First published in the Globe and Mail, February 20, 2004

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Ever wonder why some people seem to have all the luck, why they enjoy great opportunities?

Perhaps they've learned that luck isn't lucky at all.

For most of us, it's what happens when preparedness and opportunity meet, producing defining moments that can change a business or career forever. The question is, how do you prepare yourself to recognize the right opportunities?

First, know yourself. That doesn't mean simply recognizing or identifying strengths and weaknesses. Rather, it's a deep reflection that reveals your innermost self. Feedback from others can augment this and you begin to see your repetitive and perhaps compulsive behaviour.

It's important because you'll begin to understand your passions and fears in a vibrantly different way, aligned with how others see you. And that will help you recognize opportunities that mirror your way of living and so will make a difference in your life.

In other words, if you are to be "lucky," the reward of good fortune has to be something you passionately embrace.

The next stage is to recognize that incremental steps to achievement can lead to a more comprehensive and enduring kind of good fortune. Simply put, nothing succeeds like success.

It works like this: Daily advancements build your personal competence and confidence. You develop wisdom from these experiences and knowledge from your successive achievements. You learn to take risks, which helps you to recognize and seize new opportunities. Why do you take more risks? It's self-fulfilling, and the confidence you gain creates the courage you need to try new methods in your daily work.

Next, take the wisdom of your success and confidence to a new level -- start to anticipate. Wayne Gretzky once said that he scored so many goals because " I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it's been." When you develop the skill of anticipation through focused discipline and hard work, you can create scoring opportunities.

All this needs to be balanced with flexibility. The fact is, you can't be prepared for all events and sometimes serendipity is simple. So it would be a shame to miss that seductively irresistible moment because you focused exclusively on the issues that prepare you for creating and seizing another opportunity. Be focused, but don't be blinkered.

Lastly, when your choice is wrong, begin again. A good example is Bill Gates' initial decision not to enter the Internet marketplace. Netscape executives must have been elated with that announcement. Microsoft later realized that was a mistake and introduced Outlook, a seminal decision for the company.

The beguiling business of recognizing our life changing or business changing moments embodies a complexity of challenging questions. Ask yourself:

  • Do you know what drives you? Do you understand those issues that are at the root of your deepest passions and most confronting fears? Are there repetitive behaviours that define you? Do they block or facilitate your vision of opportunity?

  • Do you build your skills to turn daily achievements into long-term goals? Remember, nothing succeeds like success.

  • Do you train yourself to anticipate opportunity? Do you take more shots and score more goals as a result?

  • Are you flexible, at least enough so to recognize serendipitous moments?

  • Can you admit your mistakes and start over? If not, why not?

With these simple guideposts, you'll be prepared to recognize the opportunities that will be good for your career or your business. You need only to seize the opportunity to have your own serving of "just plain luck."

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