Orange County Branch Newsletter

March 2018

President's Message

Do You Believe in Luck?

By Jeff Braun, P.E.

I had the opportunity to participate as part of industry panels for two of our Branch’s student chapters over the past couple of weeks, where we discussed how students can best position themselves for internships and career opportunities.  Our University Outreach Committee and student chapter liaisons, along with support from other ASCE OC leaders, coordinated the panel presentations for Cal State – Fullerton, Cal State – Long Beach, and UC – Irvine.  We discussed job search resources, developing a personal brand, networking, resume hints, and interviewing skills.  I was very impressed with the honesty students showed when sharing concerns and fears, and their motivation to invest the time and effort to best position themselves for their career.

The conversations between the attendees and panel members were inspiring, and led me to think back to my job search experiences. I received advice from family, friends, and colleagues, and put in my fair share of time on the internet searching for job listings and learning about engineering firms. I recall one of the interviews involved writing a short one-page response to a comment/question of my choosing from a list of options.  One of the questions jumped out to me right away:

“Do you believe in Luck?”

What a great question.  How someone answers can tell you a lot about their personality, outlook, appreciation for those around them, and what they think of themselves. It caught me off guard, as I was not expecting such a touchy-feely question during an interview for an engineering firm. I quickly became excited as I thought about what I may write.  While there is no single correct response, there are several ways you can answer it incorrectly. We’ve all been around folks who would provide responses such as:

  • Yes, I believe in luck. I have seen several other people be lucky and get promoted or get great projects, but I have not been as lucky as them.
  • Yes, I believe in luck. I have been unlucky throughout my life and career. It seems like bad things always happen to me, and I try to persevere, but bad luck is holding me back.
  • No, I don’t believe in luck. I’ve been successful because of my intelligence, talent, and because I deserve it.

My response was a little different than those, but please note that this is Jeff Braun’s personal opinion, and not an official correct answer provided by ASCE during a recent “How to Be More Lucky” seminar.

I consider myself to be very lucky. I was born into a loving, supportive family in an environment where I was able to focus on learning and having fun, not worry about where my next meal or drink of clean water would come from. I’ve also seen examples of bad luck, knowing several people who have been stricken with horrible illnesses. There are plenty of other examples of luck I’ve experienced through my life and career, but some happened because I put myself in position to be lucky.

When it comes to career and success, those who envy others often try to make themselves feel better by saying the other person was just “lucky”. I STRONGLY disagree. Even a lottery winner has to buy the ticket and put themselves in position to win.  Your coworker who got the promotion or was assigned to that awesome project was considered because they worked hard to earn their degree(s) and gain the necessary experience.  In addition, they most likely let their desire to be on the project known to their supervisor and the project manager.

Sadly, I’ve seen coworkers throughout my career that take a passive attitude to professional development and new opportunities, thinking that as long as they complete assigned tasks and don’t make waves, their firms will invest the time and effort to help them develop new skills, ask them to be on the project team for the really cool project, and maybe offer a promotion. If those opportunities aren’t offered, they become disgruntled.  Their attitude impacts their performance and spreads to those around them.

Opportunities are offered to those who demonstrate passion and dedication, whether through openly sharing their desire, or through their obvious personal investment in developing skills beyond the normal day-to-day work. It is too easy for me to say that the only reason I am not an NBA superstar right now is that I wasn’t born with the size and athletic ability of LeBron James.  That is incredibly disrespectful to the dedication and sacrifice any athlete has demonstrated to get to their level - the countless hours at the playground or in the gym, the missed family functions or nights with friends, and the painful sports injuries.

Your success, and that of your peers, can be credited to dedication to developing the skills you need, surrounding yourself with successful people, and seeking out opportunities. I know this is pretty much preaching to the choir, as most folks reading this are already committed to advancing the civil engineering profession, attending technical institute seminars on the latest analyses, and networking with peers and potential clients and luncheons and social events. 

I still believe luck impacts us throughout our life and career.  I have been lucky with respect to the people and opportunities that have crossed my path.  What is completely within your control, is whether you are putting yourself in position to be lucky, and what you do with the opportunities. 

Are you exposing yourself to situations where you be lucky enough to meet great people and hear about game-changing opportunities on the horizon? Have you spent time learning more about your profession, or about other disciplines you’re developing a passion for, so you can take advantage of the opportunity when it arrives?

If you want to create more of your own luck and kick butt once it happens, I have a suggestion on where to start …

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