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Reality check: luck vs ego

Jul 16, 2018 | Posted by Cristina in Newsletters

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I was only 19 when I dove into my entrepreneurial journey, during my freshman year at the University of Journalism. It was then that I met Bobby, with whom I co-founded my first online project, and we successfully exited a few years later, despite the fact that the global financial crisis had just started. We also started The CEO Library together last summer.

Ok, hold it right there. This is an oversimplification and I don’t want to be guilty of narrative fallacy.

Are you familiar with the term “entrepreneurship p0rn“? It represents all the airbrushed portraits of successful startup stories and business founders. Yeah, all those cherry-picked examples that are used to paint glossy aspirational stories. Those aren’t really helpful. They’re fantasies and potential triggers for depressive episodes. Whenever I read something, I try to peel apart all those layers of filters and masks, until I get to the raw core.

Here’s an example: Sol Orwell (co-founder of Examine.com) argues that 90% of his success should be attributed to the “ovarian” lottery. He was born to the right set of parents, who decided to move from the East to the West (born in Pakistan, his family decided to move to Canada when he was 14). Sol says that almost all of his cousins and relatives who remained in Pakistan are smarter than him, work harder than him, and, even so, he’s 100x more successful than they are.

Elon Musk obtained a visa and moved from South Africa to North America before he started college, thanks to his mother’s Canadian roots and a good timing. Would we still be talking about him today if he stayed in South Africa? Maybe. Who knows.

All I’m trying to say is that you always need to take into consideration that luck plays a huge role. Perhaps even the most important one.

When I started my first business, I was lucky. Lucky that I found out about the first bloggers’ workshop that was organized in my country and I chose to attend it – despite the fact that I was the only woman that signed up for it and didn’t know anyone else. I was lucky that I met Bobby there (he organized that workshop). I was lucky that I chose to share my frustrations with him and he spotted a potential business idea. I was lucky that he trusted me, although I was just a child (and also much younger than him). I was lucky that the timing and context was perfect to start such a project in my country. I was lucky that I didn’t have a safety net and I was too desperate and hungry to make that one project happen. And I could go on and on like this forever. Just trying to keep it real!

In the first video lectures on how to start a startup, Sam Altman (president of Y Combinator) says that the outcome of a startup is a multiplier between a great idea, great product, great execution, great team, and luck… with the factor of luck being as random as any number between 0 and 10,000. That’s so damn true.

I was given a pair of cards, I made a bet and the outcome happened to be favorable – but it could have easily gone the other way around. Keep this in mind every time your ego starts pumping up, otherwise it will turn into a monster (or a Gremlin fed after midnight).

Take a moment and reflect on this question: what were you lucky about so far? No need to reply me – although I would love to read your story – but what’s important is that you distinguish between what was under your control and what was just because of good (or bad) luck.

And here are three great books in case you want to dive deeper into the subject of luck: Clayton Christensen – Competing Against Luck, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness, and Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets.

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