A question often asked of successful people is: “what did you consider to be your biggest break?” The answer to that question is less important than what they actually did to prepare themselves to get that break. The story of Purim gives us some timeless examples of how to make our breaks.
What did Queen Esther have in mind when she surreptitiously entered King Achashveirosh’s palace with trepidation, grasped his golden scepter, approached his throne and asked the king to host a private wine feast the next day, along with herself and Haman ym”sh?
The king had just told her he would grant any request she made, as long as it didn’t exceed half of his kingdom. Why would she suffice with such a seemingly meager entreaty?
No less than 12 Tannaim and Amoraim weigh in on Queen Esther’s reasons; each arriving at a different hypothesis. The Maharsha suggests the reason why the Gemara plumbs the depths of Queen Esther’s thought processes is because she could have taken a direct approach. She could have told the king what she eventually told him the next day; that Haman had sold both her, and her nation, to certain death. So why resort to the device of arranging a party?
After the Gemara examines all of her possible motivations, Rabbah Bar Avuha goes to Eliyahu Hanavi and asks him which Tanna or Amora got it right. Eliyahu replies: “They all did.”
Truly, Queen Esther’s investment of deep and careful thought into planning Haman’s demise shows the magnitude of careful and thorough planning, from as many angles as possible, to increase your chances of success.
“Good fortune,” or “being in the right place at the right time,” is only a function of advance preparation. When Mordechai Hatzaddik overheard Bigsan and Seresh plotting to kill the king, it was only because he had known all 70 languages from beforehand, that he was able to understand their plot – and foil it.
While HaKadosh Baruch Hu was pulling the strings from behind the scenes, as He always does, the Megillah teaches us how critical it is to get ready for opportunity, and not just leave things to chance. Often, we are oblivious to the need for preparation, or don’t give it enough credit. In life, people don’t get breaks, they make their own breaks.
Richard Wiseman, a university professor who researched the topic of “How to Get Lucky,” surveyed a group of 800 people – the same 800 individuals – over a period of ten years. He shared his results in an article for the Reader’s Digest. Wiseman found that “lucky people” got lucky by following some basic principles — seizing chance opportunities; creating self-fulfilling prophecies through positive expectations; and adopting a resilient attitude when “bad luck” strikes. He added the following tips to improve our “luck”:
Open Your Mind
Consider chance opportunities: Lucky people regularly have them; unlucky people don’t. To determine why, Wiseman tested people by asking them to count the photographs in a dummy newspaper he handed them. About halfway through the paper, Wiseman placed the message: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” Lucky people tended to spot the message. Unlucky ones didn’t. Wiseman planted a second message halfway through the paper: “Stop counting. Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.” Again, the unlucky people missed it.
Relish the Upside
Imagine you won a bronze medal in your first Olympics and a silver medal in your second Olympics. Most of us think we’d be happier with the silver. But research suggests athletes who win bronze medals are actually happier. Silver medalists think that if they’d performed slightly better, they would have won the gold medal. The bronze medalists focus on the realization that if they had performed slightly worse, they wouldn’t have won anything at all!
Ease the Impact of Misfortune
Imagine being in a bank. Suddenly, an armed robber enters and fires a shot that hits them in the arm. Unlucky people tended to say this would be their bad luck to be in the bank during the robbery. Lucky people said it could have been worse: “He could have been shot in the head.” This kind of thinking makes people feel better about themselves and keeps expectations high.
The lesson: Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they’re too busy looking for something else, or simply being pessimistic about life in general. However, lucky people see the bright side of what’s in front of them, and are optimistic about the future.
Opportunities abound. It’s how you prepare yourself for them that determines whether that opportunity is knocking for you.
This Week’s Bottom Line Action Step: Create self-fulfilling prophecies through positive expectations.