The following is an excerpt from Jane Miller’s book, Sleep Your Way to the Top (and Other Myths About Business Success). Buy the full book here, and get 20 percent off with the code “unreasonable.”

“I’ll take one lotto ticket, please.”

If it were just that easy: One buck down for a Mega Millions ticket and off you go to the land of milk and honey. Or better still, off to the land of beautiful mansions, fabulous parties, and private planes. It all looks so good in the movies! How do you make it happen for you?

I hate to be a plot spoiler, but the chance of winning that typical jumbo lottery is one in 135,145,920. Which may seem like pretty good odds until you compare it to some things that are easier to wrap your mind around, like:

  • One in 11,500,000: getting attacked by a shark
  • One in 10,000,000: becoming president of the United States
  • One in 700,000: being struck by lightning
  • One in 11,500: winning an Academy Award

When it comes to reaching your top, you can have significantly better odds. Because you are in control of many of the outcomes in your career, and you can use that control to make your own luck. Or, to use the phrase that really captures the concept of this book: “Create your serendipity.”

Yes, I know that “serendipity” is a fluffy, New Age-y word for “luck.” And you may very well think that, by definition, luck just happens—it can’t be planned. I both agree and disagree with that.

Luck clearly happens. That does’t mean you should wait for it. Tweet This Quote

Let me agree first and tell you I can confirm that luck happens. In fact, I consider myself extremely lucky. I grew up as the eldest child of young high-school-educated parents. My father was a bowling alley manager, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom raising four kids. She stayed at home until my dad left her for his girlfriend when I was a teenager. Deadbeat dads were not uncommon in the day, and my dad was proudly one among their ranks. So, with no marketable skills and no work experience, my mom could only find low-paying jobs to support us. She always had to hold at least two jobs at any one time because we couldn’t live on the income from one minimum-wage job. And even that grueling schedule needed to be supplemented with food stamps and the money I could bring in from my part-time job.

Where did my luck come into play? Clearly, someone from my background had to be lucky to get to go to college and graduate school and then have a successful thirty-year business career.

It goes without saying that there are millions of young men and women who grew up in my same circumstance but didn’t have the opportunity that I had to get an education or land amazing jobs with incredible companies. Unlike me, these same young people had to go a different path because of family responsibilities or lack of financial resources or no access to someone who believed in them.

Part of my luck was that my mom wanted me to go to college to have a better life, although it would have been easier for her if I had stayed home and helped her raise my little brothers. Another part of my luck was actually that we were poor. Our poverty allowed me to secure all sorts of financial aid for school. Thus I was able to avoid an onerous burden of debt that I would never be able to service.

The final part of the luck equation, and the most important, was the mentor I had as a girl. He was someone who knew from personal experience that education was the key to overcoming difficult life circumstances. And so my grandfather, my mentor, encouraged me early on to get good grades and work hard. He knew that the combination of those two attributes would give me options in life. Having options meant having some control of my destiny.

Although luck clearly does happen, I disagree that you should wait for it to happen. In your career, you have the opportunity to take your circumstances and turn them into something that really works for you. For the most part, I am not big on frameworks or four-step processes, because life just doesn’t happen in neat little steps. However, it can be helpful to have a mechanism to be able to think through how events are happening and how they can be used in your favor. For your consideration, I submit to you this iterative process:

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 11.38.11 AM

Let me walk you through each of these simple steps.

Set Your Intention

Wherever you are in your life, you have to set goals. Goals help you establish where you are going. If you know where you are going, you can develop a plan to get there. So many people I know get lost in their career journey or stuck because they are not clear about where they want to go. Know that when you set goals, you will have both short-term goals (I want to get this job) and longer-term goals (I want to run my own company). It is great to have both types of goals, as it keeps you rooted in the present while you build your future. Don’t be afraid to set a goal that may change. In fact, I can guarantee that your goals will change over time. That is just part of the fourth step about living and learning!

Open Your Eyes

This is a difficult step the first few times you try to master it. The concept here is to have visibility beyond what is right in front of you. Most of us are so focused on our own journey that we sleepwalk through life happening around us. Open your eyes and pay attention to the motives of other people. By becoming more aware of your surroundings, you will begin to see connections between seemingly unrelated events. Connecting these dots will be a key to you creating your luck. Throughout this book, I will give you tips on where I could have been more aware of others and therefore could have made different and better decisions. I will teach you to be more aware, too, so you won’t miss out.

Take a Chance

This might be the hardest part of creating your serendipity. Once you see a connection that could enable you to take a chance, you have to go for it. Have faith in the unproven, something that may seem risky. But here is the little secret that takes a long time to learn: Even if you make a mistake when you take a chance, if you handle yourself professionally and with high integrity, no decision is a bad one. You will see as this book unfolds, the times when I took a chance on a job opportunity were the times when I had my greatest success. And let me repeat, no decision is a bad one—if you learn from it.

Live and Learn

You will make mistakes! Hopefully, by reading about many of mine, you can make a few less than I did as I moved up the corporate ladder. The key idea here is to become a learning machine. Every situation you get into, take a mental note about what you did great or what you could do better. Because over time, you will build a library of experiences from which to pull out information to help you with your next experience. The more experiences you have in your library, the better decisions you will be able to make.

Which leads back to:

Set Your Next Intention

This is a living, breathing process, and it will evolve as you evolve. As you develop a plan to create your serendipity, you will take ownership of your career. That ownership will put you in control, during all of those times when you can be in control.

I am happy to report that you can be in control a lot. Which is the same as making your own luck.

At the end of most of the chapters, I will present a few questions and/or reflective thoughts for you. These questions are meant to connect you with this book in a personal way so you can become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Understanding your motivations, your dreams, your skills, your vulnerabilities will all help you as you work your way to your “top.”

  • Do you believe in luck?
  • What is the luckiest thing that has ever happened to you?
  • What is the unluckiest thing that has happened to you?
  • Could you have had any impact on that unlucky event?
  • Do you set goals for yourself?
  • Are you able to create plans to achieve those goals?
Jane Miller

Author Jane Miller

Jane Miller is CEO of ProYo Frozen Smoothie, CEO and founder of—a career advice website—and author of Sleep Your Way to the Top (and other myths about business success). She has 30 years of executive and management experience at PepsiCo, Rudi's Organic Bakery and other companies.

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