Sometimes the best things that happen to us come totally out of the blue. We don’t plan them, seek them, or try to make them happen. They just show up. So how do we make the most of these happy accidents?
One of my team members was telling me about a biography of the essayist Montaigne. It’s called How to Live by Sarah Bakewell, and it was a big bestseller a few years ago. But here’s what’s amazing. It all started as a fluke.
In the back of the book, Bakewell says she discovered Montaigne because she was traveling in Europe and the only thing she could find on the train in English was a copy of his Essays. This is going to be terrible, she thought. But no. Not only was the book highly entertaining, it also created the possibility for a whole new direction in her life.
I’ve had similar things happen in my own life.
A Fateful Meeting
Three years ago, I spoke at John Maxwell’s event, “A Day About Books.” Normally, after a speaking engagement like this, I’m spent. I go back to my room at order room service. As an introvert, the last thing I want to do is be with people.
But this time I agreed to have dinner with a guy named Stu McLaren. I had met him briefly several months before at Blog World. To be honest, I was dreading the meeting. I knew that Stu wanted to pitch me on some opportunity, and the last thing I thought I needed was another opportunity.
Boy, am I glad I followed through and met with Stu anyway. It literally changed everything in my business (more about that in a minute).
Serendipity: Real But Not Enough
Whatever the size or scope, we all have those kind of moments, don’t we?
Whether it’s meeting our future spouse or business partner, stumbling into a new passion or pastime, or that moment when a whole new business model hits us one morning in the shower, serendipity is real.
But here’s the important thing to remember. Serendipity is not enough by itself. You can’t bank on it, and it can sometimes lead us astray. So how do we make the most of these happy accidents?
4 Ways to Maximize Your Windfalls
The way I see it, there at least four ways to maximize the windfalls we all experience.
- Explore. The first way is usually the most fun. It’s all about exploring, playing, and researching.
Whenever we discover something new, there’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. And that’s perfect. We need that energy to fuel the curiosity it takes to really learn the ropes.
When I first started blogging, tweeting, and scoping I was just experimenting and having fun. There was no pressure to make an immediate decision about the future. For all of us at this stage the idea is to figure out the angles, see what works, and explore the different ways we can use our windfall.
Plan. Once we’ve got that understanding it’s probably time to get intentional. If we can make something more of a windfall, it almost always requires focus and some sort of plan. What will it take to go to the next level?
As you’re getting clarity about next steps, you’ll need to set goals and milestones about how you’re going to proceed.
- If it’s a new book idea, for instance, when will you finish your proposal?
- If it’s a new business idea, when will you draft the plan?
- If it’s a new hobby, what’s your plan for meaningfully integrating it into your schedule?
- Evaluate. Now it’s time to weigh the costs. We only have 168 hours in a week. Adding one thing usually means subtracting another, so we need to consider the opportunity costs.
Beyond that, if the windfall means significant impact on our career or family, we need to count the switching costs. What will it mean for us professionally, relationally, and so on?
I had to answer exactly these kinds of questions when I decided to leave the CEO seat at Thomas Nelson and become a professional speaker and writer. In the beginning, blogging and speaking were more like hobbies. Then they became profitable sidelines. But I still had the security of my day job, and deciding to step out was a risk that required serious evaluation.
Flex. This is all about our willingness to change course if we need to. Maybe we want the windfall to amount to more than it really does. Or maybe we’ve misevaluated the costs.
Flexing with new realities is critical. I had tons of fun doing my daily Periscope show, #VirtualMentor, but in the end that kind of daily time investment didn’t serve my longterm goals and so I changed my approach.
But here’s what’s critical. The willingness to flex not only keeps us from wasting time and energy, it also keeps us open for even better things.
I love public speaking, but travel imposes a high cost. So when I had that fateful meeting with Stu and he told me he wanted to help me launch a membership site, I realized I could retool my business for online training and instruction.
Platform University and eventually 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever came out of that decision. It’s been huge for my professional and personal life and helped tens of thousands of people. More importantly, Stu has become one of my best friends, a trusted advisor, and a partner in several of my businesses.
The Difference Between Luck and Leverage
We all get surprise blessings, lucky breaks, happy accidents, or whatever you want to call them. The question is this: Do we know how to make the most of them?
It starts with channeling our excitement and enthusiasm, focusing it into a plan, weighing the costs, and staying open to change. That’s the difference between luck and leverage.
Question: What’s the most important windfall you’ve experienced in life so far? What did you do with it?