How Successful People Make Their Own Luck

When you're desperate, when you feel you have nothing to lose, that's when great ventures are born.

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By Steve Tobak

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I'm usually sort of a forward-looking guy – always in search of the next great adventure or big opportunity. But I do occasionally look back at how I got here. And when I do, it's hard to believe things turned out so well … in spite of how hard I worked to screw things up.

There have been many times when things went horribly wrong. And I mean horribly, horribly wrong. I've lost ridiculously high-paying jobs, my money in the stock market, even my wife. If there's something really good to have, you name it, I've lost it. And yet, somehow, things always worked out in the end.

There is a very good reason for that. Luck. Not the roll-of-the-dice kind of luck, but the make-your-own kind of luck. That's how successful people always seem to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. They take big risks and, when everything goes to hell, somehow manage to recover … by making their own luck.

It's often said that luck is when opportunity meets preparation. Maybe that's true for some people, but not for me. All the great opportunities that came to me – every single one – happened after I had royally screwed up and things couldn't get any worse. That's when I always rise to the occasion. And I'm certainly not alone.

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That's because, for many people, luck is when opportunity meets desperation.

Think about it. How open are you to taking big risks when you're on top of the world? How willing are you to pull the plug when things are going gangbusters? How receptive are you to doing something crazy and scary when you have everything to lose?

The answer is: Not very.

On the contrary, if you feel that your very survival is at stake, that's when you're most open to new ideas. When defeat is staring you so straight in the face and you simply can't deny it, that's when you're most receptive to change. When you feel hopeless, that's when you get into the "I'll try anything, I've got nothing to lose" mindset.

That's why addicts usually have to bottom out before they can recover. It's why necessity is the mother of invention. It's also why, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. It's all the same thing.

For example, we usually associate the start of the new millennium with the end of the dot-com era – when the biggest stock-market bubble in history burst, wiping out trillions of dollars in investor wealth. But what rose from the rubble of Silicon Valley's defeat was a series of innovations that led to nothing short of a technology and cultural revolution:

- Web 2.0: the Internet as a platform for user-generated content and applications.

- Social networks and social media: LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

- Smartphones, tablets and the mobile Web: Apple's iconic iDevices, Google search and Android platform.

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While these social connectivity platforms certainly enabled the modern entrepreneurial revolution, it was undoubtedly the financial crisis of 2007, the subsequent Great Recession and the jobless recovery that kicked the movement into high gear. Again, desperation meets opportunity.

What got me thinking about this in the first place is Independence Day. It was England's tyranny and a group of men – America's founding fathers – that so desperately sought a better life for themselves and their children that ultimately gave rise to the greatest nation on Earth.

Life offers two distinct paths for each of us. The first is the path of least resistance: Get a job, show up, collect your paycheck, rinse and repeat. The second path is the risky one: Take chances, face enormous challenges, suffer terrible defeat, rise up even stronger than before, and someday, make it big.

If you choose the latter path, I can say one thing for sure: there will be desperate times. But contrary to what you might think, those are the most precious times. When you're desperate, when you feel you have nothing to lose, when you're most open to opportunity and change, that's when great ventures are born.

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Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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