A Story About You: Luck of the Draw?

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This might seem like a story about Steve Jobs. It’s not; it’s a story about you.

Turns out that we get the hand we’re dealt in life. Events happen; it’s what you do with them that counts.

The Twitter tweet was was factual save the for last line. “Steve jobs was given up at birth; he was fired from the company he founded. He had liver  cancer. What obstacles have you overcome lately?

As one of the parents of an adoptive family, I hope that my 9-year old avoids feeling that since he was adopted (accent on the “was”) disadvantages him. Like Jobs, event happen in your life; do you wine about them or do you look upon them as opportunities?

When Jobs was adopted he ends up being placed with nurturing, supportive parents who live in Cupertino, ground zero of Silicon Valley. If he stays with his biological parents (his birthmom placed him because she wanted a daughter), hunch is he ends up living someplace like the Sunset or Danville, and a least one parent who wished he was somebody else.

Like Bill Gates’ story (see Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: Gates goes to a private school that just happens to have student access to early computers, giving him a leg up on most everyone in North America.Not so socially skills Gates ends up tolling time with the computer, rather than responding to the the teen age hormones that drive his classmates in other directions), Jobs growing up with supportive parents in Cupertino gives him access to all sorts of things that other kids never got. In the petri dish of the tech revolution he is positioned about as well as it gets.

You are informed by the same sorts of events; part nature (the biology that you inherited), part nurture (how you were raised), and the luck of the draw in terms of most everything else. You can’t change the first, but you can certainly rewrite and rework the last two.

Fact is that you just don’t know whether the break that you got is lucky or not. Many people might think the Jobs being placed for adoption is a bum break. Turns out it just may have been the chance of fate that puts starts him on greatness.

And getting fired from Apple in 1985?

No big secret that Jobs was a trainwreck as a manager; that fact and a political coup is what gets him fired. But that humbling profoundly changed him. When he returns to Apple in 1996 the company is in the tank but Jobs is a wiser, smarter exec. While he hasn’t lost his passion and visionary zeal, he’s a fundamentally a better manager. Great focus, greater discipline, better appreciation of execution. Jobs never gets fired and hunch is that there is no breakout performance for the last 15 years that leaves competitors – and the business world – in awe.

The Dali Lama’s sister once did an NPR interview where she suggested that karma is tricky; you never know if what you think is “bad luck” turns out to be good luck. And “good luck?” It may turn out to be bad luck.

When jobs offers I didn’t get ended up sending me back west from Chicago – in a desperate bid to get closer to my home state of Oregon – I end up in San Francisco, a town I didn’t like, and now someplace that would take dynamite that would pull me out. And getting nudged out of senior suit job from McKesson? It takes me on a direct flight path to having my son (to crib a line from Jobs, having a kid is 10,000 times better than anything else I’ve ever done), something that would never happened in the then  conservative, buttoned-down  environment at McKesson’s corporate offices at One Post Street.

So here’s the deal; you just don’t know.

What research does know is that grit, trying different strategies when things don’t work, and connecting with other people raises the odds of people being successful, even “lucky.”

It worked for Steve Jobs. It can work for you.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.


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