Your next big break will happen through luck, not hard work.

Why network effects matter more than you think

As an NYC resident of over three years, I’ve learned that NYC is simultaneously a big and small world.

It’s a big world because there are so many goddamn people. All trying to be happy, all having a purpose, all giving and receiving help. The sheer population can feel overwhelming. On top of this, you have tons of buildings, restaurants, streets, avenues, pigeons, retro Jordan variants, dogs, and dog poop. 

New York is also, almost eerily, a small world. Having graduated from a UC college (UC Irvine to be specific—zot zot), many of my friends also went to a UC. Folks at the company I just accepted an offer at have been following the thought leadership of my previous company. Even the bboys (breakdancers) I meet in NYC know the California bboys I know (I used to bboy competitively in California). Every time they see me, they chant “West Coast!”

Everyone seems to know each other. It’s fucking weird.

But for our purposes, it’s helpful.

On Fast Flow

I like this piece on luck and paid opportunities by Jocelyn K. Glei. She cites a book written in the ’70s by Max Guntherm called How to Get Lucky. I’ve yet to read it, but there were two snippets she mentioned that stuck with me.

The first snippet was about Lauren Bacall, an award-winning female actress who debuted her first film in 1944. The second snippet is about luck and dating.

Here’s the first snippet:

The commandment of the Second Technique is: Go where events flow fastest. Surround yourself with a churning mass of people and things happening.

[Bacall’s] first couple of years in New York were attended by almost continuous bad luck, according to her autobiography, “By Myself.” She got bit parts in plays that promptly folded, landed modeling jobs that turned out badly for random reasons. [But] she did not permit her string of bad luck to discourage her. Instead of becoming depressed and inactive – which bad luck can do to people when they believe it is caused by their own flaws – she kept herself oriented to the fast flow. [Bacall] got busily, almost frantically involved in war-effort work such as the Stage Door Canteen; in part-time jobs such as ushering at theaters; in social events, dates, parties, and picnics. She made herself the center of a howling whirlwind of people.

As you’re a reader of The Jump, Lauren Bacall’s “always forward, never backward” mentality should sound familiar to you.

Gunther continues:

She could not know which of those people would be the conduit through which her break would flow. As it turned out, that destiny-marked person was an obscure English writer named Timothy Brooke... One night they went to a nightclub named Tony’s. While there, Brooke introduced her to a casual acquaintance of his, a man named Nicolas de Gunzburg. She did not know it at the time, but this was the first link of a long chain of circumstances leading to her big break.

De Gunzburg was an editor of Harper’s Bazaar. Through him, the lucky young actress got to know Diana Vreeland, the magazine’s fashion editor. Vreeland gave her some modeling assignments. One arresting full-page shot caught the attention of a Hollywood producer, Howard Hawks. Lauren Bacall’s movie career was launched.

She was a woman of great grace, beauty, and talent. Those attributes played a necessary part in her climb. She had to have them so that she could take advantage of the big break when it came. But she also had to have the break itself. If she had not gone out of her way to find the fast flow, and if she had not met that obscure British writer as a result, the name Lauren Bacall would mean nothing to us today.

Lauren Bacall didn’t sulk in rejection. She kept moving. She optimized for the number of meaningful interactions she’d have until she met the right person that led to her big break.

If I were to reflect on who that person was for me, it’s my friend Sam Spurlin. During my time at UC Irvine, I grew very interested in building a career in making work better. As I read articles about this problem space, I stumbled on an article of his on 99u. I read the author bio and realized Sam was doing work I wanted to be doing in my own career (consulting, coaching, writing) in a problem space I wanted to focus on (making work better). I emailed Sam to chat and he graciously accepted. Fast forward a year or so when The Ready started, he offered me a gig to write for The Ready. My first two articles seemed to resonate with The Ready’s readers. Psyched about this traction, I asked Aaron (the founder) about full-time opportunities. To my fortune, he gave me a shot, and I moved to New York in June of 2016 to start my dream job. 

It’s also worth mentioning that this job opportunity also enabled me to live in the same city as my partner—she moved to NY from California before I did. To this day, we live together in (still) NYC.

That reminds me. Speaking of dating, here’s the second snippet I liked that Jocelyn cited:

Let’s suppose you are bored, lonesome, stagnating and in need of a life-changing love affair to get your engine tuned up again. You have a weak link with a man named A, a fellow member of a local political action group. One night A’s friend B, whom you don’t know gives a party. A, discovering that you are at loose ends that night, asks B if it’s all right to bring you along. B says sure, as long as you contribute a bottle. Another guest is B’s friend C, known to neither you nor A. This C, a tertiary link in your network, is the life-changing person you have been waiting for.

That is how luck happens.

Of course, this book was written before dating apps existed, but you get my point.

There is no such thing as a self-made person

kobe bryant basketball GIF

When I was younger and more naive, I thought that the secret to success was hard work. My belief was largely influenced by three things: 

  1. Kobe Bryant’s obsession with working hard (I grew up a Lakers fan).

  2. My wonderful, hardworking parents’ immigrant mentality of hard work being key to success.

  3. My education—I grew very comfortable doing homework and studying alone.

I’ve since learned that hard work is just part of the equation. What matters more is what you work on and who you work with.

I’ve fallen prey to thinking my successes are largely due to my grit, skills, and perseverance. I’d guess you’ve done this too. It’s easiest to observe how we made an outcome happen rather than how others (and/or the broader context) made it happen. And, it feels good to give ourselves the credit for the result.

I hate to break it to you, but successes don’t happen because of you (or me). We are a small piece in the success equation. 

Successes happen because of a million different factors. The introduction your friend offered. The chance your previous employer took on you. The coaching your colleagues and friends offered you. The compassion your romantic partner gives you after a stressful day. The client context. How well your future employer is doing financially. Needs that exist. And of course, the person attached to your next big break.

Jocelyn began her piece with this quote from Ben Casnocha:

“Every opportunity is attached to a person. Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They’re attached to people. If you’re looking for an opportunity — including one that has a financial payoff — you’re really looking for a person.”

If you’re looking for an opportunity—including one that has a financial payoff—you’re looking for a person.

Not a posting of the perfect job. Not validation from others. Not the world rewarding you for all the hard work you’ve put into your job search.

A person.

So stop thinking you can do this alone. And start putting yourself in fast flow.

I started The Jump with the intent to share something with you weekly. So far, it’s been biweekly. I’m bummed I haven’t been able to meet my initial goal of publishing weekly as I’ve chosen to prioritize client work and time with friends and loved ones.

Because I start my new full-time job with Sanctuary Computer on 8/12 (which I’m stoked about), I imagine I won’t be able to ramp up the cadence to weekly. Thus, I’m going to adjust our cadence from weekly to biweekly. This means that you’ll receive a new post every other Wednesday morning. I want to be real with how much time and focus I need to give you something that’s (hopefully) valuable, fresh, and authentic. 

Thank you for understanding. I appreciate your support of The Jump thus far!