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Luck Will Find You

All the quotes in this post if from Naval Ravikant’s three hour long podcast called “How to Get Rich (Without Being Lucky)". Naval is the founder of AngelList and an investor/advisor for startups. He’s invested in companies like Twitter and Uber. I've been doing a longer series for my newsletter, but this idea about luck and specific knowledge was the one that's challenged me the most.

Getting Lucky

About three months before I was laid off from my job, I decided I wanted to pursue photography as a career. I made a plan to take one week off from work, so I can put together a portfolio, make a website, and announce to the world I was a photographer.

That Monday of my vacation, I went to watch a movie in the morning with my brother. Coming out of the theater, I had multiple texts and voice messages from my coworker. He told me something happened over the weekend with our biggest client, and he just came out of a meeting where the partners let go of 85% of the agency. My friend still had a job, but I didn’t.

I went into the office the next day, and my boss told me the news in person. I packed some personal things from my desk, and said my goodbyes before leaving. As I was walking out of the building, I remember feeling a bounce in my step as I realized, “Wait, now I have all the time in the world to work on my photography, not just a week. This is great!”

I called some close friends to tell them about what happened. They were confused as to why I was so happy about losing my job. When I told my parents about it, they felt so sorry for me that they were ok with me trying this photo thing for a year until I found another job. I’ve never looked back.

I’ve always felt like the opportunity to be a photographer was handed to me on a silver platter. It’s one of the reasons why I have such a deep gratitude to be able to do what I do. It’s also why I was confused to why Naval titled his tweet storm: “How to Get Rich (Without Getting Lucky)”. It felt like luck had such a big part in starting my career and its success. But he outlines four different types of luck (which, for the sake of proper attribution, comes from a post by Marc Andreessen, who learned about it from a book) and it put my experience into context.

In 1,000 parallel universes, you want to be wealthy in 999 of them. You don’t want to be wealthy in the 50 of them where you got lucky. We want to factor luck out of it.

There’s four kinds of luck that we’re talking about.

  1. Blind luck The first kind of luck you might say is blind luck. Where I just got lucky because something completely out of my control happened. That’s fortune, that’s fate.

  2. Luck from hustling Then there’s luck that comes through persistence, hard work, hustle, motion. Which is when you’re running around creating lots of opportunities, you’re generating a lot of energy, you’re doing a lot of things, lots of things will get stirred up in the dust.

  3. Luck from preparation A third way is that you become very good at spotting luck. If you are very skilled in a field, you will notice when a lucky break happens in that field. When other people who aren’t attuned to it won’t notice. So you become sensitive to luck and that’s through skill and knowledge and work.

  4. Luck from your unique character Then the last kind of luck is the weirdest, hardest kind. But that’s what we want to talk about. Which is where you build a unique character, a unique brand, a unique mindset, where then luck finds you.

I benefited tremendously from the first two: blind luck, and luck from hustling.

  • The financial crisis had dried up the marketing budget for many companies, leaving ad agencies like the one I worked for hurting the most.
  • Banks weren’t in a place to give out loans, which would’ve helped keep my company afloat during the drought.
  • I filed for unemployment; the government gave me close to a year of benefits, instead of the usual 26 weeks, because the economy was so bad.
  • In 2009, Facebook was all organic reach. There were zero marketing costs for my network to see my photos, and find out I was now a photographer.
  • I was 25 when I started, and a lot of the people in my network were starting to get married.

You could make an argument and say that I had some “luck from preparation” when I decided to do try photography full time. But, there wasn’t a master plan that was in place that centered around being laid off. I was just fortunate that I had other plans when I realized I didn’t have a job anymore. In hindsight I’m able to see that I was taking advantage of those opportune moment.

What I was missing and a lot of people don’t have is that fourth type of luck, luck from your unique character. That’s as Naval puts it, the weirdest and hardest kind of luck, but it’s also the most intriguing. If you can build up that unique brand and mindset, then you can start to make that generous contribution to the world. It’s where specific knowledge lies, and in the end, that kind of luck isn’t really luck at all.

The Straight Line of Ability

Specific knowledge is the knowledge that you care about. Especially if you’re later in life, let’s say your post 20, 21, 22, you almost don’t get to choose which specific knowledge you have. Rather, you get to look at what you have already built by that point in time, and then you can build on top of it.

After working at the Fifth Ave Apple store for a few months, I starts to play a game with with myself: to see if I can find the most disgruntled customer and put a smile on their face by being the most helpful and nicest person they meet that day. I lightly pat myself on the back when I say that I was successful 8 out of 10 times.

The first thing to notice about specific knowledge is that you can’t be trained for it. If you can be trained for it, if you can go to a class and learn specific knowledge, then somebody else can be trained for it too, and then we can mass-produce and mass-train people. Heck, we can even program computers to do it and eventually we can program robots to walk around doing it.

Apple had given us a week of training when I started there, but this wasn’t something they taught me. It was something that I learned, as I interacted with hundreds of customers a week. I became one of the top 10 salespeople that year, and my managers gave me a lot of autonomy on the sales floor.

Fast forward five years, I was able to easily navigate difficult vendors, demanding family members, and unforeseen problems that occurred throughout the wedding day. I found myself becoming calmer the more stressful a situation became, and was able to break down the problem to find the best solution for the couple. My favorite compliment from couples, other than how much they love the photos, is that I made them feel calm and comfortable throughout the day.

Very often, it’s not something you sit down and then you reason about, it’s more found by observation. You almost have to look back on your own life and see what you’re actually good at.

Especially if you’re later in life, let’s say your post 20, 21, 22, you almost don’t get to choose which specific knowledge you have. Rather, you get to look at what you have already built by that point in time, and then you can build on top of it.

I can draw a straight line working through a wedding back to my time at Apple helping unsatisfied customers. I'm sure you can look back and make connections like this for yourself, identifying an innate talent you have, and seeing how you’ve utilized it in different situations. Being self aware if the first step in achieving specific knowledge, and then putting in the work to build on top of it. If you need some help with understanding your strengths, I recommend taking either the StrengthsFinder or Enneagram test.

The Giving Tree

Specific knowledge is found by pursuing your innate talents, your genuine curiosity, and your passion. It’s not by going to school for whatever it is the hottest job, it’s not for going into whatever field investors say is the hottest.

I love the phrase “genuine curiosity.” Because it isn’t about something you can force yourself to be interested in, nor is it about being curious at the latest trend that everyone else is talking about. It’s something genuine to you, specific to you so that your knowledge is yours and yours alone. I joined Apple because I loved their products, and I wanted to work for a company that I knew was doing something special. It started with an interest in them that led to my skills in learning to work with clients.

But I think if you go around trying to build it a little too deliberately, if you become too goal-oriented on the money, then you won’t pick the right thing. You won’t actually pick the thing that you love to do, so you won’t go deep enough into it.”

This is where so many people fall into the trap of “following your passion.” If you feel like you are in the wage trap of doing a soul-sucking job, so you can afford your life, the temptation is to just find something that your passionate about and jump into it as quick as you can. This may seem exhilarating but you’ll reach the bottom much quicker than you think.

It’s as if you plant a seed, and demand a seedling to give you shade and a harvest without watering it or letting it grow into a tree. Asking too much of your art early on will sap away the joy of it, or worse you’ll become desperate and end up in another kind of trap. That’s what happened with my music.

The best way is just to follow your own obsession. And somewhere in the back of your mind, you can realize that, actually, this obsession I like and I’ll keep an eye out for the commercial aspects of it.