We all have lucky days from time to time. And today is one of mine.
As you might see if we follow each other on Facebook and other social pages, today I celebrate a birthday. And I feel fortunate, even lucky, to be in this position.
Some people low-key their birthdays, and hope they quietly sail by. I was that guy for quite a few of these annual celebrations in the past. But not now. Today, I celebrate another journey around the sun, and I'm pleased to tell you, I'm a happy traveler.
I'm also a lucky one. I was born in this country in the mid-20th century to a caring family that raised me right, and gave me all the tools required to excel and be happy. I'm blessed to have married well and somehow (luck?) had a couple of kids who've turned out to be wonderful people. I have my own company, and have been blessed with many friends, wonderful clients (mostly), and experiences most people in this business never get the chance to enjoy.
Unlike the privileged person who starts out on third base – and thinks he hit a triple – I am all too aware of how I got here, how it happened, and how lucky I have been along the way.
And that nicely dovetails into today's topic – the luck that falls into our laps throughout our lives, and what we end up doing with it. I've been sitting on an article from Henry Blodget, a successful Wall Street investor who co-launched Business Insider, a publication many of you no doubt read. I think you'll find it interesting, even insightful.
His company employs 700+ employees in 17 countries with a reach of 300 million readers a month. And Blodget is the first to tell you just how lucky he's been.
Last month right before Christmas, he published “Luck is a bigger part of success than you think – but it can only take you so far.”
And he reminds us that success is often driven by luck, and is not merely a function of talent, effort, or charm.
Blodget adds two important words to an adage you're probably familiar with (in italics):
“The harder and smarter you work, the luckier you get.”
That's been my experience, too, especially as an entrepreneur who has launched a couple of businesses during the past four decades. At Jacobs Media and later with jacapps, we've started all sorts of initiatives, often without a business plan, but with much instinct and intuition.
Some have been more successful than others – (fortunately, most people tend to remember the “wins”) – but luck has played a role in several steps along the way. Luck's siblings – coincidence, happenstance, and right-place-right-time all figure into the calculus of success and failure. Somehow, we've managed to keep them above sea level during both the Great Recession and then COVID. I don't have to tell you what a ride it's been. And yes, luck has co-starred in our ability to steer clear of the hazards, sand traps, and abysses.
And as Henry Blodget emphasizes, it's what you do with the luck that comes your way that's a major determinant of your course over the long run.
Think about all the lottery winners who found a way to dither their way through their fortunes, often ending up in worse shape than when they bought the winning ticket at their local convenience store.
Blodget reminds us of two key variables that can change our game – if we play it right:
A sense of “agency and gratitude”
He credits psychologist Paul Conti with these important footnotes to being successful and happy. The first is having a sense of appreciation for your luck and good fortune (the “gratitude” piece), and the ability to alter your future to make it better (there's the “agency”).
Radio people tend to know both of these linchpins well because they figure prominently into many careers – both on the air and in the corner office suite. Broadcasting is a fluid business so a little luck, combined with seizing the right opportunity at the right moment in time, can be the difference in being a star or an also-ran. Sometimes, the margin is that thin.
In my case, luck has been a prominent player in my success. Don't I know it? Born with an average voice, I found mine in a different sector of the business – audience research, program consulting, and now writing this blog and helping guide our companies. Before I started Jacobs Media, I had the good fortune of working for two amazing companies – Frank N. Magid in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and ABC Radio in Detroit for WRIF. It doesn't get better than that.
Sometimes, it's that very first break that many of us look back on as “the moment.” Somehow, some way, somebody who matters took an interest in us or had the intuition to spot a little something going for us that perhaps we didn't even realize.
If you've been at this for more than a few minutes, you can probably reel off several influential people who touched your career – or your life – in some way. I sure can, and I've been fortunate to be able to thank them from a dais in the process of receiving various industry honors and awards. (A word of advice: get those “thank-you's” right.)
Peter Smyth is one of them. And interestingly, he posted a story on LinkedIn yesterday morning that aligns nicely with the idea of luck and good fortune. In his case, it was receiving that meaningful piece of advice when you need it most – trying to get that proverbial foot in the door.
I vividly remember feeling very much the same way – angsty and nervous that no one would notice my talents, my drive, and whatever a very early version of myself could muster in a job interview while sweating buckets. Like Peter, I received advice, counsel, wisdom, and an open door or two – yes, luck – that paved my way. And once on the inside, of course, it came together for Peter, me, and many of you. That first chance IS everything.
I have often thought it would make a great book – at least for insiders – “How I got my first job in radio.” Or perhaps better put, “How I got my first big break in radio” because they are so often connected at the hip. When I meet someone new in the industry, whether it's a CEO or a neophyte who's still sipping that first cup of joe, it's an icebreaker question I'll often ask. Of course, people love to tell their stories, and most of the time, they're unique, interesting, and eye-opening. They're often very revealing. That first lucky break often speaks volumes about who you're talking to.
So how big a deal is luck?
I can't speak for you, but I can tell you that in my case, it has played a major part in where I am today. And my brother Paul – who I'm very lucky to work alongside – will tell you the same thing. Our companies have allowed us to meet and learn from some amazing people along the way. We've worked with some wonderfully talented people who invested significant chunks of their careers and their lives with us. For that, I have much gratitude to them (and their families).
And the current group, including my younger brother Bill, Mike Stern, Jason Hollins, Chris Brunt, Lisa Riker, Elnora Lowe, and Bob Kernen and his jacapps team makes doing what we do – even in these crazy times – that much more satisfying.
Finally, my de facto “board of directors” – no, there are no junkets to Hawaii or board perks. But a small cadre of genius, experts, and smart folks provide me with devil's advocacy, their brainstorming and vision, and the occasional gentle question:
“Fred, are you out of your mind?!”
Thanks goodness for their wisdom and their brutal honesty. Fortunately, they have not been the least bit hesitant to remind me of just how ugly my babies can be. After all, somebody's got to consult the consultant.
I love what I do, and feel fortunate that today I'm starting another year working in the industry I love with people who matter to me. As companies, we are doing meaningful work that hopefully makes a difference. 40+ years into this project, I feel much gratitude. After all, why else would we put ourselves through this? 🙂
I'm not just standing on third base – I've actually scored a few runs. And I've never lost sight of the role luck and good fortune played along the way.
Happy Birthday to some of my fellow birthday travelers – Max Tolkoff and Haley Jones. Also, my sister-in-law Lori and my friend Marilyn Silberman. And let's not leave out my twin brother from a different mother, Justin Timberlake. I hope it's a joyous day for all of you. – FJ