How to make your own luck at work this year

2024 is going to be our year. I just know it. It is, after all, the year of the dragon — the most powerful of the Zodiac animals, symbolizing strength, success, and luck.

Now, I want to be clear, I am not big into reading Zodiac signs. As a former science teacher, I lean on evidence and data — observable patterns — when making predictions. I’m an astronomy-over-astrology kind of guy. Yet, the idea of “luck” is something I believe in.

I didn’t always believe in luck, but my wife has and does. She believes I’m one of those “lucky” people — the kind who can always find a parking spot quickly at Costco, for example (and I admit I typically do), or who is able to score tickets to see Taylor Swift in concert this year (and I luckily have — twice).

Until my wife pointed out these things to me, I had never considered myself a lucky person. But from then on, I started to observe and take note of my day-to-day experiences. And that is when I began to believe in “luck.” I began to believe I was lucky.

Now, when I say “luck,” I am not talking about the “win-the-lottery” type of luck. What I am referring to is the expectation that good things will happen — whether it is recognizing more chance opportunities or being resilient in dealing with unlucky situations. Psychologist Richard Wiseman has been conducting research on lucky people vs. unlucky people and in his book The Luck Factor, he discusses how those who perceive themselves as lucky “generate their own good fortune through four basic principles.”

Let’s focus on his first principle — "make your own luck” — to consider how we can generate more good fortune in our careers this year. Expanded, this principle states: “Lucky people create, notice, and act upon the chance opportunities in their lives.” How, then, can we apply Wiseman’s principle specifically to our work lives?

Application 1: Lucky people make their own luck by adopting a relaxed attitude towards their work.

Wiseman, in his 10-year study, looked at people who viewed themselves as “lucky” vs. “unlucky” and compared their personalities. He noticed that unlucky people are “generally much more tense and anxious than lucky people” and posited that this anxiety hampered unlucky people’s “ability to notice the unexpected.”

If you’re feeling tense or anxious at work, ask yourself how you can best manage these feelings. Your answers may already be related to some of your 2024 goals (for example, getting 7-8 hours of sleep, reducing your screen time, etc.).

Here are just a few ideas that can help you ease into a more relaxed state:

  • When feeling a bit overwhelmed, take some deep breaths to calm yourself down.
  • Stuck on a work project? Write with a pen and paper to slow down anxious thoughts and gain clarity.
  • Want to boost your mood but short on time? Try "exercise snacking," such as climbing three sets of stairs three times throughout your day.

Application 2: Lucky people make their own luck by building and maintaining a strong network.

For 2024, consider intentionally connecting with people in your network. It took me many years to realize that I can create more luck in my career by leveraging my internal network or drawing upon the broader one available to me as a UBC alum.

Networking is a great way to increase your access to new information and perspectives, which in turn increases your luck. Networking also requires you to take action to put yourself out there, a proactive approach that will help you stay mentally sharp. And if networking makes you feel anxious, remember: the more you do it, the less overwhelming it will feel.

Here are some networking tips:

  • Keep your reach out short, specific, and sweet. (Here's an example of one I sent and the response in return.)
  • Be curious and seek out advice, rather than asking for a job.
  • Use LinkedIn's alumni search tool to identify UBC graduates to learn from. (Pro tip: Use the tool on desktop instead of mobile — the search filters are better.)

Want more tips? Read this handy do’s & don’ts list or watch this alumni UBC webinar.

Application 3: Lucky people make their own luck by believing they have access to new opportunities — and bravely pursuing those that best align with who they are.

Lucky people have courage to try new experiences — and courage is greatly needed because tackling something new means you may face setbacks and need to be resilient. Before you can tap into courage, however, you need to first believe that you have access to new opportunities at work. Many times in my career, I have felt like I was at a dead end or lacked agency in the work I was doing. But half the battle requires reflecting on where you are to imagine where you would like to go.

Instead of using New Year’s resolutions, consider turning your intentions into action by focusing on specific, small steps you can take. For example, rather than overwhelming myself by saying, “I want to create and deliver 10 career webinars in the next seven months,” I break this goal down into specific actionable steps. So instead, I might say: “I am going to identify three potential facilitators for a February webinar and send a reach-out email (short, specific, and sweet!) to all of them by January 20.” Lucky people take action.

I also like to identify at the start of the year one skill I want to build upon and make that a focus through as much of my work as possible. I like using a “Values, Skills, Interests” Table to unearth my current skillset and then identify a skill (and it doesn’t have to be a new one) as the one I am excited to work on in the new year. Notice you can do this with your values or interests as well. I have found when I can intersect my interests with my work, this is where I often feel energized — and lucky to be paid to do what I do.

When we consider how to generate more luck at work, it is important to understand that we aren’t trying to live with toxic positivity or unrealistic optimism. Notice that I listed actions we can control — actions each of us can take — because this is what making our own luck is really about.

Unrealistic optimism is intentions with no action. Instead, according to Wiseman, lucky people possess “positive skepticism.” This means taking a rational view of luck instead of tying our careers to the blind luck in the stars. This year, let’s approach upcoming experiences with a bit of skepticism — asking: How will this benefit me? What can I learn? What action can I take? — while staying open to all the opportunities around us for creating our own luck in 2024.