EP 6: Seneca quote “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”

In this episode of the Merkol Podcast, we analyzed the famous Seneca Quote or most commonly known as Seneca’s saying, which goes:

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”

Seneca quote
Seneca quote "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity"
Seneca quote “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”

Who Is Seneca?

The below details are mainly taken from The New Yorker and the Daily stoic.

Seneca was born in 4 B.C. at Córdoba, the capital of the Roman province of Hispania Ulterior. He, his father, and his two brothers went to Rome when he was still fairly young for the sake of school.

Seneca went into politics and worked as a high-ranking finance clerk. He had made a lot of friends in his life who were in high-ranking government positions.

Julia Livilla, the sister of Caligula, the Emperor of the Roman Empire at the time, was one of his acquaintances. It was unclear whether they were lovers or just buddies.

Caligula was slain in 41 A.D., and his uncle Claudius took his place.

Julia Livilla was accused of adultery with Seneca by the new emperor. Julia Livilla was exiled to an island off the coast of Naples, most likely Ventotene, where she perished within a few years. Seneca was dispatched to the island of Corsica.

In a surprising turn of events, Agrippina, mother of future emperor Nero and wife of Claudius, obtained permission for Seneca to return and become her son’s tutor and adviser eight years later. Nero went on to become one of the most infamous and ruthless emperors in Roman history, creating even more doubts about Seneca’s character.

Nero himself ordered Seneca’s death, which occurred in 65 A.D. Seneca, he believed, was involved in a plan against him, with the ultimate goal of assassinating him.

The death of Seneca
The death of Seneca

People are always split in their opinion of Seneca given that he was the main advisor for Nero, the most tyrannical emperor in history. He amassed so much wealth during this time but still preached that wealth is not the ultimate goal/happiness.

It takes a man who has wealth beyond the imagination of man to understand what wealth truly is. And maybe, Seneca realized that wealth is not the way to measure life.

But his work on philosophy for life and wealth is appreciated even to this day.

What is Luck?

Defining luck is simple, “it is the events that happen that are not in your control which determine whether you succeed or fail in your endeavor”

Luck is predominantly looked like a positive chain of events that lead to success in life. But it works both ways. There is good luck and bad luck, but more commonly bad luck is being referred to with another word, ‘Risk’.

This is how the definition of risk goes ” it is the events that happen that are not in your control which determine whether you succeed or fail in your endeavor”

If you notice, this is the same definition I gave for luck.

Hyper RPG angry twitch mad rpg GIF

Luck and Risk are one and the same, but people choose to look at luck as a positive and risk as a negative. Every successful person does not want to associate himself with luck, but after every failure, we lament the cause of ‘bad luck’ that prevented you from winning.

For example, if you buy few stocks and they go up in value, you will claim that it was a calculated risk and it paid off. But you will never claim that you got lucky because the events that caused the price of the stock to go up are not in your control.

This sounds biased right. I can go on and on about this topic, but that would need a separate article. Just remember that luck and risk are one and the same when you look at it in terms of events, not in your control, influencing your life.

>Here is Morgan Housel’s Ironies of Luck, he defines Luck and risk to perfection.

How does Seneca define Luck?

Seneca has associated Luck with preparation and opportunity. Both are something that is in our hands, we can be prepared and also pursue opportunities.

This raises the question that if Luck is the result of events happening that are not in your control, then why do we need to put in work from your end?

No person ever got lucky just by sitting on a couch and not doing anything.

Example

For example, if you want to become a movie star, you need to prepare yourself by learning acting, absorbing the lessons from famous actors, and practicing daily at things that would make you a better actor. This alone is not enough, you will have to go in search of opportunities, this can be something like taking a short film with your friends, trying to get a role in a small web series, or even going to talk to different directors for a chance to showcase your talent.

When you combine this preparation with opportunity, you will get lucky in a way that the events happening will influence your life in a positive way.

Bro Opportunity GIF by Pepsi India

For example, you are prepared, you go in search of opportunities and when you go to a director’s office he realizes that the actor in his new film has declined to act due to some money-related issues and the movie project is stalled. Your mere presence there might prompt him to give you a chance to see if you can act. At that time, your preparation trying to hone your skills comes into effect and you will impress the director.

Chain of events

That event where the other actor declined the offer is not in your control. But to make that event beneficial or ‘lucky’ for us is to be prepared and go in search of opportunity In the above example, you would not be lucky, if you did not go to the director’s house in search of opportunity or if you did not prepare enough to impress the director to give you a chance.

The chain of events would mean nothing in your life if you are not prepared. Events happen all around us in our lives, the way you work towards your goal will help you shape those events around you in a positive way that will impact your life better.

Explaining this Seneca quote using cricket

Riding off of the above example, can you think of a cricketer whose success is attributed to luck more often than not.

My answer to the above question is Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

He wins a world cup, he got lucky. He wins the IPL, he got lucky. He finishes off a match by hitting a last-ball six, he got lucky.

For people who are still wondering, every time they say he got lucky is after he did something great. And to be able to win the world cup, he needed to trust his players to stabilize the innings after Tendulkar and Sehwag got out early. He needed to trust in himself and his ability to play spin to go out to bat above the in-form Yuvraj. All this is preparation. The opportunity is the right to play the final.

At that same time, after the fall of Tendulkar and Sehwag, the Sri Lankan bowlers failed to bowl aggressively. The captain, Kumar Sangakarra, was content with not taking wickets as long they don’t leak runs. These are events that happen which are not in Dhoni’s control. M.S cannot go to Sangakarra and say, ‘please bro, don’t try to take wickets’.

Those out-of-control events gave India the chance to settle and create a base which Kohli and Gambhir did to perfection. If they were not prepared then they would not have been able to capitalize on those chain of events.

If none of the above things happened, he hitting a six off Nuwan Kulasekara to win the world cup would just have been him hitting a consolation six before they concede defeat to Sri Lanka.

This is the same thing that the Seneca quote is trying to say to us.

Closing:

Events happen all around us. It is up to us to be self-aware and try to the best of our abilities to turn those events into moments that propel us to greatness, in other words ‘get lucky’. This is why the Seneca quote mentions that Luck happens when preparation and opportunity meet.

Hope you enjoyed this article. If you did not agree with what I have mentioned or if you have anything extra to add to this article then please do share it in the comments section of this article. Let’s learn together.

Podcast:

I have recorded a podcast on the same quote. But it is in Tamil. If you know the language then please do listen to this. Do let me know if you like it. Here is the link:

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