Are careers all about luck? What a wise cabbie made me realise about my world
“How’s business been for you?” I asked my cab driver in an attempt to make small talk. It was 6am and I was on my way to a professional photoshoot*, not a typical day for me by any means so I was full of beans.
[*The photoshoot was for the second part of an advertising campaign I am fronting for my insurance company - more about that here].
“Well, the thing about my profession”, he explained, “is that it’s all about luck.”
“ Let me explain what I mean: After this trip, I have 2 hours of work to go. Imagine I dropped you off here just before this crossroads and then took a left; I could end up stumbling upon a customer who wanted me to drive them 100 miles which would pay nicely and fill up my 2 hours.”
“Alternatively if I took a right, I might find another customer who only wanted a 3 mile trip; sure it would pay ok but then I’d still have to find other jobs. Or I could go straight on and find no customers for the next 2 hours and that wouldn’t be great.”
“So, which way should I go? It’s all down to luck; there’s no way for me to know the right way each time I drop someone off so I learnt to stop worrying about it. All I know for sure is if I don’t go out everyday then I will definitely get no customers at all.”
Maybe because it was early in the morning, or maybe because I spent the next 8 hours standing in roughly the same position being photographed a million times, but this statement stuck with me for the rest of the day and I couldn’t help reflecting on whether all our careers (and lives) are simply down to luck.
Initially my mind thought back to the adventure roleplaying books I used to enjoy reading as a child. The ones where they would get you to make choices: “If you want your hero to open the door to the castle then go to page 173 or if you want your hero to climb up the side of the castle go to page 86”.
Back then, always keen to pick the perfect answer, I would look up the outcome from the first option whilst keeping my finger back at the original page and then go and read the outcome for the second option before making my mind up on which one to go with. It was simple and ensured that I always finished the adventure successfully.
Unfortunately though life isn’t like that; you can’t simply keep your finger on the page of a crossroads every time you make a decision and get to see the outcome from each of the options ahead of you.
Whilst I would love to see the Sliding Doors versions of each of the major decisions I’ve ever made in life, that’s not how it works and I certainly wouldn’t have enough time to watch all that (do you realise just how many decisions we all make in a day, let alone in a lifetime?).
It bothered me that what I thought I was in control of (namely my career and my life) might be, as the cabbie had said, completely out of my hands and I pondered on it for a long time. Believe me, I put quite a lot of thought into it but I will spare you all the nuances of my thinking.
Instead, here’s my conclusion: The reality is that yes there is an element of luck in our careers and lives, i.e. whether we turn left or right at each crossroads, but that we also precipitate our own luck through the choices we make.
What do I mean by that? Well, keeping with the analogy above, as the cabbies of our own lives, we might not know which specific road to drive down each day but we certainly do get to choose which part of town to base ourselves in (i.e. do we pick a quiet suburb or the centre of a metropolis), what day and time of the week to be driving our cab (i.e. a weekend evening is definitely going to have a different set of journeys than a mid-week morning) and whether to sign up to be fed leads from taxi apps (such as Uber, Free Now) or not, and so on and so forth.
Basically my point is that by making good decisions around the luck, we are shaping our destinies whether we realise it or not. In my role as a strategy facilitator and emotional intelligence expert this is what I help clients with; I get them to see all the options ahead of them and how each systemically could contribute to (or hinder) their overall objectives.
By doing this, it allows them to maximise their chances of choosing the right options. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing and perhaps was obviously something I would be drawn to based on the adventure books experience.
When it comes to my own life and career, particularly when starting my own business, I realised that I’ve been making decisions that will increase the chances of things being a success.
Be it, by replying to the initial email from AXA asking if I might be interested in staring in an advert or by sending voice notes to different contacts every day to see if they might fancy meeting for coffee or even the career decisions I’ve made. These actions made it possible to be at the right crossroads that have led me to where I am today and I don’t regret any of them.
I could go on but I think you get the point. So, in summary, my advice to a younger version of myself would be: Make wise decisions to set yourself up for the luck that might be round the corner. Don’t fixate on what might have been down the other roads you didn’t drive down and, above all else, put the effort in everyday otherwise you sure as hell won’t even be in the position for any luck at all.