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Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

This was said by Seneca, a stoic philosopher, about 2,000 years ago. The stoics have so much to teach us about all our personal finance decisions and other big decisions. Stoicism is an ancient philosophy. Stoicism has stood the test of time. It is as relevant today as it was in Seneca’s time. This article builds the success framework, starting with Seneca's advice. Modern-day refinements are added to help the reader achieve successful outcomes.

About the author: Jeff Hulett is a career banker, data scientist, behavioral economist, and choice architect. Jeff has held banking and consulting leadership roles at Wells Fargo, Citibank, KPMG, and IBM. Today, Jeff is an executive with the Definitive Companies. He teaches personal finance at James Madison University and provides personal finance seminars. Check out his new book -- Making Choices, Making Money: Your Guide to Making Confident Financial Decisions -- at

Please check out Jeff's YouTube channel for the presentation of this article: Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet

Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet

This is the framework for integrating Seneca’s incredible aphorism to drive SUCCESS in our lives. Notice, there is more to luck than only preparation and opportunity. There is also adaptability. Plus, our success is powered by pursuit energy!

Allow me to dig into this framework a bit.

1. You may prepare by study, by practice, and by involvement with those in similar fields. Preparation is endogenous. Preparation is generated from the inside and is something we generally have more control over.

2. Opportunity recognition is very important, as opportunities are not always obvious and the less obvious opportunities may be more valuable. Opportunities are exogenous. Opportunities occur from the outside world. It could be a job posting on LinkedIn, handshake, or some other resource. Opportunities are something we have little or no control over.

Back to our framework, it is our adaptability that serves as the essential bridge between preparation and opportunity.

Natalie Fratto is a venture capitalist. Ms. Fratto said there are 3 important behaviors when it comes to adaptability. She considers these when evaluating a target company’s leadership for VC funding. These are highly relevant to anyone’s success: The 3 signs of adaptability are:

  1. Do you regularly ask “what if” questions? This indicates how comfortable you are being creative and getting out of the box.

  2. How flexible are you with active unlearning? This indicates your flexibility and ability to quickly error correct.

  3. Are you an explorer? This indicates whether you prioritize exploration like testing instead of exploitation, like harvesting.

Notice what Ms. Fratto did NOT list? The business case! Not to say the VC does not consider the business plan, but they know the plans WILL change. SO they want to invest in ADAPTABLE people!

Venture capitalists are in the business of funding opportunities for future success. Make the lessons of venture capital work for you!

Now, let’s discuss pursuit energy. This is our incredible human nature. Think of pursuit energy as a catchall for important attitudes like:

  1. Grit

  2. Perseverance

  3. Comfort with uncertainty

  4. Energy and drive

  5. Willingness to take risks

Let’s say you are thinking of getting a new job or preparing for your first BIG job after graduation.

You HAVE been preparing.

Your education and experiences are an amazing preparatory baseline.

There ARE opportunities.

You have checked out LinkedIn, handshake, and other resources. You know there are multiple alternatives that could be a great fit for you!

Now, you need an ENERGETIC PURSUIT! These are:

Tailoring your résumé,

Performing network searches for people who know related opportunity people,

Arranging informational interviews with your network,

Attending networking events,

Engaging with recruiters,

Networking with hiring managers,

Selling oneself on social media,

Undertaking relevant certification training,

Commencing many other activities.

Notice all of the energetic pursuit activities start with ACTIONS and DOING!

Tina Seelig leads the entrepreneurship program at Stanford University.

Dr. Seelig has a very interesting success approach relating to the wind. She appropriately observes the WINDS OF LUCK are always blowing!

The wind can be erratic and unpredictable, blowing fiercely, lightly, or in unexpected ways.

Here are Dr. Seelig’s three BIG ideas for building a BIG sail to catch the winds of luck:

  • Take risks and get out of your comfort zone. The only way to realize the wind’s benefits is by taking smart risks.

  • Show appreciation. Even if you did not achieve the opportunity you really wanted, always show your appreciation. You want to leave them wishing they had worked with you!

  • Be open to new ideas and possibilities. Your preparation will make you ready for many opportunities. The idea is to be open to many possibilities.

Finally, let me leave you with Seneca’s amazing aphorism with a modern-day twist:

Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet with energetic pursuit AND adaptability.


[i] Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 65 CE


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