The success matrix – how inspiration and hard work improve your luck

12 minutes reading time

From the macro perspective, there are only two paths to success. Either you get lucky first and then play your cards smart, or you work hard and smart until you get lucky.

In the first scenario, you just wait for the right opportunity to appear, while in the second scenario you put all the possible effort into creating your own luck and opportunities.

Then we have two general motives for why people want to become more successful or at least make positive changes in their lives. One possible motive is desperation and the other is inspiration.

Some people are inspired to take steps forward by their life visions and goals, while others wait until things get unbearably hard and they are forced to act.

Now let’s further analyze these four categories (luck, smart & hard work, inspiration, desperation) and then build a matrix out of them to seek some wisdom and various life lessons.

Luck versus hard work

Luck versus smart & hard work

Some people become ultra-successful simply by being lucky. They get “discovered” on the street and win an important movie role, they become one of the first employees in a startup that grows really fast, they sign a big long-term contract based on nepotism, they become famous on YouTube by playing games, and so on.

I’ve seen it over and over again. People with mediocre talent, who put no real effort in anything, getting lucky and winning big. Doing almost nothing. It happens quite often. These lucky individuals often evoke a bitter taste for all the smart and hard workers and even for all other people in general.

But that’s the name of the game. Every lottery has its winners and its losers. It is how it is, and it will probably stay that way for a long time. Torturing your brain cells why life works that way is a big waste. The more interesting question is what kind of life lessons the lucky winners hide.

The first lesson is that luck doesn’t last forever. Even when you get lucky, you still have to play your cards smart. There are many people who get famous, rich or successful overnight but in a few years they end up in bankruptcy, rehab or with STDs by making a series of stupid decisions.

Being lucky is never enough to be successful in the long term, you also have to play your cards smart.

The second important fact that we often miss (and that the mass media rarely talks about) is that for every person who gets lucky, there are thousands of people who don’t. They wait for their slice of cake and nothing happens.

There are thousands of people who hope to get discovered in Hollywood and nothing happens. That’s why it’s called the land of broken dreams. There are thousands of people who build great products and nobody buys them. That’s why most startups fail.

The lessons here are that (1) you are not alone if you feel unlucky, you’re actually part of the majority. You are as unique and entitled to things as everybody else. In other words, people are not entitled to anything, with a few lucky exceptions. That leads us to the next lesson.

Waiting for luck to strike you out of the blue is probably not the best winning strategy. You might wait until the end of your life and Fortuna still won’t knock on your doors.

It’s much better to work hard and smart, and then trust the rule that the harder and smarter you work, the luckier you get. By doing all the hard and smart work before you get lucky, you also learn how to manage huge success once luck strikes you, so you can play your cards smart; otherwise you can quickly run out of luck.

And when you talk to many successful people, you soon figure out that really lucky are only few – one per millions. For the majority of successful people the overnight success came after years of hard work. It only looks different from far away.

The main takeaways:

  1. If you feel unlucky, you are not. There are millions of people in pretty much the same position as you are. You need to keep a realistic view on how things are.
  2. Luck is never enough to be successful in the long term, you also have to play your cards smart. So maybe if you currently feel unlucky, this is just practice for you to learn how to handle success with hard and smart work.
  3. Without luck, it’s almost impossible to be really successful, but you can increase your chances of being lucky by working hard and smart. The best way to reach “overnight success” is by years of hard and smart work.

Inspiration versus desperation

Inspiration versus desperation

There are two motives behind why people act. One is inspiration. You get inspired by your dreams, visions or success stories of other people. Your creative ideas and positive energy drive you forward, focusing on all the opportunities and possibilities life has to offer.

Some people are given that kind of life visions from their young age; their parents probably inspired them to see everything they can achieve in life. They saw the potential and inflamed the spark for self-actualization in a young human being. But those individuals are rare.

All the other people who work out of inspiration sat down at some point in their life and decided what their life mission will be. They saw their life as a canvas on which they can create their masterpiece.

They took time to define what they want to achieve in their life and from that day on, that drives them to work hard and smart every single day. The good news is that you can do the same at any moment in your life if you feel uninspired.

Then we have people without any inspirations, people without big dreams. There’s nothing wrong with living a life without big aspirations, as long as you don’t slowly and desperately slide into a zombie life. Getting fatter and fatter, acquiring more and more debt for buying things you can’t afford, and so on.

Many times, people continue with bad habits until their life situation gets really disastrous – illnesses, losing their home, nasty breakups etc. Don’t be one of them.

Inspiration is absolutely a much better motivational force than desperation. It might be hard to find inspiration in life, especially if you didn’t know what to do with your life already at the age of 10, but once you find the inspiration, things get much easier.

