounting the careers of either Bedbury or Redsun. Obviously no one could do that. Their knowledge and expertise have been felt by nearly every single one of us. What I'm suggesting though, is that there was one point along their paths where they were given a lucky break. Bedbury used to be a salesman and Redsun just happened to play soccer with Bedbury's sister.

So what is circumstance, and what is luck? Well, the Roman philosopher Seneca once said, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." I believe this is true. So maybe luck can't happen to anyone. Maybe through circumstance, Bedbury, Redsun, myself and countless other people in the world have prepared enough that when opportunity came, luck happened.

Sure, the advertising industry, like many others, benefits from a strong social network. But your network is only as strong as the value you add to it. So don't be discouraged that there is no clear-cut path to success. Continue to hone your skills and prepare for that inevitable opportunity. But when the opportunity comes, you better be prepared. Otherwise you may find yourself living the unluckiest of lives. As graduation looms closer every day, I can only hope that my own years of preparation will somehow meet with that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

But I won't be banking on it.
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