“I was working at a big government organisation, and we had a huge pile of application letters for a job opening. The hiring manager divided the big pile in two, and wiped one to the floor. “We can’t use someone without a little bit of luck” he said.”
Translation from memory of a column in in my newspaper.

This is a blog posting that has been brewing in my head for a while now. It started out with the epic failure that my education seemed to be, but from a broader perspective that is an unfair assessment; even though school itself was a disaster, and I’d gladly see the school that I went to fail big time because they were an incompetent, uncaring institution that seems more likely to do damage than good, I turned out okay, and most of it has been because I did something right during that time.

The book “First, break all the rules” said: When hiring new people there are three things to look at:

  • Experience
  • Education
  • Talent

Of these the first two are quite simple to measure using diplomas and references. The third one is extremely hard. Not because talent is rare. On the contrary: everybody has talents and weak points. The hard part is determining if the talents of your interviewee is in line with what is needed for the job.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the time I spent in Enschede, studying or otherwise, has been extremely valuable for me. When I just arrived there, I was extremely insecure, introverted, and socially awkward.

Then things happened:

  • The interaction with my flatmates took away part of my sharp edges
  • Being part of committees in the Bellettrie showed me what it’s like to have responsibilities (and that I was not that good at dealing with them back then, but I got by nonetheless), and doing the internal magazine opened my eyes to the wonderful world of graphic design.
  • Work in the cinema boosted my self confidence, showed me the values of being service minded, taught me about dealing with big groups of people for the first time.
  • Contramime and Pro Deo (the sketch cabaret group and the impro group) taught me about who I am, (it caused my personality to switch from INTP to ENFP), how to present myself, how to listen to people, how your body always does a million things, and more. This is also the first time in my life that I accumulated a lot of people I consider friends, and what later turns out to be network.
  • In the mean time I also became a giant linux geek for a while. That gave me the basic skill set I still use as background knowledge for my current job.

School is not really in this list, and rightfully so I’m afraid. In the end I’m taking away two things from it:

  1. I learned a bit about VBA for autocad, and that got me started at OGD.
  2. It taught me that at some point you have to face the consequences of failure, and the longer you wait, the harder it gets.

Soon after I gave up at last I learned that change is not as bad and scary as it appeared upfront; during the summer holiday of 2006 my first job landed on my lap (through network) and the rest came naturally.

None of the things mentioned in the title of this piece will ensure you of a successful career;

  • There are many hard working people who work hard until 65, but never make more than average (I actually find the wages of the average policeman quite shocking).
  • If you’d have a talent for being a great nurse, but study economics because there will always be well-paying jobs for accountants, chances are you’ll end up as a mediocrely paid, unhappy accountant.
  • Luck wins you the lottery, that does not count as a career.
  • Education: There’s probably more bums with a Harvard degree than I can afford to feed.

This week I happened to stumble into a conversation with among others the CEO of our company, and he had an interesting assertion: success (of careers and companies) is distributed into a bell curve. People like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg that are to the far right are the exceptions, and the only way they got incredibly successful is by mere luck, by being the right person at the right time. That does not mean you don’t stand a change at all. on the contrary, each and every one of us has the means to push to the right of the bell curve, and the further to the right you are, the bigger the chance that luck will pick you up and make you successful in whatever you undertake. Working hard at your job helps, making lots of friends helps, being in the right market at the right time helps, going to the right school helps, but for you to be extremely successful, either as an artist, an entrepeneur, or a parent, you need the help of a little bit of luck, and all you can do is help luck, by doing the “right things.”

That is why I consider myself extremely lucky;

  • I was born in one of the wealthiest and happiest countries of the world
  • My intelligence is in a rather rare high percentile
  • I have parents that care about me and could give me material and immaterial things I needed to prosper.
  • I gathered people around me who pushed me over the edge to do just the right things
  • I ran into people at just the right times to get the job I needed at just that time.

I know that most of what I archieved, I’ve done by myself, but at the end of the day, when I go to sleep, I dream away with the confidence that I’m one of the luckiest and happiest people I know.

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