Books Career Education Presentation Reflections WISE

WISE Talk: 3 Things That Make Me Luckier

Commentary (I didn’t have slides) for the talk I gave for UO WISE.

I thought I was going to come and have an informal chat about how interviewing at Google is not that scary, and then I saw Krystal’s tweet.

[blackbirdpie id=”55757050474532864″]

I freaked out a little, to be honest. Like, woah – I need to be inspiring? I don’t feel inspiring!

The thing is, I used to help organize these talks, so I know what I used to look for out of them.

Life advice.

Because I’ve long felt that if I had more information, I could do better at life. We had some great speakers, and I got some very useful advice. But – I do not feel qualified to give anyone life advice. Because honestly, I think that any success I have comes down to working really, really hard, and being lucky.

The thing is, there have been studies of people who consider themselves “lucky” and some interesting observations have came out of it, from an article in the Times:

I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

Which tells me that lucky people see things that unlucky people don’t. So, I’m going to talk about three things that I think make me luckier.

  1. Get the right people on the bus.
  2. Gaps are opportunities.
  3. Bravery is not always what you think it is.

1. Get The Right People on the Bus


Credit: Aires Dos Santos /

In Good to Great (Amazon), this is identified as something that good companies do, to take them to great. They get the right people on board.

I also think it’s true of yourself. Who’s on your bus? Are they the people you want on there? I think we’ve all been there, whether it’s the drama junkie, or the drunken friend who you carry home every time you go out.

For a while, I was hanging out with the wrong kind of people, and I started changing that. It was amazing how much happier I was, how much more energy I had, and how much more I got done. The drama was hugely affecting me, for all I tried to stay away from it. We’re hugely influenced by the people we interact with. It’s important that they are good people.

2. Gaps are opportunities


Phonebox nonsense
Credit: flickr / Darkroom Daze

Wherever there’s a gap, somewhere where you think “that should be happening”, but it isn’t – I think that’s an opportunity. To do something, to create something, to bridge a gap. The most exciting things I’ve done have come out of gaps I’ve seen.

3. Bravery is Not Always What You Think It Is

fall apart
Credit: xkcd

People said I was brave to move to Canada. The truth was the opposite – I was afraid to join the real world, so I hid from the real world in grad school. Now I live in the real world, I wonder what I was afraid of. Seeing someone else as brave is not the full story, you don’t know what they’re running away from.

There’s that quote, it was in The Princess Diaries (Amazon), but originally by Ambrose Redmoon.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.

What this means to me is that being brave doesn’t mean that you’re not freaking out. I freak out all the time. Every time I start a new adventure. Every time I stand in front of a bunch of people to talk about something. Every time I’m somewhere where I know no-one. Every time I hit “post” on something that is non-trivial and honest.

It’s easy to say, X is braver than I am, I could never do that. It’s a cop out – people can be brave in different ways. People think I’m brave because I say “yes” – but I think people who say “no” are brave, they commit to one opportunity when I hedge my bets with many. They are not as terrified of missing out as I am.

Anyway, I don’t think being brave means you have to be sure. I don’t think it means that you don’t get to be really scared. It definitely doesn’t mean that you won’t push yourself. It doesn’t mean being unrealistic about chances of success – or failure. Being brave is seeing all that, and deciding to go ahead and do it anyway. For the hell of it, or for the challenge, or for the adventure. Or, for me, because I’m too afraid to say no.

But these are just my three things, and like I said, I’m completely unqualified to give life advice. So pick and choose what you think is worth considering, and then make up your own list of things that make you lucky.