The hard road becomes easy. You finally begin to work for fulfillment purposes. So all you have to do is sit down and explore your inner self to find what lights a fire in your belly. That is the hard part, but once you do it things only get easier.

The main takeaways:

  • It’s much smarter to be motivated by inspiration than desperation.
  • Much like there are rare lucky people who get successful just by being in the right place at the right time, in the same way are rare all the people who know their mission from a young age.
  • To find inspiration, you have to take time and explore your inner self. It’s not an easy task to do, but once you find your mission, life becomes much more fulfilling. You probably heard the quote that the two most important days in your life are when you were born and when you find out why.
  • There’s nothing better than living life out of mission, and nothing worse than being forced to act because your situation gets so shitty. Desperation rarely leads to success.
  • When you act out of desperation, you are usually forced to lower your moral values, which is never a good thing. What is left to a man without integrity?

Based on all four factors we can build a success matrix and the four ways how people become successful. Each way holds further important life lessons that can help you with your own success.

The success matrix

Lessons from the naïve ones – don’t sabotage your own luck

You’ve probably heard of the book The Secret. It talks about the law of attraction and how you can manifest great things in your life only with your imagination. Imagine money flowing into your life, and the financial abundance will start to manifest.

We can debate all day if such manifestations work or if it’s just a ridiculous concept. But that would be a waste of time. So the better question is what sensible things we can learn from “the secret” believers that makes sense in general to increase your own chances with luck. I see at least two lessons.

The secret - Magic check

Source: The secret

The first one is that you have to open your mind for the opportunities. Many people are blind when fortunate things are happening right in front of their eyes. Many people get lucky because they recognize the opportunities in their environment.

They visualize opportunities and then they pay attention to them. Whether you believe in the law of attraction or not, open your mind to all the opportunities in your environment. Never ask yourself only what could go wrong, but also what could go right. Believe there are opportunities in your environment and then find them.

The second important lesson to take away is that no one has absolute luck and no one has absolute misfortune in life. There are always some areas of life where you are lucky. Maybe you are smart, maybe you have good genes, a warm personality, strong character, rich friends or something else.

You have to be honest with yourself where you are lucky in life and that should be your source of inspiration and gratefulness to attract even more luck in your life. It can happen that some people feel ultra-lucky for things that you take for granted. They try to manifest things that you already enjoy every day.

The main takeaways:

  • Recognize that good things can happen to you, often without any reason. Maybe creative visualization can help with keeping an open mind for the opportunities in your environment.
  • Nobody is completely lucky or unlucky in life. Find the areas where you are lucky and make sure you are grateful for that. Believe that you are the lucky one and you will automatically find many proofs for that.

Playing lottery

The lottery winners – if you don’t buy the ticket, you can’t win the game

The worst position to be in is to be desperate and hoping for luck to strike. You know, the scenario of buying a lottery ticket with your last money, hoping for somebody to call and offer you a job while wasting time in bars, smoking when you have cancer because you hope that an operation will solve all your problems, and so on.

Fortune absolutely also visits some desperate people who hold still from time to time. But being desperate and hoping for luck means walking on a very thin line.

If luck doesn’t visit you, you can destroy decades of your life or even your whole life. It’s much better to have a solid and sound strategy how you will get yourself out of the shitty situation than just hoping for luck to strike. Neverthless, there is an important lesson hidden in the desperate people who become the lucky winners.

Even if you have a solid strategy for getting out of hell, don’t forget to count on luck from time to time. Never assume that you are not the lucky one. Occasionally, you have to take blind (controllable) risks, even when you’re desperate.

Just make sure that you’re taking risks with a small downside and big upside potential. Test that “stupid” idea that takes one weekend to realize. Apply for jobs that pay 10x more than your current job is paying if you meet the minimum criteria. Write for a partnership to that big company.

Always have open arms for Fortuna while you’re working hard. Sometimes big moves can get you out of trouble. Many times fortune favors the brave. In summary:

  • Please don’t count only on luck, but also don’t hate it.
  • Pay attention to all the tickets with a small downside and big upside potential you can buy. You don’t have to buy all of them, but from time to time you can test your luck.
  • The dumbest farmer grows the biggest potato, so sometimes play dumb and make a big move. Prepare for the worst (and make sure downsides are under control), but hope for the best.
  • Know the difference between smart big risks and stupid decisions.

Grinder - hard work

Grinders are the people we respect the most – the lesson: tough times build character

If you aren’t lucky per se, the only other way to success is through creating your own luck. If you want to create your own luck, you have to make sure that a lot of things are happening in your life. You must expose yourself to as many opportunities as possible. You must fight and grind.

To all the grinders, lucky people are often a big reminder that life’s not fair; or at least not fair in the way we would hope it to be. So they can get bitter and that’s never good.

