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Learn from Barbara Sher, Barbara Winter, and me…


Are Successful People Really Luckier?
You Bet They Are

By Valerie Young

When Stephen Fofanoff and Chris Warnock needed a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) willing to work on an equity basis to help them take their fledging design consulting business, A Designer's Eye (, to the next level, they came up with a novel approach – they advertised on Craig's List ( Nearly three dozen people responded. The applicant they decided to go with is a former CFO for a major corporation who left to start his own highly successful software business. With his own company in maintenance mode, the guy was just looking for a challenge.

This guy didn't need the money. But what would compel all of the other applicants to line up to work for free? Because by helping Chris and Stephen locate investors and otherwise handle the financial aspects of rolling out a national franchise, these enterprising CFOs hope to ultimately be rewarded with a future share of company profits. In other words, instead of investing money they're investing their time.

I first heard this story at the Work at What You Love workshop in Ventura where Stephen spoke as part of our Inspired Entrepreneurs panel. Seeking people to help you grow your business on an equity basis is interesting in and of itself. But I was equally fascinated that they thought to advertise for a CFO on Craig's List. I thought it was simply brilliant. Apparently though, not everyone looked at it this way. One of the participants remarked on her evaluation that she didn't find Stephen's talk as beneficial as the other panelist's because in her words, he "got lucky."

Serendipity emerged as a theme once again the following month at the Madison workshop. This time though, it was the panelist himself who described his success in terms of "luck." Despite a life-long love for magic, Tom Krzystof ( followed the conventional career path by working for major companies like Mediatech and FedEx while continuing to pursue his passion for magic on the side. This included spending two and a half years leaving his day job to perform magic at a local restaurant.

One day a patron approached him about doing some work for Chef Boyardee. Tom was indifferent about the travel involved so he says he decided to turn the offer down by by requesting what he thought to be an exorbitantly high fee. Much to his surprise, the food exec thought it was a great deal and so off Tom went on a grueling, but highly profitable, multi-city tour. Whenever Tom talked about this turning point in his magic career he'd say "after the Chef Boyardee deal fell in my lap." While most of the attendees nodded in agreement, I knew something else was going on.

I knew because I, too, got "lucky." When I first started publishing the pre-internet version of Changing Course in 1995 it was a hardcopy publication. Subscribers paid $29 for six issues that arrived via the good old U.S. Postal Service. The newsletter was eight pages long and took a fair amount of work to put together. I'd attracted a few hundred subscribers but certainly not enough to pay the bills. I was close to folding the newsletter when suddenly I was flooded with orders. In three days I made $5,000. At $29 per subscription that's a lot of subscriptions!

What's Luck Got to Do, Got to Do With It?

What was going on here!? I learned from a customer who phoned in his subscription that I was somehow featured on MSN!? Wow! How did I end up on MSN? By the time I logged onto this mega site, the link was gone. It was a mystery.

Then the next month, the same thing happened, but this time I jumped onto where I saw a link that said "Work at what you love." Imagine my surprise when the link led to an article I'd submitted two years earlier to When readers got to the end of the article, they found a link to my website and ultimately the order page.

The CareerBuilder connection came about as a result of a letter I wrote to an editor. I pointed out that some of their readers may be interested in career paths other than the traditional job route and volunteered to provide some articles. Since I wasn't asking to be paid, he said sure. At first I was diligent about sending in articles once a month. As things got busy in my own work life, my submissions trailed off to whenever I got around to it. In the meantime, and totally unbeknownst to me, CareerBuilder had partnered with MSN.

So I called the editor and suggested a more formal arrangement. On top of selling a ton of subscriptions, he agreed to pay me $400 for a monthly article. I was getting paid to market my own newsletter! Sweet. About a year later though, MSN dropped CareerBuilder and partnered instead with Someone bought CareerBuilder and fired most of their staff. The party was over, but it was great while it lasted and gave me the financial foundation I needed to keep going.

When I'd tell friends the story of how the MSN/CareerBuilder partnership totally transformed my business they'd always say the same thing – "you're so lucky." That got me thinking. Are people who work at what they love just somehow luckier than the rest of us? Or might something else be happing here? During Tom's stint in the restaurant business he also picked up five other corporate clients. I talked to Stephen today and I'm not at liberty to share the latest news but suffice it to say if things work out, it will be BIG. (I'll keep you posted.)

So how did Tom really land the Chef Boyardee gig and his five corporate clients, or Stephen and Chris get their CFO, or I profit from the CareerBuilder/MSN deal? In each case, success came down not to luck but to three simple things: Being willing to invest time into honing our respective crafts, taking the initiative, and opening our mouths to ask for what we wanted.

Is there a certain amount of luck involved in any success? Of course there is. But those who look at other people's success and think "they're so lucky" tend to see only the "luck." What they're saying is "You're so lucky," but what they're thinking is, "Sure that happened for him, but it will never happen for me." They're basically equating the odds of their own success with those of hitting the lottery. And when you frame success as all about luck, like the lottery, your chances of achieving it are slim to none.

Over the years, I've found some wonderful quotes on the role of luck in success. So I'll leave you with some wise words from people who I can only imagine at one time or another heard their own successes chalked up as a fluke. Jean Cocteau wisely observed that "We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don't like?" Sam Goldwyn quipped, "The harder I work, the luckier I get." Similarly, Dr. Armand Hammer remarked that "When I work fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, I get lucky." But perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best when he wrote, "Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect."

Your dreams are too important to leave unattended. So what are you waiting for? Go create some luck!


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About the Author

"Profiting From Your Passions®" expert Valerie Young abandoned her corporate cubicle to become the Dreamer in Residence at offering resources to help you discover your life mission and live it. Her career change tips have been cited in Kiplinger's, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today Weekend, Woman's Day, and elsewhere and on-line at MSN, CareerBuilder, and An expert on the Impostor Syndrome, Valerie has spoken on the topic of How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are to such diverse organizations as Daimler Chrysler, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Harvard, and American Women in Radio and Television.

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