There's a well known quote from Louis Pasteur that says "Chance favors the prepared mind". But we aren't always so aware of what we chanced into. I've had a ration of fortune and misfortune in my life, and it is hard to always see what is coming. In terms of my financial life, one of the best things I ever did was accept a job I almost turned down. On top of that, I only had the chance at good fortune as a result of bad luck.
I had just finished a Master's degree at the University of Cambridge in the UK. I had applied to a couple PhD programs back in the states but had been turned down. I was bummed, but I figured I'd work harder on my applications and try again. In the meantime, I needed a job. A friend had started working at a small company in Seattle and told me about some openings, but it seemed beneath my newly minted credentials. Instead, I managed to land an opportunity at the University of Washington - a foothold into academia where I figured I'd eventually make a career. My friend was persistent. He told me I HAD to come interview. I did, and liked the folks I met. I got an offer there as well, with lower pay, but with something I'd never heard of before: stock options. I told the Dean at the university about the other offer, and he encouraged me to think about accepting it. He'd heard of the company and thought what they were doing was exciting. "The University of Washington will always be here", he said. I owe that guy a big thank you.
That's how I became employee 65 at Amazon.com. As the company grew, and business boomed, I couldn't believe my luck. But another thing I noticed, looking around at all my equally lucky co-workers, was that a number of these folks hadn't stumbled quite so blindly toward the spot where we all now stood. Some of them were veterans of four, five, by some accounts more than twelve, startups in the past. We were all lucky to be be struck by financial lightning, but these folks had been climbing hills in the rain for years, waving all manners of lightning rods toward lady fortune, trying to win her attention.
What I learned from that experience, is that there are some opportunities with rare but valuable payoffs. Success may still be due to luck, but getting struck by lightning on one hill may be more lucky than getting struck on another. My eyes were on academia when I stumbled into the world of internet start-ups. Its worth asking yourself what hill you are climbing, what the payoff looks like should you get struck by lightning on that hill, and is there some other hill you ought to consider hiking toward. "Chance favors the prepared mind", and sometimes the only preparation we can take is thinking about which hill we ought to climb.