That’s also the first lesson we can learn here. Grinders who only work hard usually have wrong assumptions about fairness. They assume that life fairness works like this:

  • If I’m a good person, good things will happen to me in all areas of life
  • If I make a great product, people will see that and buy it
  • If I write a good article, people will love to read it
  • If I do quality work, I will be appreciated and rewarded
  • If I work hard, somebody will notice that and reward me

That’s not how life fairness works. Life rewards those who work hard and smart. Life rewards rewards those who master its rules. Life reward those who manage to create and market things people actually want to buy or use, not things you assume people will like based on what you like.

Life rewards those who find a way to impact the masses. If you want to earn millions or gain the attention of millions, you have to impact millions; and only better quality is rarely the right answer to that. Actually, it’s more about marketing than creating quality things. Marketing is everything.

The second very important lesson is that grinders who succeed are held in special respect in the society. We all admire people who manage to get themselves out of shitty situations only by smart and hard work and without getting lucky.

Books are written about grinders and movies are filmed. Because grinders are the ones who develop the most stamina, resilience and grit. Grinders are the one who develop the most skills at the end of their journey.

Grinders are the ones who show to the world that you can do it, even if luck is not on your side. So, it’s kind of a blessing to be a grinder. The main takeaways:

  1. No matter how hard things are, if you don’t like something, move. You’re not a tree. Much like you can always decide what your life mission will be, so you can always decide to become a grinder.
  2. As a grinder, you have to work smart and have a realistic view of what fairness means, otherwise you can get very bitter. If you want to be a successful grinder, you have to learn to respect the markets and life rules.
  3. To become a grinder, you need a mission greater than life (to be able to travel through hell).
  4. Grinders are held in special respect in the society and that is a special kind of reward. Legacy is always greater than currency.
  5. Soft times make soft people, tough times build grinders with character.
Hustler - sells and enjoys life

Source: Netflix

The hustlers – don’t forget to enjoy the ride

The last group of successful people are the hustlers. Hustlers have a special life philosophy and they come in two flavors.

One group of hustlers have the philosophy that goes something along the lines of “Life is a b*tch, so learn how to f*ck it”. The other group are producers who are determined to co-create the world. Both of them are, in some special way, happy and satisfied even when doing Sisyphean tasks.

The hustlers usually have the same struggles as the grinders, they just operate in better environments, had a better starting point (rich and supportive parents, commercial hubs, having mentors etc.) or possess a more positive angle on life.

They don’t see their work as a struggle but as a pure mission and satisfaction. They know how to create, they know how to sell, and they know how to enjoy the ride. They are in love with creating and solving problems.

They never see themselves as victims, because they know it doesn’t suit them. They work hard, but they also strive to play hard and don’t bother with luck. Even though they do go to the casino from time to time.

They play life like a video game, trying to get the most out of it. They go for the things they want and they see life as a playground with endless possibilities. At the end, because they are brave, fortune starts to favor them.

In summary:

  1. Try to imagine Sisyphus happy. When you achieve that, you don’t need luck and you will be at peace every day. Enjoy the daily hustle, and you will enjoy life forever.
  2. Don’t forget to enjoy the road to success. It’s not only about the end goal, it’s also about the path itself. You are here to grow, create, connect and enjoy life.

The journey across the success matrix

Here is the last lesson. In your lifetime, you often find yourself in different quadrants of the success matrix. You can’t spend your whole life in only one quadrant. Sometimes you will feel lucky, sometimes inspired, sometimes unlucky, and sometimes desperate.

But these are only your feelings, your perspectives and interpretations. You can always change your perspective and enter a different quadrant with all the lessons we’ve learned:

  1. If you feel unlucky, list all the things you are grateful for in life and where you do have luck. Nobody has absolute luck and nobody is completely unlucky. You are also the lucky one.
  2. Expose yourself to more opportunities to increase your chances of luck. Write to people, network, generate ideas etc. You can’t get lucky at a game you’re not playing.
  3. Don’t rely only on luck, instead have a plan, work hard and smart, but still believe that good things will happen to you. A combination of believing in luck and doing smart and hard work is the best.
  4. In the dark, stars shine the brightest. The darkest hours can give you the greatest strength to turn your desperations into inspirations. There is nothing more powerful than a man on a mission. Find your mission.
  5. And if you feel completely unlucky, remember that soft times make soft people. Grinders and hustlers are the ones who develop character, stamina, strength and other virtues. Maybe they are the true lucky ones.

About the author

Consulting and management coaching

Blaž Kos has managed venture capital investments over the past 12 years and participated in the development of the start-up ecosystem in the region. Today, he advises companies on growth strategies, process optimization, the introduction of lean agile methods and the digitalization of business. In addition to the Slovenian blog, he also writes an English blog, which was selected among the 50 best bloggers in the world in the category of personal and business growth.
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