Self Reliance #4: Fortune & Joy

June 26th, 2011

This post forms a series based on #Trust 30 challenge – a writing imitative where I write daily using Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words of wisdom as inspiration.

The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was listening to a podcast the other day (I Love Marketing), and the founder of BNI International (a business networking organization), Iven Misner made an interesting observation about success. He noted that if you ask anyone who is successful at anything, they will tell you that their secret is [Insert some common characteristic] – this could be focus, intensity, hard work, networking, innovation, education (and the list goes on).

Of course none of these are really secrets at all. If you were to ask someone who was not successful, they would likely give a similar list. With one difference. They would also include luck, or fortune.

Misner noted therefore that success in any pursuit, lies in the uncommon application of common knowledge. I agree. But it doesn’t fully explain why some people are immensely successful. It does not in my opinion adequately deal with the issue of luck, or fortune – being in the right place, at the right time.

The impact of luck/fortune in creating success is well documented. Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, spends considerable time illustrating that in addition to hard work, deliberate practice, and lots of hours, luck also plays a vital role in creating success. Gladwell utilizes a number of examples to show the role that luck play including Bill Gates. Gladwell shows that Gates was fortunate to go a wealthy high school, which at the time could afford (due to some parent’s connections and initiative) to provide computer access to the students. Gates took advantage of this, and consequently, as the computer revolution broke, he was one of the few individuals who had accumulated over 10,000 hours on a computer, and had the knowledge to capitalize on the opportunity.

Consequently, (although I hate to admit it), luck/fortune plays an important role in success. There is a way however (in my opinion – and it seems also in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s opinion) to turn luck, or fortune to your advantage.

If you think about anyone who has become exceptionally successful at something – beyond all the general characteristics which come to mind, like organized, disciplined, ambitious, educated, focused, intense, charismatic (I think you get the point), they all have one thing in common.

They really, really enjoy what they do.

Steve Jobs at a college commencement ceremony address explained to students that each day he gets up and looks in the mirror and asks himself “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” He explained that if he finds himself saying ‘No’ for too many days in a row, he knows he needs to make a change.

While it is clear that all of the above generic characteristics to explain the secret to success would describe Jobs very well – the key to his success it appears is his pursuit of joy.

I personally believe you need to really enjoy what you do to become exceptional. After all, if you enjoy what you do – its not really work. Time disappears, and you are willing to work hard, take risks, focus, get organized and educated – and do whatever it takes. Joy however is the key which allows individuals to apply common characteristics in an uncommon way.

And how does joy allow you to turn fortune to your advantage?

If you enjoy what you do you will apply common characteristics in uncommon ways. This fact (joy + uncommon application of common knowledge) I find results in more opportunities becoming available to you.


Because people can see that you are passionate about what you do – that when you do what you do, you really mean it.  And as you take one opportunity, it leads to another, and another. And eventually, as you stop and look back, it will seem as though these opportunities were the result of luck or fortune. Really however, they were the product of joy.

This is evident in Gladwell’s story of Bill Gates. Gates really loved computers and programming. Because of his joy, his parents requested the school to provide access to computers. Because of his joy from using the computers at school, it led him to inquire about using spare computer terminals at the local university. And because of his joy, he accumulated over 10,000 hours on a computer.

Gate’s luck all began with joy. The secret to fortune therefore is joy in your hands.

Do you enjoy what you do?

Do you agree with this idea about Joy? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!


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