It's counter intuitive, but on the whole it's a fact—lucky individuals take more of a zigzag path, or to use a nautical analogy, they tuck into opportunity.
At a time when so many of us are in flux, maybe our skill sets don't fit one role neatly because we are both technical and non-technical for example, or we're looking to reinvent our career even when we're not exactly sure yet what that will be, this is supremely good news.
The zigzag path is one of thirteen techniques Max Gunther suggests in How to Get Lucky: 13 techniques for discovering and taking advantage of life's good breaks. Gunther says we can arrange to improve our outcomes by upgrading our chances. In other words, we can learn how to improve the quality of our luck.
Luck is never linear, says Gunther:
This doesn't mean you should make frequent changes just for the sake of change itself. It means only that if a piece of potential good luck drifts your way, you should not summarily reject it simply because it doesn't fit some predesigned plan.
Use [long term plans] for general guidance as long as they seem to be taking you where you want to go, but whatever you do, don't get stuck with them. Throw them in the trash heap as soon as something better comes along.
Never be afraid to zigzag. […] You never know which direction your lucky breaks may come from. When they drift into reach, grab them.
Zigzagging doesn't mean lack of vision, of knowing what we want to do, or the type of work we would love, for example. It just means literally using a combination of experiences to get there. The advantages to keeping an open mind are many.
When it comes to luck it's crucial to take a broader view of situations and encounters to seize the opportunity the day brings to us. Hard to argue with making it easier for ourselves rather than sticking with preplanned routes that are taking us nowhere fast.
The real problem is that we don't focus enough on the long term nature of some of the plans we make. Our culture creates constant incentives for the quick fix, and we jump on demand. We get into poor habits of thought along with the instant gratification cravings. In this case, a narrow focus causes us to miss better options.
For many things that are important, motion and momentum are critical to maintaining high confidence levels. Confidence is an underestimated trait on our way to mastery. It helps us sort out context, with the quality of our resolve, timing things right, and with effectiveness.
Plans do have a role in our lives, but we should consider them more like guides than hard rules. Gunther says:
Long-range plans aren't actually harmful, but it is important to take them seriously. A plan can be used as a kind of guide into the future but should never be allowed to harden into a law. If something better comes along, you should be ready to abandon your old plan immediately and without regret.
This is what the lucky are able to do. Typically, they do it without thinking about it much. As a breed, they instinctively avoid getting trapped into their own long-range plans.
Holding onto something too fast gets in the way of our ability to grab into something better.
What others may see as lack of focus in someone who is a serial skill builder, ends up becoming amazing strength for the business this person creates out of a unique combination of knowledge and experience. The lives of many respected and envied entrepreneurs are filled with stories of patchwork interests.
Entrepreneurs do well with this kind of luck, because they understand that purpose is the engine that helps us create our own luck. What is the characteristic that sets successful entrepreneurs and lucky people apart? Commitment to their vision and to doing the work to get there.
The plan therefore is to organize resources to take advantage of life's good breaks and use clarity of purpose as the vessel to take us to a destination we have envisioned. The destination itself ends up being something greater and righter for us than we could have ever planned or even imagined. But there is work involved to get from where we are to where we want to be.
When we second-guess the role of luck in our lives, we end up shorting ourselves.