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What SXSW taught me about getting lucky

March 23, 2015

“We’re up all night to the sun
We’re up all night to get some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky”
– Daft Punk (source)

I recently returned from the South by South West Interactive conference in Austin. SXSWi is a colorful combination of tech schmoozing, learning and just having a good time.

Something stood out for me this time – wherever we went, there was some sweepstakes or the other. Esurance had this very elaborate set up where you could, once a day, scan a random card they gave you to potentially win a Fitbit and other bigger prizes. Pepsi had a booth at the conference center. Mashable, Buzzfeed, another geeky party – wherever we went, there was a lottery or a raffle, some game of chance.

Of course, there are two kinds of reactions from people when they see something like this: there are the people who roll their eyes, shake their head and keep walking. And then there are the people who think “why not?” and roll the dice.

This got me thinking. Why do people participate in a lottery in the first place? A lottery means taking on some risk (your financial input) for a minuscule chance of a disproportionate reward. Indeed, that chance of winning is so fractional that the expectation is to lose a lottery, to the extent that losing the lottery is almost part of the definition of lottery itself. No one says, “ah! I lost the lottery I participated in.” Losing the lottery doesn’t even make the news, but winning does.

Just because winning the lottery is an unlikely scenario, does that mean we shouldn’t even participate? Someone is going to win – what if that’s us? Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, once said (I am recreating to the extent that I can remember):

“Of course it was crazy for me to think that I’d be the new CEO. But I remember thinking, someone is going to be CEO!”
– Lloyd Blankfein

Several vastly successful people admit the role of luck in their lives. Michael Lewis says:

“Don’t be deceived by life’s outcomes. Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck…”
– Michael Lewis (source)

Jim Carrey, who quit school at 15 to help support his family, working as a janitor, talks about it:

“I had a substitute teacher from Ireland in the second grade that told my class during Morning Prayer that when she wants something, anything at all, she prays for it, and promises something in return and she always gets it. I’m sitting at the back of the classroom, thinking that my family can’t afford a bike, so I went home and I prayed for one, and promised I would recite the rosary every night…

Two weeks later, I got home from school to find a brand new mustang bike with a banana seat and easy rider handlebars… My family informed me that
I had won the bike in a raffle that a friend of mine had entered my name in, without my knowledge.

That type of thing has been happening ever since, and as far as I can tell, it’s just about letting the universe know what you want and working toward it while letting go of how it might come to pass.

Your job is not to figure out how it’s going to happen for you, but to open the door in your head and when the doors open in real life, just walk through it. Don’t worry if you miss your cue. There will always be another door opening. They keep opening.”
– Jim Carrey (source)

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, says:

“I’m very, very lucky. I’m lucky in so many ways. I won a lot of lotteries in life and I’m not just talking about Amazon as a certain kind of financial lottery for sure, but I have won so many lotteries.

My parents were both amazing role models… In life, we get a lot of rolls of the dice, and one of the big rolls of the dice is who are your early role models.”
– Jeff Bezos (source)

I have won certain lotteries and we all know people who have. We don’t win those lotteries everyday or even frequently and we don’t win big every time but I think winning once is enough to truly realize that there’s a non-zero chance we may win again – if we keep our head on our shoulders and stay at it.

So maybe it’s not such a bad idea to spin the wheel every once in a while – and expect to win.

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