Lessons about luck from a serial gold medal winning champion

Historical Fact.

In the mid-eighties, there was a four-year time span in which I won a series of city championships in the 200m and 400m breaststroke. In my age group, there was no Plettenberger who was able to beat me. I am not sure what got me to quit swimming, but in hindsight, it seems like a grave mistake.

My success was somewhat puzzling. I was the smallest kid around. By a lot. I had just gotten kicked out of Judo for tickling my opponents. On the biggest stage no less, during my failed attempt to earn a so coveted yellow belt. Back to swimming. I had a habit of waving at my mom on the start block. By the time the first kid had finished his first length, I was about halfway done with mine. I also was somewhat allergic to chlorine. When I got out of the pool, my eyes were so red I looked ridiculous. That didn’t stop me from accidentally drinking way too much water and always having to pee by the third length. And yes, I always did pee in the pool.

I was an unlikely champion, to say the least.

And still, the gold medals kept racking up.

I did not have the most talent. By a long shot.

Then why did I win?

Because nobody wanted it more than I did. When things started to get hard after a few lengths, my opponents began to slow down. Some quit.

I didn’t.

I just kept going at it, doing my thing, drinking pool water, peeing, but never slowing down. By the time the last length was happening, I’d be in the lead. And then I’d win. And then I’d wave at my mom.


I was lucky.

I worked hard long enough for luck to happen.

I think many people probably don’t stick around long enough for luck to happen. And by sticking around, I am talking about doing the work to accomplish the goal you care about.

Another story.

I once had an idea I spent dozens of hours every month on. For a year. Then two. Then three. Then four. Then five. All the while this idea (that was supposed to be a business) didn’t make a single dollar. Now it only cost me a couple hundred dollars per month to keep the idea afloat. Still, to most, that’s a pretty shitty business.

That business is now ten years old and makes tens of thousands of dollars every year, without me doing a whole lot of work anymore. If tomorrow I quit my corporate career, I could at least entertain the idea of just working on IdeaMensch.

How freaking lucky am I?

Very lucky.

Why. Because I worked on my idea for long enough to give it a chance to strike luck.

Last one.

In 2006, I bought a really nice condo in Portland’s Pearl District. It was a huge investment for me. I poured most of my savings into the downpayment.

In 2008, the real estate market crashed. I thought real estate could only go up?

That year the place was worth half as much as when I bought it in 2006. Unfortunately, I had accepted a job in LA so it was time to leave Portland. If I sold my loft, I’d lose my downpayment, have no condo and walk away with 100k in debt. And given that I earned a good income, I was morally opposed to foreclosure and/or a short sale. Plus, I believed in my investment, the neighborhood and the city.

So I found a renter, who paid only an ok chunk of my mortgage and lost money on the place for a few years to come. That renter became a good friend of mine and ended up paying off a healthy part of my mortgage in the almost ten years he spent in the place. Earlier this year, I sold my loft at a nice profit.

I got lucky.

Why? Because I waited long enough for luck to happen.

The moral of the story is not that when you’re in a bad situation to just wait around because it’s going to turn around and luck will strike.

The moral of this post is that many people associate luck with overnight success. And if you always link those two, then you’re missing out on huge opportunities.

If you believe in something, if you want something, if something makes you happy; then put in the work long enough for luck to strike.

I bet you it will.